According to the Acropolis Museum website,
The area around the Erechtheion was considered the most sacred of the Acropolis. The Erechtheion was a complex marble building in the Ionic order, an exceptional artwork. The eastern part of the Temple was dedicated to Athena, whilst the western part was dedicated to local hero Boutes, Hephaistos and other gods and heroes. Thus, the Erechtheion was a temple with multiple functions, housing older and newer cults, and the site of the ‘Sacred Tokens’, the marks made by Poseidon’s trident and the olive tree, the gift of Athena to the city of Athens.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ERECHTHEION
From Ancient Greece.org, a Greek Tragedy,
“While the Parthenon was the most impressive temple on the Acropolis, another building, the Erechtheion was built to accommodate the religious rituals that the old temple housed. Construction of the Erechtheion began in 420 while the Peloponnesian war was interrupted by the Peace of Nikias and continued through some of the most difficult times for the Athenians at war. During this time the Athenians suffered a devastating defeat at Syracuse, saw their empire unravel through consecutive revolts, had their cherished democracy replaced by a brief oligarchy, and endured major defeat. The Erechtheion construction was concluded in 406 BCE, and soon thereafter, in 403 BCE Athens fell to the Spartans.”
None of the dramatic events that marked the fall of Athens are present in the elegant Ionic lines of the Erechtheion. It seems that the cultural maturity of Athens as expressed through art was reaching a new apogee, just as the forces and institutions that made it possible were unraveling.
An article, “Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew,” by Liz Alderman, in the July 7, 2014 issue of The New York Times reported that,
For 2,500 years, the six sisters stood unflinching atop the Acropolis, as the fires of war blazed around them, bullets nicked their robes, and bombs scarred their curvaceous bodies. When one of them was kidnapped in the 19th century, legend had it that the other five could be heard weeping in the night.
For three and a half years, conservators at the Acropolis Museum have been cleaning the maidens, Ionic columns in female form believed to have been sculpted by Alkamenes, a student of ancient Greece’s greatest artist, Phidias. Their initial function was to prop up a part of the Erechtheion, the sacred temple near the Parthenon that paid homage to the first kings of Athens and the Greek gods Athena and Poseidon.
HI-TECH COMES TO THE SISTERS
The Times article continues,
“Knots of people were glued to a video screen showing footage of the cleaning project, which was set up on the floor of the museum. Conservators wearing dark goggles wielded a dual-wavelength laser developed by the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas in Crete, a system that was also employed to restore the Parthenon’s west frieze and the high-relief metopes that adorned the east entrance. Beams of infrared and ultraviolet radiation pulsed across the hem of one Caryatid’s robes, burning soot millimeter by millimeter to reveal the apricot-tinted patina of the original marble.
Starting in 2011, a team of six Greek conservators focused on one Caryatid at a time, setting up fabric rooms around each statue and mapping its surface before attacking an ebony mantle of pollution that had thickened when Athens became a modern metropolis filled with car exhaust, factory fumes and acid rain. Along the way, the conservators found traces of an enormous fire set in the first century B.C. by the Roman general Sulla, and chunks of marble from clumsy repair jobs attempted centuries ago.
It took six to eight months to transform each statue from night into day, with the crews rotating shifts to avoid fatigue. The in-house restoration costs were minimal and funded with income from ticket and museum shop sales, said Costas Vassiliadis, a conservator who heads the restoration team.”
“To coincide with the museum’s fifth anniversary, the women — minus one — went on full display in June, gleaming from their modern makeover. The missing Caryatid is installed at the British Museum in London, which acquired it nearly a century ago after Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, had it sawed off the Erechtheion’s porch, along with shiploads of adornments from the Parthenon to decorate his mansion in Scotland before selling the pieces to pay debts.
Greek and British authorities have long fought over the return of these so-called Elgin marbles, a dispute that heated up again recently when the actors George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray came out in support of the sculptures’ being returned home during an appearance in London for the movie ‘The Monuments Men.’”
VISIT THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM
Visit The Acropolis Museum in the Google Art Project, for a truly breathtaking tour of the Museum and its treasures.