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Greek architecture

Greek architecture the art of building that arose on the shores of the Aegean Sea and flourished in the ancient world.

Origins of Greek Architecture

Palaces of the Minoan civilization remain at Knossos and Phaestus on Crete. Of the later Mycenaean civilization, surviving examples are the Lion's Gate at Mycenae and palaces at Mycenae and Tiryns. When the Dorians migrated into Greece (before 1000 BC) true Hellenic culture began, and the architecture that eventually developed seems to have borrowed little from the preceding civilizations.

In Greece the Dorians developed their building forms with such rapidity that between the 10th and the 6th cent. BC a definite system of construction was established. However, prior to the creation of the great marble temples of the 5th cent. BC, there were undoubtedly evolutionary stages in which walls were made of sun-dried bricks and roofs, columns, and uprights of wood. The Heraeum at Olympia, considered one of the most ancient temples yet discovered, represents such a stage; in its later alterations (7th cent. BC), it is illustrative of the beginnings of the Doric temple of stone.

The Flowering and Decline of Greek Architecture

Between 700 BC and the Roman occupation (146 BC) all the chief works of Greek architecture were produced. The period in which all the major masterpieces were erected extended from 480 BC to 323 BC That incredibly productive era includes the reign of Pericles in Athens, in which the architects Callicrates, Mnesicles, and Ictinus flourished and in which the Parthenon and other great works were produced.

After the passing of power from Athens and Sparta to Asia Minor the pure traditions of the mainland were lost. The products of the following Hellenistic period show a decline from the Athenian tradition and reveal Asian influences. The Hellenistic architecture (see Hellenistic civilization) that thus arose (4th–3d cent. BC), exhibits florid and opulent elements and more complicated design. City planning, ignored by the mainland Greeks, was cultivated by the Hellenistic architects, among them Hippodamus; from them the Romans doubtless acquired their concepts of monumental civic design.

The Orders of Greek Architecture

Of the three great styles or orders of architecture (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian), the Doric was the earliest and the one in which the noblest monuments were erected. Theories of the origin of the Doric order are numerous. The great remaining examples of the 6th cent. BC are found chiefly in Sicily and at Paestum in Italy. After 500 BC the archaic features of the Doric disappeared; harmonious proportions were achieved; and the final exquisitely adjusted type took form at Athens, in the Hephaesteum (465 BC), the Parthenon (c.447–432 BC), and the Propylaea (437–432 BC).

The Greek colonies of the Asia Minor coast had evolved their own special order, the Ionic order, stamped with Asian influences. This style appeared in temples in Greece proper after 500 BC, challenging with its slenderly proportioned columns and carved enrichments the supremacy of the simple, sturdy Doric. The most magnificent Ionic temples were those at Miletus. In Greece proper the Ionic appeared in only one temple of major importance, the Erechtheum at Athens, and otherwise the form was restricted to minor buildings, as the temple of Nike Apteros, Athens (438 BC), and to interiors as in the Propylaea, Athens.

The third Greek order, the still more ornate Corinthian order, appeared in this period, reached its fullest development in the mid-4th cent. BC, but was comparatively little used. The chief examples, both at Athens, are the choragic monument of Lysicrates (c.335 BC) and the Tower of the Winds (100 BC–35 BC). Later, the Romans used the Corinthian order extensively and adapted it into their widely used composite order.

Ancient Greek Construction Methods

The Greeks laid their masonry without mortar but with joints cut to great exactness. Marble was not generally used until the 5th cent. BC Where coarse stonework or crude bricks were used, a coating, composed of marble dust and lime rubbed and highly polished, was applied to them. Even marble itself was sometimes so treated. Although it was long thought that buildings in ancient Greece retained the unbroken white of the marble, in fact colors and gilding were customarily applied to emphasize decorative sculpture and certain details; remaining traces of these have been found. Having discovered in the simple column and lintel an adequate method of construction, they used it exclusively, drawing from it the maximum of dignity and beauty.

The Greek Temple

Greek cities were often built in the vicinity of a steep hill called an acropolis that served as a citadel and upon which the principal temples were located for safety. The Acropolis at Athens is the most celebrated example. Throughout Greece numerous temples were built. Many illustrated the most rudimentary temple type—a simple rectangular chamber called the naos, the side walls extending to the front to form terminations for an open entrance porch containing two columns. This loggia was sometimes repeated at the other end. The next stage was the forming of freestanding porticoes, then a continuing of columns, flanking sides and ends, the naos thus being completely surrounded by a colonnade. This type was termed peripteral and was exemplified in most of the important monuments of the great period. In dipteral temples the surrounding colonnade was doubled.

No public mass worship took place within the temples, the naos being designed primarily to house the statue of the deity. The structures of the culminating period are unique for the subtle proportionings and refinements of all the members, which are integrated into a superbly adjusted whole. To prevent an appearance of sagging, as in the temple platform (stylobate), or of concavity, as in the outlines of columns, subtly curved or slanting lines were substituted for straight or vertical ones and served as optical corrections. To insure the desired proportions and delicate relationships, a body of traditional formulas was accumulated, using mathematical and geometrical devices.

Other Structures

In addition to temples, the Greeks also built a number of other kinds of structures. Their public spaces included monumental tombs; agoras, or public meeting places; stoas, or colonnaded shelters; stadiums; palaestrae, or gymnasiums for athletic training; propylaea, or entrance gateways to cities; and amphitheaters.


See A. W. Lawrence, Greek Architecture (1967); V. Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods (rev. ed. 1970); J. J. Pollitt, Art and Experience in Ancient Greece (1972).

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Greek architecture

Greek architecture. The cradle of Classicism, Greece perfected and refined columnar and trabeated architecture, each part of which was expressive of a long tradition of such construction, and related to the whole by subtle systems of proportion. Greek architecture was related to human scale, and expressive of its essential structural elements, yet was perfected in the temples, the greatest achievements of Greek architects, as habitations for the deities. The three Greek Orders (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) were evolved, each with its own characteristics and rules, refinements of detail and appropriate ornament, and these Orders were adapted by the Romans, providing the essentials of everything known as Classical architecture thereafter. The Corinthian Order is often thought to be no more than a variant of Ionic with a different capital, but there are, in fact, subtle differences.

Greek architecture was essentially a petrified and ultra-refined development of timber construction from the period after C6 bc, so much of the ornament of the Orders that appears merely decorative had its origins in carpentry, triglyphs suggesting the ends of beams, guttae the dowels, and metopes the planes (or even voids) between the beams. It appears to have derived much from Ancient Egyptian architecture, notably the columnar and trabeated elements, but also the basic forms of the Doric Order have precedents of sorts in the Egyptian rock-cut tombs at Beni-Hasan (early second millennium bc) and in the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deïr-el-Bahari (mid-C15 bc). However, the Greek Doric temple, which may have been derived partly from the Mycenaean megaron and partly from Egyptian columnar and trabeated models, was a unified, original, and entirely Greek invention, and was established in C7 bc). Among early Doric temples may be mentioned the Temple of Apollo, Thermum (c.640 bc); the Heraeum, Olympia (before 600 bc—and originally with timber columns later replaced with stone); the fragmentary Temple of Artemis at Corcyra (Corfu) of c.580–570 BC (which was lavishly embellished with sculpture); the first Temple of Hera at Paestum (c.550 bc), the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina (c.500–495 BC), and the huge Temple of Zeus Olympios at Acragas (Agrigentum), Sicily (c.510–409 BC). These temples had sturdy, even stocky, columns, and, at Paestum especially, the columns had an exaggerated entasis and very wide overhanging capitals much admired for their powerful, even primitive, evocations by C18 Neo-Classicists. Indeed, the severity, toughness, roughness (emphasized by the loss of the smooth stucco rendering that covered the heavily textured stone), and sturdiness of Paestum Doric suggested masculine strength, and was used for expressive purposes by C18 and C19 Neo-Classical architects. Much more refined were the Hephaesteion (‘Theseion’), Athens (449–444 BC), and the Parthenon, Athens (447–438 BC), regarded by many commentators as one of the finest works of architecture ever created because of its elegant proportions, equilibrium between sculpture and structure, and subtle optical corrections to ensure serenity and repose (although there are many details such as the relationships of columns to soffits that are less than satisfactory). Mention should also be made of the Propylaea, the plural name given to the whole structure of formal gateway to the Acropolis with its wings, designed by Mnesicles and constructed 437–432 BC: the central intercolumniation of the Doric Order was wider than the others to facilitate the passage of processions and sacrificial beasts, and the Ionic Order was used to flank the central roadway inside the structure.

The Ionic Temples of Athene Nikè (Nikè Apteros—c.448–421 BC) and the Erechtheion (421–405 BC), both on the Athenian Acropolis, were among the most refined inventions, and are therefore important exemplars. The latter Temple, with its caryatid porch and exquisite Order incorporating a frieze around the neck of the columns, was widely admired during the Greek Revival: its asymmetrical composition was of particular interest. Among other important Ionic buildings were the Temples of Artemis at Ephesus in Asia Minor (c.560–450 BC and c.356–236 BC) and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (355–330 BC).

All three Orders were used in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae (c.450–425 BC): the external Order was Doric; the internal Ionic Order was unusual in that it had a unique capital with adjoining volutes, columns were attached to or engaged with piers or spur-walls along the inner walls of the naos: and at the southern end one isolated Corinthian column stood between two spur-walls that had an engaged Ionic, or, some authorities say, an engaged Corinthian, Order attached to each of them. The use of a Corinthian Order for interiors only as at Bassae was normal until the Hellenistic period: examples include the Tholos at Epidaurus (c.350 bc) and the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea (c.350 bc). However, a refined Corinthian was used on the exterior of the exquisite little Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, Athens (334 bc), and was much admired in C18, as the many quotations from it demonstrate.

Apart from temples, monuments, and tombs, the Greeks perfected the design of theatres, of which those of Dionysus, Athens (C5 bc), and Epidaurus (C4 bc) were the most impressive, and were influential, notably in Asia Minor. The Greeks also evolved designs for the stadium, the stoa, and other building-types. Elaborate public monuments were also vehicles for Greek architecture: a distinguished example was the Great Altar of Zeus, Pergamon (early C2 bc), with its vigorous sculpted podium and Ionic superstructure. It is now in Berlin.


Camp (2001);
J. Curl (2001);
Dinsmoor (1950);
Fyfe (1936);
Lawrence (1996);
R. Martin (1956, 1986);
C. Normand (1852);
D. S. R. (1945)

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Greek art and architecture

Greek art and architecture Greek architecture came into its own in the 6th century bc, when stone replaced wood as the building material for civic and temple buildings. Distinct orders of architecture began to emerge. The earliest remaining Doric temple is the Temple of Hera at Olympia (late 7th century bc), and the most outstanding example is the Parthenon. Among Ionic temples, the Erechtheum is considered the most perfect. The Corinthian mausoleum at Halicarnassus (350 bc) was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Greek art may be divided into four periods: Geometric (late 11th–late 8th century bc), Archaic (late 8th century–480 bc), Classical (480–323 bc), and Hellenistic (323–27 bc). Only a few small bronze horses survive from the Geometric period. During the Archaic period, stone sculpture appeared, vase painting proliferated, and the human figure became a common subject. Civic wealth and pride was a feature of the Classical period, and sculpture reached its peak of serene perfection. The Hellenistic period is noted for increasingly dramatic works.

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