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.
The building had two porches. The roof of the north porch was supported on six Ionic columns, while below its floor the Athenians pointed at the mark of the thunderbolt sent by Zeus to kill the legendary King Erechteus. At the south porch, which was the most well-known, the roof was supported by six statues of maidens known as the Caryatids, instead of the typical columns. Below it stood the grave of Kekrops, another legendary King of Athens. A building inscription of the Erechtheion refers to the Caryatids simply as Korai (maidens), while the name Caryatids was assigned at a later time. The second Korai from the western section was removed by Lord Elgin in 1801 and is today located in the British Museum.
Several interpretations about the Caryatids have been put forth. The most convincing one supports the view that they constituted the visible portion of the grave of Kekrops and were the choephoroi who paid tribute to the glorious dead. The main building and the north porch were surrounded by a continuous Ionic frieze decorated with images of gods, heroes and mortals, in scenes related to the ancient cults of the Erechtheion. The figures were separately carved in Parian marble and affixed on slabs of grey Eleusinian limestone.
The Caryatids from the south porch of the Erechtheion.