Greek Architecture

views updated May 17 2018

Greek Architecture

Greek Building Techniques.

Almost all major Greek architecture employed the simple "post and lintel" system. In this method of building, two or more uprights—columns, piers, or walls—support horizontal members of a length limited by the strength of stone able to support its own weight. The "post" is the upright structural part and the "lintel" is the bridging element meant to span openings or support the roofing of the building. The Greeks became proficient in this style of construction as they developed methods of quarrying stone and the transportation and the handling of large stone masses. Ingenious devices were invented for the lifting and hoisting of building materials. From inscriptional evidence we know that the pulley, a device now taken for granted, was used with wooden lifting structures. These primitive cranes had two, three, or four legs, depending on the situation and the weight demands. Systems were developed for lifting stone that employed rope rigging to lift while levers and crowbars were used for placement. These devices seem self-evident today, but in their time they represented technological advances over the ancient technique of moving stone to a height on sleds and ramps. Timbers were used to support and form the structure of the roofing that was usually covered with tile. In domestic architecture, dwellings, shops, and other utilitarian buildings, construction was much simpler. It usually consisted of walls of fired or unfired brick laid on rough stone foundations. The tools employed for most architectural work were simple, yet they represent the state of technology of the period. Architects and engineers used cords for measuring, with squares, plumb bobs, and levels to maintain the accuracy of the construction. Masons employed hammers, axes, files, and chisels to work the stone. Iron tools were adequate to shape marble and limestone.

Earliest Temples.

The history of Greek architecture is essentially the history of the development of the Greek temple. In the Bronze Age and the periods of Minoan and Mycenaean strength in Crete and mainland Greece, the temple was not the principal place of worship of the gods. A dwelling place or cult center for the deity was not defined by an elaborate structure so the importance that was to be placed on temple building signaled a new and different attitude to worship. One important consideration must still be remembered. The temple in Greek culture was not a building to accommodate groups of worshipers. It was the house of the god or goddess with a statue of the deity and perhaps some additional rooms that functioned as treasuries, but the rites and sacrifices made to the god were carried out on an altar in front of the temple. The earliest examples of temples of the Greek age can only be deduced from archaeological evidence. There are pottery models of single-room structures with peaked roofs dating to the eighth century b.c.e. that give some indication of early temple design. The idea of surrounding a temple structure with one or more rows of columns seems to have been a purely Greek invention. In other ancient cultures, particularly in Egypt, columns were mainly used on the interior of temples, sometimes in great profusion. In Greek architecture the exposed column was one of the most characteristic elements. Probably the earliest rectangular temple with a colonnade surrounding it for which there is evidence is the temple to the goddess Hera on the island of Samos. It has been dated to the late eighth century b.c.e. At this stage the columns were of wood set on bases of stone. The temple was rebuilt in the seventh century b.c.e., made slightly larger, and modifications were made that brought it closer to the eventual proportion and design of temples of the classic age.

Early Doric Style.

About 580 b.c.e. a Doricstyle temple was built to the goddess Artemis on the island of Corfu, just off the northwest coast of mainland Greece. Although it has been completely dismantled, enough of the limestone blocks have been found to furnish evidence to suggest its size—about 77 feet wide and about twice that in length. Enough of the pediment—the triangular space at the end under the double-pitched roof—was recovered to show that it had been decorated with carving in relief, representing a gorgon and a battle between gods and giants. This is the one of the earliest examples of pedimental sculpture that can be determined. Around the same time a temple was built to the goddess Hera at Olympia. Only the super-structure has been preserved but it was possible to deduce that it had sixteen columns on the side and six at the ends, the corner columns counted twice. The columns had no separate base but rested on the top step of the platform. Columns of the type called Doric were fluted—carved with a series of shallow vertical channels—and tapered toward the top. The capital, or top of the column, consisted of a curved pad-like part with a square block above. The plan of the temple at Olympia includes a pronaos, cella, and the first known example of the opisthodomus. The cella was the central hall or sanctuary of the temple, and the pronaos was the small anteroom in front of it. The opisthodomus is a small porch at the back of the cella. There were two rows of columns inside to support the roof and evidence that there had been engaged columns as well, attached to the sidewalls. This temple originally had columns in wood that were only gradually replaced in stone. As a result they are of several different periods and styles from the sixth century b.c.e. to Roman times. In the second century c.e. Pausanias noted one wooden column still standing which had not been replaced. The walls of this temple were of sun-dried brick laid on a stone foundation. The architrave or base for the roof structure that bridged the columns was apparently of wood, and the roof itself was covered in terra cotta tiles. A large limestone base was found inside the cella, probably for the cult statue of the goddess or a double statue of Hera and Zeus. This early temple is important not only for its layout and proportions but also for the evidence it gives of temples originally built with wooden elements being replaced by more durable stone construction. In the Doric order the frieze—the horizontal band above the architrave—was decorated with a pattern of alternating triglyphs and metopes. The triglyph is a single block with its face carved to resemble three vertical bars; the metope is a rectangular slab that may be plain but may also be decorated with painting or relief sculpture. It is thought by some that the design of the triglyph was a memory of the beam-ends in wooden architecture, but this explanation is not accepted by all architectural historians. The temple of Apollo at Corinth, dated to about 540 b.c.e., is the only example of a sixth-century mainland temple with some columns still standing. Each column is a monolith—carved from a single block—standing about 21 feet high, made of a porous limestone originally finished with a coat of stucco. There were six columns on the end and fifteen on each side, making the length two and a half times the width. The platform under the colonnades rose in a slight convex curve. This is the earliest example known where this adjustment was made to correct the optical illusion that makes the base line appear to be curved. The interior of this temple was divided into two chambers back to back, each entered from its own porch. Other preserved examples of sixth-century Doric architecture can be found in the Greek colonies of Sicily and southern Italy. To fully appreciate the early development of the Doric style it is necessary to examine some of these. Three well-preserved temples at Paestum, south of Naples, include one to Hera from the mid-sixth century. It has long been known as the "Basilica" and is still referred to by that name in some publications. All of the peripteral colonnade is still standing and the architrave is still in place, but the walls are completely gone. There were nine columns at each end and eighteen on a side. This is somewhat unusual with an uneven number on the façade dividing it in half. The cella contained a central row of columns that were the same size as the colonnade. A feature of this early stage in the development of the Doric order is that the columns in this temple were radically tapered from bottom to top so they gave a springy or elastic appearance to the structure.

Early Ionic Architecture.

The Doric and Ionic architectural orders have a number of differences but the main one is the placement, shape, and proportion of the columns. The Doric column sits directly on the platform of the temple; the Ionic has a base, usually composed of several elements that may even contain carved decoration. As compared to the simpler Doric capital the Ionic capital has a pair volutes—spiral-or scroll-shaped ornaments—that may suggest construction in other materials than stone and also reflect the influence of cultures from western Asia or Egypt. The Ionic column is generally thinner in proportion to its height than the Doric, and Ionic temples generally only have two steps where the Doric has three. Two temples built about the same time in the mid-sixth century are examples of the early Ionic-style and are also among the first large-scale temple buildings in Greek architecture. One of these was a second temple dedicated to Hera on the island of Samos and the other to Artemis at Ephesus in east Greece—now the west coast of Turkey. The temple at Ephesus was partially paid for by King Croesus of Lydia, whose wealth became proverbial—"rich as Croesus." At Ephesus the temple to Artemis had a double colonnade with 21 columns on a side measuring almost 360 feet. This massive building was built of marble with a wooden roof covered with terra cotta tiles. Some of the lower column drums were decorated with relief carving. The temple to Hera at Samos also had a double colonnade and faced east, as was the normal orientation of Greek temples. The temple to Artemis, by contrast, faced west. This may have been influenced by an earlier shrine on the site at Ephesus. A later temple on the Samos site, begun around 530 b.c.e., was the largest Greek temple of which modern scholars have knowledge. It measured 179 by 365 feet and had columns that were 63 feet high. The columns themselves were of limestone, but their capitals and bases were of marble, probably to conserve the valuable marble.

Fifth Century Temples.

In the fifth century b.c.e., the refinement of the relationship of architectural elements and proportions were effectively resolved resulting in the "classic" look of Greek temple architecture. The ideal relationship of the numbers of columns—ends to side—was resolved at six to thirteen. Marble came into prominence as the major building stone, replacing limestone where it was available. An important example of the developing refinement from sixth into fifth-century b.c.e. architecture is the one dedicated to the goddess Aphaia on the island of Aegina, southwest of Athens. A good deal of it has survived, including some of the pedimental sculpture, enabling reliable restoration to be realized. Its position on a hilltop is a reminder that the site of a Greek temple was often chosen for its commanding height and view of the sea or surrounding landscape. The temple had six by twelve columns, not yet the ideal relationship of six to thirteen to come. The interior of the cella in this temple had two rows of smaller columns that supported a second, smaller, row above. This two-story interior colonnade was not unique and can be found in some other temples. Its purpose was to help support the roof construction. Since it was not thought proper for interior columns to be taller than those on the exterior the solution was to have two superimposed levels of smaller columns to reach the height between floor and roof. This arrangement can also be seen in the temple of Hera (once thought to be dedicated to Poseidon) at Paestum in southern Italy. This temple, probably the best example of a Greek-style temple preserved, was also built between the beginning and the middle of the fifth century. The exterior decoration of the temple at Aegina included marble roof tiles on the edge of the roof, water spouts in the shape of lions' heads, antefixes shaped like palmettes, and a considerable amount of colored detail. Although there is some debate about the amount of decorative color used in Greek architecture, many examples of painted surfaces have been found preserved, giving considerable support to the idea that these structures were not the stark light color of marble or limestone, as they exist today.

The Acropolis.

The buildings on the Acropolis—literally "high city"—at Athens had a long history extending back into Mycenaean times. The oldest temple of the goddess Athena on the site can be traced back at least to the seventh century b.c.e. Originally a fortified stronghold, the limestone plateau high above the city remained the center of worship for the patron goddess with her main altar after its military importance had diminished. At the beginning of the fifth century b.c.e. the Athenians began a building project to replace the old temple and construct a new propylon—entrance gate—to the sanctuary. This plan was interrupted by the Persian invasion and the destruction and sack of the Acropolis in 480 b.c.e. It was not until after the mid-century that the plans for a new temple for the city goddess were carried out. Modern scholars know this new temple as the Parthenon, so named because it was dedicated to a special aspect of the goddess as Athena Parthenos—Athena the maiden or Athena the virgin. Her cult center eventually contained several important buildings in addition to the main temple. These are the Propylaea or entryway to the Acropolis, the temple of Athena Nike or Victory, and the Erechtheum, a building intended to organize several cults in one structure.


introduction: Often it is the description written by a traveler in ancient times that gives us a real impression of how the monuments looked in their own time. When Pausanias, the Greek traveler and historian, visited Athens in the second century c.e. and climbed to the top of the Acropolis, he saw the Parthenon in what must have been near its original condition. As was usual with his writing, he tried to identify the subjects of the decoration and explain their historical or mythological significance.

As you enter the temple that they name the Parthenon, all the sculptures you see on what is called the pediment refer to the birth of Athena, those on the rear pediment represent the contest for the land between Athena and Poseidon. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx—the tale of the Sphinx I will give when I come to my description of Boeotia—and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief. These griffins, Aristeas of Proconnesus says in his poem, fight for the gold with the Arimaspi beyond the Issedones. The gold which the griffins guard, he says, comes out of the earth; the Arimaspi are men all born with one eye; griffins are beasts like lions, but with the beak and wings of an eagle. I will say no more about the griffins. The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind. The only portrait statue I remember seeing here is one of the emperor Hadrian, and at the entrance one of Iphicrates, who accomplished many remarkable achievements.

source: Pausanias, Description of Greece. Trans. W. H. S. Jones (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1918): 23, 25.

The Parthenon.

Under the leadership of Pericles the old building plan of the 480s was revived at the mid-century. The architects of the new temple to Athena were Ictinus and Callicrates. The cult image for the temple was the work of Phidias, who probably also created the decorative program for the whole building and is traditionally thought to have been the overall director of the works. The temple was begun in 447 and dedicated in 438 but the sculptural decoration was not completely finished until 432. The building was used in later times as a Byzantine church, a Catholic church, and a Muslim mosque. In 1678 an explosion of gunpowder stored in the cella destroyed much of the center of the temple that had been in a good state of preservation up to that time. In the period 1801–1803 the English collector, Lord Elgin, received permission from the Turkish officials to remove some of the sculpture—the so-called Elgin Marbles now in the British Museum (and the source of controversy with the present Greek government). These included some of the pedimental figures and most of the relief frieze that are considered among the most important examples of fifth-century b.c.e. Greek art. The building itself was constructed of Pentelic marble on a limestone foundation that partly covered that of the earlier temple. Some of the column drums from the ruined temple were found in good condition and used in the new one, dictating the size of the columns—34 and one-fourth feet high—but not the overall proportion. The Parthenon has eight columns on the ends and seventeen on the sides because it is somewhat wider in proportion than had been the rule. It is possible that this extra width was planned to accommodate the interior view of the extraordinary colossal gold and ivory statue of Athena in the cella. The plan included the peripteral colonnade, front and rear porches with six columns, and a chamber behind the cella that may have served as the treasury. The cella had a two-story colonnade on the sides and back, presumably for viewing the Athena statue. By the mid-fifth century Greek architects had achieved a level of design with a refinement and a harmony of proportion that has seldom been equaled. This was done over time by trial and error, taking advantage of technological advances in building and by considerable experimentation with the visual effects of size, shape, and relationships. Visual refinements were made to correct optical illusions. Thus the main horizontal elements in the facade of the building—the platform stylobate and the superstructure entablature—were gently curved downward from the center. The columns and walls lean slightly inward. The columns taper toward the top in a slight curve entasis and even the depth of the column fluting is less deep at the top. The Doric column of the fifth century b.c.e. has been greatly refined from its predecessor of a hundred years before, and its curved profile is much more subtle. Many scholars have seen this as an incorporation of Ionic aspects into the Doric style. Much has been said about the ideal mathematical proportions that were developed by Greek architects in order to define the visual relationships of building parts. In the Parthenon a number of examples of this principal at work can be seen. The ration of width to length of the temple is 9:4; the space between the columns to their diameter has the same relationship, 9:4, and this can be seen in other aspects of the building as well. The use of simple repeated ratios and geometric relationships imposed a visual order and harmony and resulted in an architectural masterpiece.

The Propylaea.

The Propylaea was the grand ceremonial gateway and entrance to the precinct of the Acropolis. It replaced an earlier structure as the Parthenon had replaced an earlier temple. It was the work of the architect Mnesicles, and it was begun in 437 b.c.e., after the construction of the Parthenon was finished and work on it was halted in 432 b.c.e. The Propylaea was entirely of marble and took five years to build but was never completely finished according to plan. In addition to the grand gateway with a wide central passage it had porches with six columns on the outer side and inside and was to have two large rooms flanking the doorway. One of these rooms was described by Pausanias as a "picture galley" but it has also been suggested that this was a formal dining room. The building was built entirely of costly marble and on such a large scale that some of the ceiling beams had to span a distance of eighteen feet. As a consequence of this size, these have been estimated as weighing over eleven tons. This ability to handle large weight at a height indicates a well-developed system of construction techniques.

The Temple of Nike and the Erechtheum.

High to the right of the Propylaea a small temple was begun about five years after work on the ceremonial gateway was suspended. This compact structure was dedicated to Athena Nike—goddess of victory. It was designed in the Ionic style with four slender columns at each end. The cella was entered between two piers or square pillars which were connected to the side walls by bronze lattice screens. A carved frieze representing the Greeks battling the Persians decorated all four sides of the entablature, an element more typical in the Ionic than in the Doric style. The pediment above had carved figures, as can be determined by attachments, and a sculpted parapet on three sides was added later. Another important building on the Acropolis in the Ionic style is the Erechtheum. It takes its name from Erechtheus, a legendary king of Athens, whose palace may have been thought to have once stood on that location. Begun in 421 and finished in 405, it is probably the most unusual structure in the precinct because of its irregular plan. This was perhaps the result of a need to bring together several shrines or cult places. There were three inner chambers and three porches or porticoes of different sizes and on different levels. On the south side the porch had six caryatids—architectural supports in the shape of human figures—supporting the entablature instead of columns. These famous female statues have been removed to the protection of a museum and replaced with copies. One of the important lessons to be learned from the Erechtheum is the fact that Greek architects were able to adapt to the needs of an unusual situation.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus.

To the southeast of the Acropolis in Athens a large temple dedicated to Olympian Zeus was begun around 520 b.c.e., but it was left unfinished and only the platform was used in its completion at a much later time. Under Anti-ochus IV, king of Syria, work was resumed on the temple in the second century b.c.e. but it was not finally finished until 131 c.e. in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian. It is thought that it was originally planned in the Doric style but when it was completed it was with elements of the Corinthian order including elaborate floral Corinthian capitals. The original plan included a double row of columns in the peripteral colonnade with a third row at each end. This was probably influenced by other early temples on a large scale like that of Hera at Ephesus. The Temple of Olympian Zeus was one of the largest in Athens, measuring 135 by 353.5 feet with columns that were 57 feet high. Its completion hundreds of years after it was started was probably a result of the emperor Hadrian's admiration for Greek culture.

The Greek Theater.

Although the temple form is the most important architectural type in Greek history, there are a number of other kinds of structures to consider. In addition to the temple there were many other types of public buildings, monuments, altars, and tombs that should be mentioned. The theater was perhaps the second most typical expression of Greek architectural design. All festivals, athletic contests, and dramatic presentations were held out of doors. Originally even the Assembly of the citizens of Athens was held in the open air on the sloping rocky outcrop known as the Pnyx. This allowed the participants to see and hear the speakers who were at a lower level. It follows that the performances held in honor of the god Dionysus would be held in a hollow where the audience could be seated on the sloping hillside. In the history of the Greek drama most theaters were constructed where they could take advantage of the natural hillside. The beginnings of the drama were in choral dances so the most important area of the theater was the circular orchestra which literally means "dancing place." The body of the auditorium or theatron consisted of a semicircular arrangement of gently sloping stone rows of seats. As the idea of the dramatic theater developed and the number of actors was increased, it became necessary to provide a stage with a backing of some sort. This was called the skene and it provided a sounding board to help project the voices of the actors as well as to provide some rudimentary scenery. The idea of the theater as a special building seems to have developed at the end of the sixth century and the beginning of the fifth century b.c.e., but one of the earliest still in evidence is the theater of Dionysus on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was later changed or modified when it went through a number of rebuildings during the fourth century and the Roman Imperial period. One of the best-preserved examples of a theater is at Epidaurus on the east coast of southern Greece. According to Pausanias, the architect of this theater was Polykleitos the Younger. It was constructed around 350 when the essential elements of theater design had been formalized. The auditorium, which has a shape slightly more than a semicircle, is cut into the hillside. The stone seats are divided into wedge-shaped blocks or sections with a horizontal passageway separating the lower from the upper part, which is steeper and has higher seats. The design of the seats even provides some leg space beneath to allow the spectators to make room for people passing in front of them. The lowest seats were for special attendees and had backs and arm rests. In some theaters these seats for dignitaries were almost throne-like with elaborately carved decoration. There was presumably an altar in the center of the orchestra, as evidenced by a stone base found in place. The stage building must have been a tall one, again to judge from the remaining foundations. This theater could accommodate an estimated twelve to fifteen thousand people, seated in relative comfort and with apparent ease of entrance and exit. The design of Greek theaters changed somewhat to accommodate other types of dramatic presentations when they were developed but the basic parts remained the same and were standard throughout the Greek world.

Buildings with a Special Purpose.

One of the most important buildings in the daily life of the Greeks was the stoa, a one or two-storied structure with a long colonnade that could include shops and serve also as an informal meeting place. The stoa of Attalus in the Agora (open marketplace) at Athens has been reconstructed from the archaeological evidence and serves as a good example of the type. Such colonnaded buildings provided protection from the elements for the public in their daily activities and as a result they were to be found in religious complexes as well as marketplaces. Other public buildings were specifically designed as meeting places for the civic councils, assembly halls for a particular cult, and even informal spaces for social clubs. Functional buildings included fountain houses where people would go to fill their water jars. These are often illustrated in Greek vase painting. One special type of building was the clock tower. The only surviving example is the so-called "Tower of the Winds" preserved in Athens. Built in the first century b.c.e., it is an octagonal (eight-sided) building with carved reliefs depicting personifications of the winds at the top of each side. In addition to space for a water clock and reservoir there were sundials mounted on the sides and a wind vane was mounted on the top.

Houses and City Planning.

The typical Greek house answered the need for an enclosed space offering privacy and protection. The normal plan of the living space centered on an open court with a peristyle or verandas. A number of examples have been excavated, and they generally follow the same arrangement that consisted of an entrance hall with a small room to one side, a central courtyard with rooms of various sizes fronting on it. These houses were generally of one story and laid out in a square plan, with mud brick walls on a stone or rubble foundation. The floors in special areas, such as the dining room, could be decorated with mosaics. The dining room was also often provided with platforms for the reclining diners. Bathrooms were sometimes paved and provided with terra-cotta tubs, but other sanitary facilities have seldom been found in excavation. The doors of houses were of wood and from representations in vase painting modern scholars know that they were decorated with metal studs. The regular arrangement of dwellings in an orderly city plan became popular in the early fifth century b.c.e. Greek cities were laid out with provision for public meeting and trading places (the agora or public square), and cult centers and sanctuaries where the temples and shrines were located. The cities were typically surrounded by a protective wall, with towers, moats, and defensible gates. Such fortifications were the result of the need to guard against attack and to assure a sense of security.


A. H. Lawrence, Greek Architecture. Rev. R. A. Tomlinson (New York: Penguin Books, 1983).

G. M. A. Richter, Greek Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1967): 7–44.

see also Fashion: Garments in Classical Greece ; Religion: The Gods of Olympus ; Religion: Worshipping the Gods: Sacrifices and Temples

Greek architecture

views updated Jun 27 2018

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)

Greek art and architecture

views updated May 11 2018

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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