Thursday, December 8, 2016

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 276

Caryatides and Erechtheum, Athens, Greece

This moonlit photo view of the Caryatides and Erechtheion (Erechtheum) in Athens, Greece by G. A. Guizi graces a postcard from the 1970s printed in Greece and sent by a friend in January 1973.  The caryatides are female figures support pillars seen above at the right center.  There were six “maidens of Karyai” holding up the flat roof beam on their heads.  This part of the temple is known as the Porch of the Maidens.  In 1801 Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841) removed one of the statues to decorate his Scottish mansion.  It was later sold to the British Museum in London, England where it still is today.  Lord Elgin had obtained a controversial permit from the Sublime Porte in Greece.  His agents not only removed one of these figures but also about half the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, and others from the Propylaea.  Known as the Elgin Marbles the sculptures were transported by sea to Britain.  Lord Byron and others likened Elgin's actions to looting or vandalism.  The ownership controversy continues today with Greece wanting the art returned and the British Museum resisting.

The space where Elgin's caraytid stood has not been filled and remains empty.  Legend has it that the remaining five maids can be heard at night wailing for their lost sister.  The rods seen between some of the figures on the card are where the pillars have been removed or were broken during an attempted removal.  The photo on the card was taken before the final removal of the remaining five original figures in 1979 and their replacement by replicas. 

Today these remaining five original statues are in the Acropolis Museum and those found on the temple are replicas.  The statues are made of marble and were cleaned between 2011 and 2015 to remove all the accumulated soot and grime without damaging the patina.  The cleaning was done in place and televised to museum visitors.

There are a couple of legends about the headdress worn by the maidens.  One says that when the Maidens of Karyai performed round dances they carried baskets of live reeds on their heads to emulate dancing plants.  Another tells of the basket carrying sacred objects used at the feasts of Athena and Artemis.  The word “Karyæ” means Walnut Trees and was supposed to refer to one of the six villages that united to form Sparta.  The girls from this area were said to be beautiful, strong, tall and capable of giving birth to strong children.  The image on the card is small and does not adequately show enough detail but pictures on-line do show the baskets on their heads and the beam resting on top of the baskets.   The figures are the same height and are dressed the same but other features such as the face, hair, stance and draping were done separately.  Three stand on the right foot and three stand on the left foot.  The hairstyle helps add support to the neck, which would otherwise prove too weak to hold up the beam.  There is a male counterpart to these female figures called a telamon or atlas referring to the legend of Atlas who held up the sphere of heaven on his shoulders.  The male figures were used on larger scale temples. 

The Erechtheum is an ancient Greek temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.  It was built between 421 and 406 BCE.  It stands on a slope with one side about 9 feet or 3 meters lower.  Built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon it has friezes of black limestone with relief in white marble.  There were elaborately carved doorways and windows, and columns that were gilded with gilt bronze and multi-colored glass beads.  This temple was associated with a variety of ancient holy relics of the Athenians and was said to be the burial place of mythical kings.  The temple has gone through multiple repairs, reformations and restorations.  It has been damaged during wars through bombardments, fire, smashing, and dismantling.  Restorations were done in 1977 to 1988, in 1979 the original caryatides were moved to the museum and replacements were installed.  At that time one of the statues was reunited with her foot that had been missing and found in rubble in the 1980s.    Major damage was done to concrete patches to the roof of the porch by air pollution.  In 2005 scientists worked on repairing the damage by using laser cleaning.  The restoration received the Europa Nostra award. 

The stamps on the postcard were issued in 1972.  The one on the left shows a man in a national costume.  The right stamp has a pattern or design.  

For more information and additional photos, see:,_7th_Earl_of_Elgin

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