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Download my Ph.D. thesis

The Erechtheion on the Akropolis at Athens, one of the 
most beautiful and enigmatic
buildings ever built
by the
 ancient Greeks, once housed Athens' most important cult,

that of Athena Polias, Protectress of the

Besides the 
altars of Erechtheus, Poseidon, Hephaistos and Boutes,
 the Erechtheion
also incorporated
in one complex the 
tokens of the contest for the patronage of Athens, namely the salt-sea of Poseidon and the olive 
tree of Athena.

© Photography: John Goodinson

A fresh look at an old building

alex lesk erechtheionThe Erechtheion has been studied for centuries. My work takes a holistic diachronic approach to this most enigmatic of ancient buildings by examining 
it in four dimensions, starting with the Archaic period and ending with its 
current reconstruction.

This approach has enabled me to make surprising new
 such as re-dating the major ancient repair from
the Roman period to the 
Hellenistic period, pinpointing the
first reference to the Erechtheion 
maidens as "caryatids"
the first century AD, and discerning the form
 and function
of the Erechtheion in the post-classical period. The Greek Archaeological Service kindly granted me permission to climb all over 
the building, take the detailed
photographs that serve as the basis 
of my research and shoot reference points with a reflectorless EDM.

A new reconstruction of the interior

The reconstruction of the interior of the Erechtheion and the organisation 
of the various cults
within it are matters
of intense debate. There is a great
 deal of evidence, but almost every bit
of it is ambiguous.

Unconvinced by any
previous reconstruction of the interior of the Erechtheion, I re-examined the
ancient literary, epigraphical and
archaeological evidence
 and approa
ched the monument from a fresh perspective. I arrived at a 
radically different reconstruction of the arrangement of the interior of the 

In summary, although the exact arrangement of the cults within
 the temple can never be known without the discovery of new evidence, 
I concluded that the interior of the temple was essentially one large room 
east of the west cross-wall all at the same low level as the North Porch.

The East Porch was a viewing platform from which the public could see some of the ancient relics and the giant peplos of Athena Polias.

Plan of Erechtheion ALLPMB

Proposed interior reconstruction of the Erechtheion according to Lesk 2005.

Re-dating the restorations: clamps and caryatids

Every text you will read about the Erechtheion will tell you that the temple
 burned down, probably during the Sullan sack of Athens in 86 BC, and was rebuilt under Augustus. By analysing the evidence for the cult
 of Athena Polias and the style of the clamps and sculptural technique
 of th repaired sections of the Erechtheion, I was able to place the fire
 and repair in the Hellenistic period: the fire took place in the early 3rd
 century BC after which time the cult of Athena took a nose dive, and 
the restoration took place in the first half of the 2nd century BC,
 perhaps with some financial support from the Pergamene
 or Ptolemaic kings.

The reception of the Erechtheion is the other important facet to my 
research, that is, how people
reacted to it
aesthetically and culturally. 
The Romans, for example, quoted the Maiden Porch
extensively in their monuments.

I am looking at the reasons why, and how, these stately 
women were interpreted by those who
placed copies of
them in their
 monuments. Ever since I was an undergraduate, I have been curious

about the use of the Vitruvian
term "caryatid" and how it relates to the 
Erechtheion maidens.

By sorting through the literary and sculptural

evidence chronologically, I was able to determine
when the first conflation of the term and the Erechtheion
maidens occurred.

It was not in the
 5th century BC or in the 18th century as usually assumed, but in the 
1st century AD, by Pliny the Elder.

The afterlife of the Erechtheion: post-classical perversions

By looking at the building as a whole and through time and approaching 
it as a four dimensional jigsaw, I was able to develop of typology of cutting
 styles for door jambs and ceiling/roof-beams that allowed me to reconstruct the temple's incarnations as a late antique pillared hall, two phases as
 a church (5th and 12th centuries), two phases as a palace for the 
Frankish bishops (13th and 14th centuries as well as the home of an 
Ottoman officer garrisoned on the Akropolis in the 15th century and as
 a gunpowder magazine from the 17th through 19th centuries.

the Greek War of Independence, the Erechtheion continued to serve 
as a munitions store,
suffering extensive damage from
 gun and canon fire, including the destruction
of the North Porch.

Diaries and doodles

Blomerus, Paul and Alexandra L. Lesk, “Using AutoCAD® to Construct
a 4D Block-by-Block
Model of the Erechtheion
on the Akropolis at Athens,
III: An interactive virtual-reality database,” CSA Newsletter XXII (2009) No. 1.

The evidence to chart these changes comes primarily from the drawings
 and descriptions
of early travellers to
Athens, and the cuttings on the walls
 and reuse of material from various parts
of the building. While travel lin
research institutions, libraries and museums all over Europe
to consult 
and search for new images of the Erechtheion,
I processed each drawing 
and painting
of the temple on a grid where each block has a discrete set of co-ordinates.

On these grid sheets I noted whether a block is 
present, absent, or damaged.

 The results of this
analysis were then
entered into a database which 
was then linked to a CAD rendition of the Erechtheion, created to an
of 0.02 metres, by Dr. Paul Blomerus.

Chisels and charcoal

When early modern travellers began visiting the Erechtheion regularly
 during the 18th century,
they drew
and painted the temple and wrote 
accounts of their reactions to it. Many of them
also signed their names 
leaving a permanent record of their interaction with the monument.

I documented their graffiti and examined
their reactions to the temple, 
thereby trying to gauge
any patterns in the attitudes towards various
of the monuments such as the famous Maiden Porch. 

Among these travellers were architects whose sketches of the temple
 and its mouldings served as the inspiration for many Neo-Classical
 buildings in Western Europe and the Americas.

In addition to the graffiti of the Grand Tourists, I found a plethora
 of crosses carved into the building, evidence for the 
de-paganisation of the temple in the early Christian period. I also found three ships carved into the upper reaches of the interior 
of the North Porch which can be dated to the Byzantine period.

Boat 2 drawn smBoat 1 battle drawn

Graffiti of two boats (outlined in black by Lesk 2005) from the interior of the North Porch of the Erechtheion. Photos by A. Lesk.