The Architecture of Ancient Greece

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The Greeks set a tone for Western world and art history we know today through their paintings, sculptures, architecture, and many other innovations. Although they were influenced highly from Egypt and Mesopotamia, they would develop their own independent identity. The biggest concern while building what would become such impactive architecture, dealt with the proportion, harmony, and perspective. This would lead to the creation of many temples, theatres, and stadia that would become staple features of their cities/towns antiquity onwards. Greek structures went on to be the leading foundation for the classical architectural orders that would impact the Roman world and shape the Western world and tradition all the way from the Renaissance until present day.

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The Parthenon is known as the greatest Greek temple structured to be mathematical perfection through the calculated dimensions, harmonic numerical ratios, to the entire fixed proportional scheme. What made the Greek buildings distinguishable was not only the structure, proportions, or columns itself, but the way they decorated their buildings with beautiful statues, and shrines honoring those from Athena Parthenos to Athenian people who led the Greeks to victory over the Persians. Often including lavish sculptures in their structures to tell their history, religion, and stories.

Greeks gravitated towards the use of marble or terracotta (baked clay) mostly for their public structures. However, wood would have been used for architectural elements like columns to the entire buildings. Temples in the early 8th century BCE were built with thatch roofs and it wasn’t until the late 7th century BCE that the Greeks started converting their buildings to a more durable and sturdy stone (like limestone protected by a layer of marble dust stucco or just pure white marble often polished with chamois to provide resistance water and give a bright finish). Private houses were built mostly of unbaked brick. Metals like bronze were used as roof tiles to architectural decor to add details. Greek architects of the Archaic and Classical periods used these materials to develop a wide range of important buildings that served particular purposes from religious, civic, domestic, funerary, or recreational.

The elevation of Greek temples were defined through the platform, the colonnade, and the entablature. In the Archaic period, two orders (basic systems) evolved for articulating the three units; The Doric and Ionic orders. An order is the development of a certain style combination of columns: the architrave, frieze, and cornice. The Doric order was developed through the earlier use of wooden pillars into the Doric column in stone. (This was the preferred mainland style in Greece’s western colonies, southern Italy and Sicily). The Doric column was a vertical fluted column shaft, thinner at the top, no base, and simple capital below the square. The entablature frieze held alternation triglyphs and metopes. The Ionic order (mid 6th century BCE) was the main choice of the Aegean Islands  on the western coast of Asia Minor. It was also a popular choice for buildings in Athens. The Ionic has an added base and volute, to a slimmer, more straight column. It’s entablature often carried a frieze with richly carved sculpture with intricate patterns the main popular one known as dentils (row of square “teeth”).

All together their are five orders of what makes up the Greek classical architecture: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite. The Corinthian order (besides the Doric and Ionic) was the last developed of the three principle orders that inspired the Roman world and the production of their architecture. It was then, once the classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance period that the two other orders (Tuscan and Composite) were added.

The Corinthian order had slender fluted columns and complex capitals decorated with scrolls acanthus leaves. The Corinthian order was very rarely used before the mid 4th century BCE.  The first Corinthian column stood alone inside the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae (429-405 BCE). It was mainly used for the interior structure columns and did not externally appear until the Romans became heavily influenced by its style. It began to come highly favored because of its ornate character and the structure itself has eliminated problems that both the Doric and Ionic orders held. However, it was used both in the Hellenistic (Greek) and Roman times just more impactively in the Roman world.

The Hellenistic religion influences was considered the most creative periods in the history of religions. It was a time of spiritual revolution in the Greek and Roman empires. It transformed old cults into new religious movements. The Hellenistic Age defined from the death of Alexander the Great, Greco-Macedonian conqueror (323 BC) to the Roman province of Egypt (30 BC). The Hellenistic religion inspired the first ever Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I (d. AD 337). The Greeks religion alone inspired such change in the Mediterranean world. Whether you want to define this religion from it Macedonian, Greco-Roman, or its later Christian form, it is no doubt that this inspired unity amongst people.

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The Architecture of Ancient Greece. (2019, Aug 23). Retrieved from