History of Architecture – Ancient Greece

Reconstruction of the west facade of the Temple of Artemis, 600-580 BCE, Korkyra (Corfu)

Recently I completed a course in History of Architecture – Arch218  at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which I took for professional development as well as an obvious interest in the subject.  I loved the class and want to follow up with a blog to help me retain what I learned and share it with others. So if you are interested in joining me, I am setting out to retrace the “course of architectural history!” I will be going back to my lecture notes, text books, and web links to provide a series of blog posts relating to each of the lectures that covers the Middle Ages (

1200 CE) to the Industrial Revolution (

1800 CE). My first two posts in this series will look briefly at the Classical eras of Greek and Roman architecture  because these two epochs are fundamental to a discussion of subsequent European architectural history. Classic Greek and Roman architecture has influenced many styles including Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical.

Greece was a powerful maritime empire in the Mediterranean in the 6 th century BCE when they began to use stone construction. Previously Greeks built mostly wooden and mud-brick structures but became influenced by the monumental stone structures of the Egyptians, who were trade partners. The wealth accumulated by various Greek colonies from trade contributed to the construction of monumental stone temples. Most Greek temples were built in Greek colonies throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, and to a lesser degree in mainland Greece. The decline and eventual end of large Greek temple construction came over the 3 rd through 1 st centuries BCE as political and economic power shifted toward the Roman Empire.

Reconstruction of the west facade of the Temple of Artemis, 600-580 BCE, Korkyra



Sculptures from the Pediment of the Temple of Artemis at the Archaeological Museum in Corfu


The first example of a stone Doric temple (a-la the Parthenon) was the Temple of Artemis at Corfu , 600-580 BCE. This stone temple, now in ruins, had a triangular rooftop called a pediment, supported by the Doric order of columns, architrave, frieze and cornice that became common in Greek and Roman architecture. Although typical images of Greek temples are of monochromatic stone, they had brightly painted details – especially at the frieze. However, centuries of weathering has faded nearly all of the color.


The basic elements of the Greek temple  floor plan are the naos  (central structure housing a statue of the god the temple was built for), the pronaos  (front porch extension of the naos), the opisthodomos  (back porch extension of the naos), and the peristasis . which is the series of columns surrounding the central structure. One very notable Greek construction technique is the use of optical refinements throughout a temple structure. These refinements included a slight upward curve of the temple base or stylobate, as well as the architrave above. Columns are each shaped with an entasis, or a reduction in diameter as they rise. The columns also tilt slightly inward, especially at the corners, and are spaced slightly closer together at the corners than in the middle of the peristasis. Together these refinements help produce a much more dynamic and stout appearance when compared to more recent Neoclassical or Greek Revival buildings that borrow from Ancient Greece. Compare the British Museum in London with the Parthenon, which may be the best example of Greek optical refinement.




Source: www.msmith-arch.com
Category: Architecture

Similar articles: