The Mycenaean Temple of Athena:
Traces of a Mycenaean palace found at the Acropolis dated from about 1300 BCE can now be seen East of the Erechtheum.
At the end of the Mycenaean times (ca. 1125 BCE), after the abolition of the monarchy, the seat of the government was transferred to the lower city of Athens, and the Acropolis was left to the sanctuaries of Athena. It seems that the location of the Mycenaean palace had been occupied by a Temple dedicated to the God Poseidon and the Goddess Athena.
To read more about a well known Mycenaean Temple of Athena visit the Mycenaean Temple of Athena at Troy.
The most ancient remains that survived to us of a building specially consecrated to the cult of the Goddess Athena in the Acropolis of Athens are from c.a. 700 BCE They are two stone bases that are between the Parthenon and the Erechtheum, but it is not understood fully what these bases were for.
We do know that in the late Archaic period, by the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 6th century BCE, there were on the Acropolis, not only this Archaic Temple, but also other Temples and sacred places.
But during all the Archaic period, the Temple of the Goddess Athena was about the most famous shrine in Athens. It is signaled twice by Homer, more admiringly than any other shrine in any part of Greece. At Homer we can read that Erechtheus is established by Athena in his own rich Temple (Iliad 2.549); and that Athena Herself, on leaving the Phaeacians, flew over the sea to Athens and entered the strong house of Erechtheus (Odyssey 7.81).
This Great Doric Temple, also known as the Old Temple or the Hekatompedom (100 footed) was built between 529 and 520 BCE in the Doric order with 142.5 ft. x 70 ft. (43.44 m x 21.34 m) surrounded by a single exterior colonnade with 6 columns at each end and 12 columns at each side. The cella (the inner sanctum) was double; in the east cella was an interior colonnade of 6 columns, 3 on each side, dividing the cella into 3 aisles. The west cella was divided into 3 chambers, with 2 approximately square rooms at its east end leaving a 3rd, larger rectangular anteroom entered directly from the opisthodomos (the back room).
The pediments, for the first time, were made with marble, and for the first time on the Acropolis, the Gigantomachy was retold on the East pediment. The figures still preserved attest that it was one of the strongest compositions of ancient times; Athena and the Giants, specially those at both ends are the most high expression of attic archaism. In the present reconstruction, that can be see in the Museum of the Acropolis, the Goddess has firmness and movement; the back and leg outline, the vigorous projection of the Aegis with serpents by the left arm of the Goddess and the tension made by the right hand that olds the spear, express in the most dynamic way the divine furor and the confidence of the Goddess.
In the heart of the inner sanctum was the statue depicted on certain Hellenistic coins, and the recipient of the sacrifices that were made at the Great Altar in front of this Temple: an Archaic standing figure of Athena wearing the Aegis with Gorgon's head, and holding an owl and a libation bowl.
In front of the Great Doric Temple was the Great Altar of Athena. The Great Altar of the inscriptions, or simply The Altar, can be traced in rock cuttings just East of this Temple; it seems to have spanned the full width of the Temple. Here the oxen were slaughtered for the general feast that was shared by all the worshippers. The sacrifice continued here on this Altar long after the Great Doric Temple had been ruined and dismantled.
A very fragmentary "hekatompedom inscription" indicates that in 485 BCE two important Temples stood close together on the Acropolis: this "new" Great Doric Temple (in the center of the Acropolis) and the "old" Archaic Temple (North of the previous one and just next to the North slope of the Acropolis).
The Great Doric Temple was damaged by the Persians in 480/79 BCE When the Athenians returned to Athens after the Persian invasion they only found ruins and ashes. The buildings and the Temples on the Acropolis were burned and the statues' remains were spread in the ground. They pitifully collected all the broken statues and architectural sculptures and buried them inside cavities in the Acropolis and covered them with earth (it was inside those pits that they were discovered in 1885-1891). Much of the material was then reused by the Athenians (and is still visible) in the Themistoklean wall on the North side of the Acropolis. Dinsmoor suggests that the western cella (the western inner sanctum) and the opisthodomos (the back room) remained in place and were used as a treasury until ca. 450 BCE
Copyright ©1998-1999 Roy George