Greek Architecture


The architecture of ancient Greece is represented by
buildings in the sanctuaries and cities of mainland Greece,
the Aegean islands, southern Italy and Sicily, and the
Ionian coast of Turkey. Monumental Greek architecture began
in the archaic period, flourished through the classical and
Hellenistic periods, and saw the first of many revivals
during the Roman Empire. The roots of Greek architecture
lie in the tradition of local Bronze Age houses and
One of the many types of Greek building structures was
Sacred Architecture. The Greeks conceived of their gods in
human form, as anthropomorphic representations of the
forces and elements of the natural world. These gods and
goddesses were worshiped with sacrifices made at an outdoor
altar. At many sanctuaries, the altar was much older than
the temple, and some sanctuaries had only an altar. The
temple designed simply as a shelter or home for the cult
statue and as a storehouse for offerings. This shelter
consisted of a cella (back wall), a pronaos (columned
porch), an opisthodomus (enclosure), an antae (bronze
grills securing the porches), and a colonnade that provided
shelter for visitors.
The earliest monumental buildings in Greek architecture
were the temples. Since these were solidly built and
carefully maintained, they had to be replaced only if
destroyed. The architectural orders, Doric on the mainland
and Ionic in the eastern Aegean, were developed in the
archaic temples, and their lasting example tended to make
Greek architecture conservative toward changes in design or
in building technology.
The Archaic period evolved after the Mycenaean palace
collapsed in 1200 BCE during the dark ages when people
began rebuilding. This era brought about the introduction
of both the Doric and Ionic Orders.
The Doric Order, which originated around 400 BCE brought
rise to a whole new type of building technique and style.
In the archaic temples, stone gradually started to replace
wood, and some of the structural details of the early
buildings appear to have been copied in stone. At Thermon,
in northwestern Greece, a succession of buildings from the
Last Bronze Age throughout the sixth century BCE show the
evolution of the Doric temple from a hall shaped like a
hairpin to a long rectangular building with a porch at
either end and surrounded by columns. The temple of Hera at
Olympia, built about 600 BCE, had wooden columns that were
gradually replaced by stone ones, probably as votive gifts.
The variety of column and capital shapes illustrates the
evolution of the Doric order. The earliest columns had a
heavy, bulging profile, and their capitals were broad and
low. During the archaic period, limestone became the
standard building material for foundations, steps, walls,
columns, and Doric entablature. Building such as the famous
Temple of Aphaia on Aegina illustrate the dramatic
influence of the Doric order.
White the Doric order became the standard for mainland
Greece, the Ionian colonies in the eastern Aegean were
developing a very different system of columns and
entablature based on Egyptian and Near Eastern
architecture. The tall slender columns, low entablature,
and lack of sculptured frieze course were typical of Ionic
buildings. The sixth century BCE Ionic temples were
unprecedented in size, as large as 55 by 112 m. Wealthy
cities each has six major temples, sometimes arranged in a
regular sequence, in addition to the standard civic
buildings. An outstanding number of Ionic buildings can be
found throughout the eastern Aegean.
During the classical period, Athenian Dominance greatly
affected architecture. The war between the Greek
city-states and Persia (499-480 BCE) interrupted almost all
temple building for a generation while the Greeks
concentrated on restoring their defensive walls, civic
buildings, and the fleet. Athens emerged as the leader,
controlling the war chest of the Delian League, Panhellenic
league; the city initiated extravagant program to rebuild
the sanctuary of Athena on the Acropolis. The Parthenon,
Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheum were
built entirely of marble and elaborately decorated with
carved moldings and sculpture.The architects were
Callicrates and Iotinus, and the chief sculptor was
Phidias. A large school of builders and sculptors developed
in Athens during the second half of the fifth century BCE.
Most of these craft workers were freed slaves from the
eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps as a consequence there
developed in Attica a unique blend of the Doric and Ionic
orders seen in the fortified sanctuaries as well as in
The Corinthian order resulted from long civil wars during
the fifth century BCE (Classical period). The Ionian cities
recovered more quickly from the civil war under Persian
sovereignty. The colossal sixth century BCE temples and
altars were replaced on a grander scale. Several Ionian
cities were rebuilt on a grid plan that has been credited
to Hippodamus of Miletus.
The rise of Macedonia and the conquests of Alexander the
Great heralded the Hellenistic period. Old building types
became more complex: altars, gate buildings, council
houses, stoas with two or three levels, and theaters with
large attached stage buildings. Many new building types
were introduced, including the nymphaeum, monumental tomb,
columned hall, choragic monument, clock tower and light
house. Many of these structures were decorated with
dramatic marble sculpture.
Hellenistic architects made imaginative variations on the
standard temple forms, introducing Apses, high podia
(stepped or square platforms), and subtle combinations of
Doric and Ionic features. Several temples had exterior
Corinthinan columns, such as the colossal temple of Zeus
Olympius in Athens, begun in 174 BCE. In the Ionic order,
Hermogenes of Priene evolved new canons of proportion
concerning the temple plan and the height and spacing of
columns. His writings were also passed down to Roman
architects who emulated his designs. Long after the Roman
army captured Athens, the principles of Greek architecture
continued to govern building designs in mainland Greece and
in Anatolia and strongly influenced Roman architecture
throughout the empire.
Greek architecture changed and evolved over a number of
years. The creative architecture of the Greeks led to the
construction of some of the best known buildings in
history. Therefore, the Greek's advancements in the field
of architecture were not only beneficial to their
civilizations, but ours as well. 


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