If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:8:08

Video transcript

at the top of the Acropolis in Athens adjacent to the Parthenon the largest building is a small complex and elegant building called the Erechtheion this is an ionic temple in contrast to the Parthenon which is largely Doric and we notice the ionic features immediately the columns are more slender there's a decorative detail and fineness and the scroll shapes that we associate with the ionic order in the Capitals we're approaching the Erechtheion from the east side and from this angle the building looks fairly traditional we see six columns the rightmost of which is a reconstruction now originally all the ionic columns on this temple were even more decorative there was glass inlaid there was gold around the bases and in the capitals it must have been a glorious sight we could refer to this building not as erect ium but instead is the temple to athena polios that is athena as the protector goddess of the city of athens on this east end was a room that held the ancient statue of Athena that was said to have dropped from the heavens and it was made of olive what it was very simple it was nothing like the statue just across the way sculpted by Phidias so you have this real contrast because with the Erechtheion we have this highly decorative building that's very elegant but which has a very severe and plain statue of Athena but across the way in the severe Doric temple of the Parthenon we had a enormous highly decorative sculpture of Athena if you were to enter into the east side you would walk into a relatively shallow cellar this room that would have been the shrine to this olive wood sculpture of Athena but this is a much more complicated building than that right because normally in a Greek temple you expect to see symmetry in this case the earth drops down at a building itself if sandwiched into a very tight space between the foundation of the old temple to Athena that the Persians had destroyed and the sheer cliff at the edge of the Acropolis and yet the architect invented a very elegant solution in a temple that has six columns on both the east and the west what the architect has done is to swing the back colonnade around to the north if we walk down a set of stairs that brings us to an area dedicated to Zeus and went to the Great North porch so we've just walked down a narrow steep flight of stairs but originally there was a broad staircase that brought us down to a precinct associated with Zeus he was the divine judge of a contest between a god and a goddess to see who could be the patron of the city of Athens and in a contest judged by the earthly king erect Theon the mythic figure hence the name of this temple the erect theum erectus asked each God to offer a gift to the people of Athens and he would be the earthly judge Athena offers an olive tree a symbol of peace of fertility and just here on the west side was the location of that tree offered by Athena in fact the modern Athenians have replanted that tree in that spot and for Poseidon's part he took his Trident and struck a rock and from it came a spring of salt water he is the ruler of the Seas in fact if you look at the north porch of the Arak viim you can see that in the roof there's a hole there's a window and according to tradition this is where his Trident came down from the sky and struck the bedrock from which the spring of salt water came and if you look at the base of the porch you can see that there's some missing stone which allows you to see the actual mark in the bedrock so this temple the Arak Thiam was a complicated place it had to hold not only the sculpture to Athena but also these pre-existing shrines the building is an elegant solution for the problem of a site that is serving multiple functions so the architectural problem was a complex one how do you build a building in a constrained space between an important ancient site that is being commemorated at the old temple to Athena the side of the cliff on multiple levels and for multiple purposes we look up at the north side we can see that the architect used blue marble in the frieze area and that sculpture would have been in pentelic marble which was whitish or cream-colored and would have been just beautiful the offset against that blue marble in fact the entablature of the north porch is incredibly detailed because the entablature is so high on columns that are much higher than on the other sides you have a continuity that's created by the carving that surround this building that allow the building to feel unified but the real treat that everyone comes to see is the so-called porch of the maidens on the south side let's go take a look as we walk around a stop here on the west side of the building because you have a clear view of the different levels on the left you see the very tall North porch on the right the porch of the maidens but in between you see engaged or half columns and those columns allow for a kind of symmetry with the East porch so we're standing now with our back to the Parthenon looking at the south side of the Iraq theme as a glorious porch of the maiden with its famous six caryatids six female figures who seem to be holding up the porch and reminiscent of Koray figures from the archaic period they have taken the place of columns and they make explicit the relationship between the vertical column and human body in Greek architecture we have a post and lintel system verticals or posts and rentals or horizontal members that go across and the vertical elements the columns correspond in a way to the verticality of the human body this isn't the first time that there have been caryatids in Greek architecture the city and treasury at Delphi incorporated female figures but that was archaic and here we have the human body and the drapery handled in the high classical manner most obviously you can see the contrapposto pose you see their knees pressing through their drapery the shift in their hips the sense of movement here but that sense of movement is balanced by a pull of vertical lines in their drapery that gives them at the same time a sense of stability so we don't feel like the porch is going to fall down especially since they're locked legs not they're free legs but the legs where the drapery completely hides the anatomy of the leg that is so columnar and that's towards the outside creating a sense of stability and confounding the human body with a column I love how they seem to be in procession they're certainly looking towards the Parthenon they remind me of the path a procession that annual religious procession where the Athenians would come up to the Acropolis and present a new woven garment to the olivewood statue of Athena that was housed here now we don't know who these figures are there have been lots of theories in fact the ancient Roman architect and theoretician of a true Vyas suggested they represented Greek people that had sided with the enemy the Persians during the Persian War and had been captured by the Athenians the men had been killed the women enslaved and forced to wear their royal garments in expression of their lasting humiliation but really we don't know we have no idea we do know that their elegance matches psionic order the decorative moldings the colored glass and stone that was used here the effect must have been very rich and very different from what we see today we talked about the symmetry between the East porch of the building and the half columns on the west side here there's a symmetry between the six caryatids on the south porch and six columns on the north porch and so although we have a building that is very disparate that enclosed the shrines of different Greek gods and goddesses this building beautifully expresses the ability of Greek architects during the high Classical period to unify disparate purposes in a complex terrain