The Erechtheion

About the Erechtheion

Nestled atop the ancient Acropolis of Athens, the Erechtheion temple stands as an eternal testament to the unparalleled artistry and architectural prowess of classical Greece. Constructed in the latter half of the 5th century BCE during the Golden Age of Athens, the iconic temple is enshrouded in myth, history and legend.

Deviating from the traditional, symmetrical layout of temples, the Erechtheion is dedicated to multiple deities, reflecting the diverse and complex religious beliefs of ancient Greece. Among the sacred sites within the temple is the shrine of Athena Polias, the divine protector of Athens, as well as the mythical tomb of Erechtheus, the city’s legendary founder. Read more about the architecture and history of the Erechtheion here.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the Erechtheion is its enigmatic Caryatids – six graceful, larger-than-life female statues that effortlessly bear the weight of the temple’s southern porch. The delicate interplay of light and shadow breathes life into these figures, as they eternally stand guard over the temple’s hallowed grounds.

Interesting facts

Why is it called Erechtheion?

The Erechtheion (or Erechtheum) temple is named after Erechtheus, the mythical hero and king of Athens who founded the city. In Homer’s epic poems, Erechtheus was the son of Hephaestus and Gaia, who grew up in the then temple of Athena on the Acropolis.

According to Greek mythology, it was Erechtheus who named Athens after the goddess Athena and renamed its inhabitants “Athenians”, who until then were called “Kekropides” (or Cecropides). Immediately afterwards, he founded a temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and introduced her worship in Attica, which culminated in the annual Panathenaea festival.

As the mythical founder of Athens, Erechtheus was a highly revered personality, with his accomplishments inspiring artists, poets and dramatists in antiquity. The ancient hero-king was believed to have been buried beneath the foundations of the Erechtheion temple, in the northwestern corner.

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Why is there an olive tree?

In Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom Athena and the god of the seas Poseidon both vied for the patronage of the city that was to become Athens. Zeus feared a conflict breaking out between the two Olympian gods, so it was decided that each would offer a gift to the Athenians, who would make the ultimate choice.

Poseidon went first, with the god of the seas striking his trident on the Acropolis hill and water gushing out of the earth. The water, however, was salty and the Athenians were not impressed, since the city already had access to rivers and the sea.

Athena followed by planting a seed in the ground and within moments, a glorious olive tree spurted out of the earth. Without hesitation, the people chose Athena’s offering, for its timber and fruit. The olive tree is planted in the same spot where Athena is said to be presented her gift to the Athenians.

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