Greek architecture

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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 civilizationMinoan civilization
, ancient Cretan culture representing a stage in the development of the Aegean civilization. It was named for the legendary King Minos of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, the English archaeologist who conducted excavations there in the early 20th cent.
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 remain at Knossos and Phaestus on Crete. Of the later Mycenaean civilizationMycenaean civilization
, an ancient Aegean civilization known from the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. They were first undertaken by Heinrich Schliemann and others after 1876, and they helped to revise the early history of Greece. Divided into Early Helladic (c.
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, surviving examples are the Lion's Gate at Mycenae and palaces at Mycenae and Tiryns. When the Dorians migrated into Greece (before 1000 B.C.) 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. B.C. a definite system of construction was established. However, prior to the creation of the great marble temples of the 5th cent. B.C., 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. B.C.), it is illustrative of the beginnings of the Doric temple of stone.

The Flowering and Decline of Greek Architecture

Between 700 B.C. and the Roman occupation (146 B.C.) all the chief works of Greek architecture were produced. The period in which all the major masterpieces were erected extended from 480 B.C. to 323 B.C. That incredibly productive era includes the reign of Pericles in Athens, in which the architects CallicratesCallicrates
, 5th cent. B.C., Greek architect. In association with Ictinus he built (447–432 B.C.) the Parthenon at Athens. At Athens also he designed (c.427) the Temple of Nike.
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, MnesiclesMnesicles
, Greek architect, 5th cent. B.C. He designed the propylaea, and the Erechtheum is also sometimes ascribed to him. Both are on the acropolis at Athens.
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, and IctinusIctinus
, fl. 2d half of 5th cent. B.C., one of the greatest architects of Greece. His celebrated work is the Parthenon (447–432 B.C.) upon the acropolis at Athens, which he built with the architect Callicrates as associate.
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 flourished and in which the ParthenonParthenon
[Gr.,=the virgin's place], temple sacred to Athena, on the acropolis at Athens. Built under Pericles between 447 B.C. and 432 B.C., it is the culminating masterpiece of Greek architecture. Ictinus and Callicrates were the architects and Phidias supervised the sculpture.
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 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 civilizationHellenistic civilization.
The conquests of Alexander the Great spread Hellenism immediately over the Middle East and far into Asia. After his death in 323 B.C., the influence of Greek civilization continued to expand over the Mediterranean world and W Asia.
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) that thus arose (4th–3d cent. B.C.), exhibits florid and opulent elements and more complicated design. City planning, ignored by the mainland Greeks, was cultivated by the Hellenistic architects, among them HippodamusHippodamus
, fl. 5th cent. B.C., Greek architect, b. Miletus. He was the first to plan cities according to geometric layouts. For Pericles he remodeled Piraeus (the port of Athens). He also planned (408) the city of Rhodes and went with the Athenian colonists to replan (c.
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; 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 architectureorders of architecture.
In classical tyles of architecture the various columnar types fall, in general, into the five so-called classical orders, which are named Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.
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 (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 orderDoric order,
earliest of the orders of architecture developed by the Greeks and the one that they employed for most buildings. It is generally believed that the column and its capital derive from an earlier architecture in wood.
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 are numerous. The great remaining examples of the 6th cent. B.C. are found chiefly in Sicily and at Paestum in Italy. After 500 B.C. 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 B.C.), the Parthenon (c.447–432 B.C.), and the Propylaea (437–432 B.C.).

The Greek colonies of the Asia Minor coast had evolved their own special order, the Ionic orderIonic order
, one of the early orders of architecture. The spreading scroll-shaped capital is the distinctive feature of the Ionic order; it was primarily a product of Asia Minor, where early embryonic forms of this capital have been found.
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, stamped with Asian influences. This style appeared in temples in Greece proper after 500 B.C., 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 ErechtheumErechtheum
[for Erechtheus], Gr. Erechtheion, temple in Pentelic marble, on the Acropolis at Athens. One of the masterpieces of Greek architecture, it was constructed between c.421 B.C. and 405 B.C. to replace an earlier temple to Athena destroyed by the Persians.
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 at Athens, and otherwise the form was restricted to minor buildings, as the temple of Nike Apteros, Athens (438 B.C.), and to interiors as in the Propylaea, Athens.

The third Greek order, the still more ornate Corinthian orderCorinthian order,
most ornate of the classic orders of architecture. It was also the latest, not arriving at full development until the middle of the 4th cent. B.C. The oldest known example, however, is found in the temple of Apollo at Bassae (c.420 B.C.).
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, appeared in this period, reached its fullest development in the mid-4th cent. B.C., but was comparatively little used. The chief examples, both at Athens, are the choragic monumentchoragic monuments
[Gr.,=of the choragus, the chorus leader], small decorative structures erected in ancient Greece to commemorate the victory of the leader of a chorus in the competitive choral dances. The best known is that of Lysicrates (c.335 B.C.
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 of Lysicrates (c.335 B.C.) and the Tower of the Winds (100 B.C.–35 B.C.). 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. B.C. 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 acropolisacropolis
[Gr.,=high point of the city], elevated, fortified section of various ancient Greek cities.

The Acropolis of Athens, a hill c.260 ft (80 m) high, with a flat oval top c.
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 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; agorasagora
[Gr.,=market], in ancient Greece, the public square or marketplace of a city. In early Greek history the agora was primarily used as a place for public assembly; later it functioned mainly as a center of commerce.
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, or public meeting places; stoasstoa
, in ancient Greek architecture, an extended, roofed colonnade on a street or square. Early examples consisted of a simple open-fronted shed or porch with a roof sloping from the back wall to the row of columns along the front.
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, or colonnaded shelters; stadiumsstadium
, racecourse in Greek cities where footraces and other athletic contests took place. The name is the Latin form of the Greek word for a standard of length and originally referred merely to the measured length of the course.
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; 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Greek architecture

(800–300 B.C.)
The first manifestation of this style was a wooden structure of upright posts supporting beams and sloping rafters. The style was later translated into stone elements with a wood roof. It was a “kit of parts” characterized by austerity and free of ornate carvings. The decorative column orders were an integral part of this style: the Doric, which is the simplest and sturdiest, the Ionic, which was more slender, and the Corinthian, which had a very elaborate capital. Greek ornament is refined in character. The materials were limestone and marble, and were prepared with the highest standards of masonry, including sophisticated optical corrections for perspective (entasis).
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
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