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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Erechtheion: An Unusual Ancient Greek Temple

Although the designer of the Erechtheion is unknown, we do know that Phidias was the sculptor under the direction of Perikles. The asymmetrical plan on several levels reflects the building's multiple functions in housing many different shrines. It is also conformed to the sharply sloping terrain on which it is located. Erechtheion stands on the site of the mythical contest between the sea god Poseidon and Athena for patronage over Athens. During this contest Poseidon struck a rock with his trident, bringing forth a spout of water, but Athena gave an olive tree to Athens and won the contest. The Athenians enclosed what they believed to be this sacred rock, bearing the marks of the  trident, in the Erechtheion north porch. 
The Erechtheion also housed the venerable wooden cult statue of Athena that was the center of the Panathenic festival. The north and east porches of the Erechtheion  have come to epitomize the Ionic order, serving as an important model for European architects since the eighteenth century. Taller and more slender in proportion that the Doric, the Ionic order also has richer and more elaborately carved decoration. The columns rise from molded bases and end in volute capitals; the frieze is continuous. The Porch of the Maidens on the south side facing the Parthenon, is even more famous. Raised on a a high base, its sic stately caryatids support simple Doric capitals and an Ionic entablature made up of bands of carved molding. In a pose characteristic of Classical figures, each caryatid's weight is supported on one engaged leg while the fee leg, in contrapposto, rests on the the ball of the foot. The three caryatids on the left have their right legs engaged, and the three on the right have their left legs engaged, creating a sense of closure, symmetry, and rhythm. 

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