Saturday, November 3, 2007

Architecture of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was the landmark of civilization which led to the structuring of many other civilizations, all of whom rested their basis in the principles of the Greeks. The Greeks were a brilliant nation who developed within their own provinces ways for living and foundation for a flourishing society. The influence of Greece on countries from close after the time of the Greeks to modern day living is phenomenal, in the sense that no other country, from the vastness of Persia to the strip of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea where the Phoenicians resided, accomplished what the Greeks did in their time: they initialized foundation for superior, prospering civilization. The Greeks made more than significant accomplishments in literature and poetry, politics and democracy, military, mathematics and the sciences, and what may be of the most dominant, architecture.

The architecture of the Greeks was what defined who they were and how they wanted others to see them, however, this is not entirely true as poetry was a very large factor in Greece in addition to architecture. The styles and designs represented in Greek architecture were continued throughout the end of ancient Greece, subsequently being a great influence alongside the remainder of their society. One nation influenced by Greek architecture in particular was the Roman Empire. The Romans' architecture was adopted from the prose of the Greeks to develop structures still famed today, such as the Colosseum. Although the architecture of the Romans dwelled in Greek foundation, people of Rome eventually developed their own unique ways for construction, what is considered to be of the category Classical Architecture. Aside from Rome and other ancient countries, the influence of the architecture of ancient Greece stretches as far as civilization in Europe and the United States in the times of the eighteenth century to the nineteenth century. Today, in the United States, we can still see the results of the influence of Greek architecture in areas such as Washington D.C., where memorials and monuments still rest with the impact of the Greeks.

“The Greeks were proud of their public and sacred architecture, and even in antiquity the white marble Parthenon atop the Akropolis in Athens was recognized as a special achievement.” (Understanding Architecture: its Elements History and Meaning, Roth pg. 183)
Although the Greeks relied on their own intellect for the expansion of culture, the styles, or orders, of Greek architecture were that of an aggregation of designs of preceding and existing nations of Greece and other locations, such as Egypt, familiarized into one overall compilation of architecture. The three orders of architecture of the renown Greek pillars are known as Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, each with their own status of stature, quality, and complexity. The Doric and Ionic orders were the most commonly used, whereas the Corinthian order was very intricate and found more often in Roman society and much less in Greek society. The Doric style was derived from the Dorian Greeks, and the Ionic style followed the same pattern being derived from the Ionian Greeks. The most basic order was Doric, consisting of a simplified design represented here. Next in line of complexity is Ionic, which definitely was composed in a more ornate style than that of Doric; it can be seen here. Corinthian was the order with the most exuberantly expressed prose of architecture, illustrated here. These orders were used mostly with the structuring of temples, monuments, and worship vicinities for the gods, with the more important buildings being constructed with the most important order of pillar.

“We have traced the story of the foundation of the Ionian colonies by the fleeing remnants of the Mycenaean populations, of their early contacts with the native peoples of Phrygia, Mysia, Lydia, and Lycia, and of the colonies of which they in turn, as they increased in power, sent off to the other parts of the Greek world. The result of this dispersion is that our knowledge of the Ionic style has to be gathered, not only from the great cities of Asia Minor, but also from trading colonies such as Naucratis in Egypt…, and from outposts established to receive surplus populations…” (The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development, Dinsmoor pg. 36)
The Greeks made additionally impressive accomplishments in the area of public structures, firstly noted the advancement of the amphitheatre. In Greek life the theatre was a major part of society as it was utilized not only as a means for entertainment but also a meeting place for towns and councils. The sight of a Greek amphitheatre is impressive in itself, but the construction of an amphitheatre was an awe-inspiring task. Yet another great achievement of the Greeks is the maturing of thatch ceilings to roof tiles. No doubt a more expensive trade, roof tiles served as a better defense against fires from invasion and a more "articulate" way of design for buildings of the higher value. Temples were also considered a public structure, as people gathered in temples of specific gods to worship. Temples and monuments of the Greeks can still be seen today, as they survived to a certain extent, with some having more damage than others.

The Parthenon is probably the most renown building which has survived the weather of time, and it is also of the most remarkable. Thought to be built in honor of the Greek goddess Athena Pallas, the Parthenon is a rectangular structure consisting of Doric pillars throughout. When the Parthenon was still under construction, it is believed that the Persians burned it down, and because of this the original position for the Parthenon wasn't the Acropolis, where it remains today. Another currently existing structure is the Erechtheion, also built atop the Acropolis. The Erechtheion consists of Ionic as well as Doric pillars and is a temple of intricacy. The Temple of Hephaestus (the blacksmith Greek god who created Posiedon's trident etc.), also known as the Hephaesteum or Hephaesteion, is another surviving example of ancient Greek architecture, as it is another representation of the Doric order of pillars. Other notable structures which have survived are the Propylaia (the entrance to the Acropolis), the "Old Temple", the Temple of Athena Nike, and the list continues.

Today the ancient Greeks are seen as a wondrous nation who surpassed what any other nation would have dreamed of; although there were other nations of greatness, for example, the Persians, none acquired what the Greeks did as an entirety, in the whole of the aspect of living the Greeks were triumphant. They were the "stepstool" for the growth of early civilization, and their architecture is only one of numerous examples of immense impacts upon following culture.

Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, and Meaning. Westview Press, 1993.

Dinsmoor, William Bell. The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development. Biblo & Tannen Publishers, 1973.

Architecture in Ancient Greece. Universal Artists, Inc. 2006. <>

Architecture in Ancient Greece. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000 - 2007. <>

Greek Architecture. Kate Levy. 2005. <>

History Through Architecture. Kathryn Murdock. 1996 - 2005. <>

Acropolis Architecture. 2003 - 2007. <>