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Joy of Museums

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Porch of the Caryatids

Erechtheion, Athens - Porch of the Caryatids

Porch of the Caryatids

The Porch of the Caryatids is part of the Erechtheion which is an ancient Greek temple on the Acropolis of Athens in Greece which was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The Erectheum was constructed between 421 – 406 BC. On the south side of the Erechtheion facing the Parthenon, is the famous “Porch of the Maidens”, with six draped female figures called Caryatids as supporting columns. The porch was initially intended to be more massive and imposing. Unfortunately, it was drastically reduced in size and budget after the onset of the Peloponnesian war.

The six draped female figures are called caryatids, and they serve as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head.  Although of the same height the six Caryatids are not the same, their faces, stance, draping, and hair are carved differently. Also, the three on the left stand on their right foot, while the three on the right, stand on their left foot. Their bulky, intricately arranged hairstyles serve the purpose of providing support to their necks, which would otherwise be the thinnest and structurally weakest part.

The Romans copied the Erechtheion caryatids, installing copies in the Forum of Augustus and the Pantheon in Rome, and at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. Another Roman example, found on the Via Appia, is the Townley Caryatid exhibited at the British Museum. In 1800 one of the Caryatids was removed by Lord Elgin to decorate his Scottish mansion. It was later sold to the British Museum where they can be seen today. In modern times, the practice of integrating caryatids into building facades was revived and can be found on many classical building, and they also made their way into building interiors, they began to be employed in fireplaces.

Today the original Caryatids of Erechtheum are not at the Temple on the Acropolis; they are replicas. The original surviving Caryatids are in The Acropolis Museum for their protection, conservation and restoration. The Acropolis Museum is a short distance from the Acropolis site and has many artefacts from the Acropolis.

Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens. The word acropolis comes from the Greek words “highest point” and “city”. Although the term acropolis is generic and there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as “The Acropolis”.

While the Acropolis of Athens was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site’s most crucial present remains including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and one of the world’s most significant cultural monuments. The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena and was constructed over 2,500 years ago when the state of Athens was at the peak of its power. The Athenians built the Parthenon as a celebration of their pan-Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory. The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena that was destroyed by the Persian in 480 BC.

Following the first destruction of the Acropolis by the Roman invasion of Athens, when successive Roman generals looted the Parthenon, it later became incorporated into the Byzantine Empire when the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman invasion and conquest, the Parthenon was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. Later in 1687, as an Ottoman ammunition dump, the building was exploded by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. From 1800 to 1803, Lord Elgin removed many of the surviving sculptures, which were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. Today the Parthenon looks on battle scared but resolute with an amazing and inspiring survival story.

Exploring the Caryatids

Reflections

  • Is this ancient temple one the must-see Historic sites?
  • After multiple invasions and attacks, is it a miracle that this building has survived?
  • From a sacred temple with holy relics to an Ottoman harem, have the “Porch of the Maidens” had a front-row seat to Greek History?
  • I find it amazing that this building has survived so many invaders.

Porch of the Caryatids

  • Name:       Porch of the Caryatids
  • Date:         421 – 406 BC
  • City:          Athens
  • Country:    Greece
  • Location:  Athens, Attica, Greece

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“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day.
You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”

– Epicurus

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Photo Credit: JOM

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