The Greek culture has had a huge impact on the history of the world. There is something Greek in almost everything, especially in the world’s architecture. Greece no longer had one king, so they focused on building temples for their gods. Architecture began small and plain but evolved into impressive pieces of art. As time passed from the Archaic period to the Hellenistic period, the people of Greece developed a type of formula for their buildings and their pieces of art.
In Ancient Greece, religion dominated their life, so it is understandable that their architecture would be dominated by their religion. Before Greece became many different city-states, they had kings, and they would build a room called a megaron to show they King’s authority. A typical megaron is a single chamber with a fire pit in the middle with a throne off to the side. This room opened up into a porch (portico) that had four columns in the front. After there were no more kings these megarons turned into temples. The fire pit, which turned into some type of altar or a place to show a sacrifice for that god, was now outside in front of the temple. The altar was now outside so people could see you make these sacrifices to their gods. The first Greek temples were made out of wood and were long rectangular buildings with a porch all the way around which was supported by columns made from tree trunks. A Greek temple consists of five basic parts: the pediment, entablature, columns, base, and the cella, or the inner sanctum. The pediment is triangular and would have a type of sculpture or ornament known as acreteria on each corner. An entablature consists of three parts: the cornice, frieze, and architrave, which holds up the pediment. The columns are the support between the entablature and the base. The base usually consists of three steps. The cella is the inner sanctum, which has different rooms with more columns for support. Each temple would have a cella but they were not identical.
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The Greeks developed an architectural system called an order, to distinguish the different styles of temples. Each order has a different proportions, entablature, and columns. The three Greek orders are called Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Doric order is considered to be the masculine order. The columns are short and stout and very plain. A Doric column has no base and the capital is plain. The height of the column would always be four and a half or five times the diameter of the column. They are also described as being entasis, meaning that about two thirds of the way up the column begins to taper in. The fluting of the columns was hallowed out semi-circles. The entablature of a Doric temple is also very plain. The cornice is plain, meaning there is no ornament on the cornice. The frieze is broken up into triglyphs and metopes. A triglyph are a series of sculpted vertical lines, and a metope is a plain area. The architrave is one full piece with no ornament.
An Ionic temple is considered to be feminine. The Ionic temple is very different to the Doric. An Ionic column is very sleek and slender. Just like the Doric column, the Ionic column is proportioned to its diameter. The height of an Ionic column is nine to ten times the diameter. The column has a base and the capital is more decorative with the use of scroll volutes. The fluting is very much like the Doric except there is a flat area in between every hallowed out semi-circle. The entablature of an Ionic temple has a lot more decoration. The cornice and the frieze with both have some sort of ornament or sculpture. The architrave is broken up into three or four pieces.
The Corinthian order is not used much in Ancient Greece. The Corinthian column is much like the Ionic but the capital is decorated with acanthus leaves. The Corinthian column is used mostly on the interior and becomes widely used in Ancient Rome.
A Greek temple can be classified in three ways: by the order, the number of columns, and the distribution of columns. The number of columns is always even because if there were an odd number of columns, then there would be a column on the axis of symmetry. They didn’t want a column in the middle because than you would have to walk around the column to get into the temple. The most common temples would be called hexastyle because it would have six columns in the front. If there was four columns across then it would be called tetrastyle or eight across would be called octastyle. Another way to classify a temple is how the columns are distributed. When a temple only has a row of columns on the front and has end walls, it is called in antis. If the temple has a row of columns on the front with no end walls, it is called prostyle. If a temple has a front and back portico with columns, it is called amphiprostyle. The most famous Greek temples would be considered to be peripteral, meaning that it has columns all the way around the building. The Greeks had a certain formula on how many columns would go on each side of a peripertal temple. They would take the number of columns in the front portico and multiply it by two and add one. If your temple was hexastyle and peripertal, than there would be thirteen columns on each side ( 6+6+1= 13).
The Greeks had developed a type of formula when it came to the construction of a temple.
There is not a major difference in architecture between the Archaic period and the Classical period. During the Archaic period they began to use stone instead of wood. Some of the most preserved remains of Archaic temples are found in Paestrum, Italy. Paestrum would be considered part of Magnagracia. The Basilica, originally known as the Temple of Hera I, is the oldest Archaic temple in Paestrum. You can tell that they had not got down the formula yet for a typical Doric peripertal temple. This temple had nine columns in the front and has eighteen columns on the side. According to the website, www.ancientgreece.com, there are more Archaic temples that survived than Classical temples.
The most famous Classical temples and buildings are in the acropolis of Athens. Every city had an acropolis (meaning high city), at the highest point of the city. The Athenian acropolis had been destroyed during the Persian Wars and the Athenians decided to leave it in ruins. Around 440 B.C. a new generation wanted to build the Parthenon bigger and better. The Parthenon is also known as the Temple of Athena Parthenos. The new Parthenon was meant to be the greatest temple ever built. Every inch of the Parthenon is made of marble, even the roof tiles. Greek temples were usually hexastyle but they wanted the Parthenon to be bigger so it had eight columns across instead of six columns. According to The Humanistic Tradition, the ninety-two metopes that occupy the frieze illustrate scenes of combat between the Greeks and Giants, Amazons, and Centaurs. Each metope showed the fight between two opponents, one being human and the other being a non-human. The architects made many lines curve upward to make the Parthenon look even bigger. The sculpture on the Parthenon was at one time painted in bright colors.
Another main building on the acropolis is the Erechtheum. The floor plan for the Erechtheum is very unique and unusual. There are different sections for Athena Polias, Poseidon, and Erechtheus. The most famous aspect to the Erechtheum is known as the Porch of Maidens or the Porch of Caryatids. It is the southern portico and instead of columns, the structure is supported by six female sculptures which form a type of gallery.
In the Hellenistic period, the Greeks continued to build temples but they also began to build other types of public buildings. The agora was a combination of a marketplace and civic area. The stoa was the most important part of the agora. The stoa would be used for political, economical, or financial reasons. The Greeks also built gyms to exercise. During the Hellenistic period, the Greeks seemed to build more buildings where men could gather and socialize than places for worship.
During the Hellenistic period, you find the first monument built to celebrate someone who was not a general, god, or ruler. The Monument to Iysicrates is located in Athens, and is the first time a Corthinian column is used on the exterior. There was not a lot of money to spend on new temples but they still managed to build the Temple of Zeus Olympius. There is not much left of it today but it was huge. This temple was decastyle, meaning ten columns across, and the columns were sixty-five feet tall.
Even today the ideas and formulas of Greek architecture influence present day architects. When you think of Roman architecture, you think of the arch but even then they used the Imperial Motif to decorate their buildings. The Imperial Motif is the art of trabeation on arcuated architecture. The architecture of Ancient Greece will continue to influence the architecture of today and tomorrow.