Ancient Greece: Architecture

When it comes to architecture, chances are that you might find it dry or boring; a number of us wouldn't dare to bore ourselves with the technical aspects of it as well. If you're one of them, you're not wrong!

For others, perhaps only Ted Mosby (of How I Met Your Mother) comes to your mind (because you know, he's an architect and... Oh, never mind).  

Most conversations about architecture revolve around some "fun facts" or "Did you know that... blah blah..." as you're standing on the steps of the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower.

This time round, apart from the fun facts, you're going to get some information about the significance and purpose of some ancient Greek architecture (so that you can drop some knowledge on your friends first. BOOYAAAH!). 

Brief Background: 

Ancient Greeks portrayed and displayed architecture as works of art. The amalgamation of geometry, artistic inspiration birthed one of the most creative times in Ancient Greece which has and is still influencing modern architecture.

It was a direct showing of how ancient Greece flourished after their economic and political reforms. It was particularly during the golden age of Athenian culture (the peaceful era between the Greco-Persian war and Peloponnesian war) that creativity flourished. 

Architects developed intricate designs and paintings to transform buildings into masterpieces. These prominent buildings were depicted through the beauty of their ancient temples.

Certain characteristics of Greek architecture are prominent in modern infrastructure: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. There were passed down from the Greeks and eventually to modern day architects.

Famous well known examples of Greek architecture outside Ancient Greece. (left to right): The White House in Washington, Colosseum in Rome, the Fontana Di Trevi in Rome, and the Oslo Trading Building in Norway.

The White House: AgnosticPreachersKid. 2008. The White House in Washington, D.C. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Colosseum: Diliff. 2007. Coliseum. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fontana Di Trevi: Karelj. Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

The Oslo Trading Building: Valugi. 2011. Oslo Stock Exchange Building. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sacred or religious infrastructure outweighed public and civic buildings in prestige. Religious architecture sometimes took precedence over other buildings. For example, various temples would be allocated a sacred piece of land at the top of the hill, so that it could be viewed by the entire city.

Religious temples were built not as places of mass worship, but rather as homes for the deities. The architecture of the temples reflected the reverence that the ancient Greeks had for their pantheon of Gods.

They introduced architectural elements of creativity and magnificence into the homes of these gods. These temples served as the link between the sacred and the secular in ancient Greece. They played a significant role in the ancient Greek society.

Author: Steve Swayne Date:26 August 1978 Title: Parthenon, Athens Greece License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Author: Steve Swayne

Date:26 August 1978

Title: Parthenon, Athens Greece

License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Temples in Athens are filled with ornaments and designs on the exterior. One such example of a Greek temple is the famous Parthenon (built from 447 - 422 BCE). The Parthenon was dedicated by the Greeks to the goddess Athena. In it, the columns, roof structure, entrance to the temple are layered with creativity and precision.

"Religious temples were built not as places of mass worship, but rather as homes for the deities"

 

Significance of Exterior:

The most notable structures of the temple were the columns themselves. The materials were usually either marble or stone. The artistic design influenced architecture on an unprecedented scale, even until today.

Author: USCapitol Date: 3 November 2011 Title: Column Capital in the Library of Congress License: Flickr

Author: USCapitol

Date: 3 November 2011

Title: Column Capital in the Library of Congress

License: Flickr

Some modern day examples are the Doric columns of The Great Hall in America's Supreme Court Building and the Corinthian columns of the Capitol Building

 

Author: Napoleon Vier Date: 3 March 2005 Title: eigen lesmateriaal License: Wikimedia Commons

Author: Napoleon Vier

Date: 3 March 2005

Title: eigen lesmateriaal

License: Wikimedia Commons

A unique aspect of the Parthenon's columns is that they were designed to be curved.

In addition, the columns at all four corners of the temple were approximately six centimetres larger in diameter than all the other columns.

This minor adaptation of the corner columns was due to the orientation of the building.

The Parthenon was set against a bright sky. This made the columns appear thinner.

A visual presentation to summarize the ancient Greeks' amazing feat of geometry!

Optical refinements prevented the visual impression of the column lines tilting towards the center, which would have made the Parthenon visually smaller.

It is compensated for the optical illusion normally caused by the bright background.

Indeed, the devil's in the details. Planning the construction of the Parthenon was meticulous. The excellence of geometry was manifested through its columns alone. (Who knew a mathematical formula could blend so well with the arts eh?)
The Parthenon reflected the amount of effort expended to achieve grandeur. 

Author: Ryan Kaldari Date: April 27th, 2005 Title: Parthenon at Nashville, Tennessee License: Wikimedia Commons 

Author: Ryan Kaldari

Date: April 27th, 2005

Title: Parthenon at Nashville, Tennessee

License: Wikimedia Commons 

Now, shifting our focus to the roof, one such ornament constructed was the sphinx.

There are several schools of thought concerning the significance of the sphinx. The sphinxes were claimed to perform an apotropaic function, meaning that these guardians served to protect against evil spirits and ward off bad luck. 

Author: Joel Kramer Date: February 27, 2010 Title: The Parthenon License: Flickr

Author: Joel Kramer

Date: February 27, 2010

Title: The Parthenon

License: Flickr

Their ritual role as guardians are showcased by their strategic positioning at the corners of the temple. Sphinxes never appear in the center.

Another school of thought proposes that the sphinxes were a "hypostase” of the deity. This refers to a divine being incarnated with a certain measure of divinity within the sphinx.

Their purpose would be to serve Athena, as her 'satellites'. In short, the sphinx serves an an extension of the goddess Athena herself.

 

 

 

". . . columns at all four corners of the temple were approximately six centimetres larger in diameter than all the other columns"

Top: Sarah Murray. Greeks fighting Amazon (West Metopes). 11 December 2016. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) Middle: Seandrak. Fall of Troy (North Metopes). 20 February 2013. University of Oxford. Bottom: Dschwen. Centaur fighting Lapiths (South Metopes). 11 August 2016. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Top: Sarah Murray. Greeks fighting Amazon (West Metopes). 11 December 2016. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Middle: Seandrak. Fall of Troy (North Metopes). 20 February 2013. University of Oxford.

Bottom: Dschwen. Centaur fighting Lapiths (South Metopes). 11 August 2016. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Architectural sculptures of deities and historical events were embedded within the infrastructure. Sculptures were coated with bronze and were often arranged to recount significant narratives. 

Sculptures filled the square spaces (called Metopes) between the gaps of the smaller columns.

In the Parthenon, some of these architectural sculptures recounted stories of the Greeks fighting Amazons (West Metopes), Greeks fighting Centaurs (South Metopes), and the Fall of Troy (one of our favorite).  

 

 

Significance of Interior:

The layout of the Parthenon was based on the megaron, a house form that had existed since the Bronze age (circa 2000 BCE).

Author: Odyssey adventures in Architecture  Date: 31 May 2012 Title: Plan of first temple License: Odyssey adventures in Archaelogy

Author: Odyssey adventures in Architecture 

Date: 31 May 2012

Title: Plan of first temple

License: Odyssey adventures in Archaelogy

This layout consisted of a rectangular room (cella) with projecting walls (antae) framing a porch (pronaos) at one end.

The statue of Athena was housed in a section of the cella. If you're interested to know more about Athena, stay tuned to our next blog post!

The temple itself was made from materials easily obtained from local resources in Athens i.e. limestone, clay, and high grade marble. The Parthenon was financially enabled because the Persian Wars led to Athens’ accumulated wealth. This allowed Pericles to build the majestic infrasturcture. 

Architects, master stone masons and laborers had very specific roles in the building of temples. Architects controlled, supervised building projects and oversaw every aspect of construction.

They selected the stone, managed its extraction and supervised the craftsmen who cut or shaped it at the quarry. At the building site, master stone masons made the final precise carvings. This is to ensure that each stone block would slot into place without the need for mortar (How cool is that?).

After this, laborers hoisted each block into position. Architects also supervised the professional sculptors. These sculptors carved the reliefs on the frieze, metopes or pediments. Painters who painted the sculptures and various architectural elements of the building were also under the supervision of architects.

Greek Architectural Influence Today:

Author: Pearson Scott Foresman Title: Line Art Drawing of Greek Orders of Building Design Date: 3 December 2007 License:Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pearson Scott Foresman

Title: Line Art Drawing of Greek Orders of Building Design

Date: 3 December 2007

License:Wikimedia Commons

Currently, the characteristics of Greek architecture still exists in modern infrastructure.

Architectural styles such as the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles of columns were passed down from the Greeks to modern day architects. 

 

Designed with Canva

Designed with Canva

The Doric style is the simplest among all three. The Parthenon was the largest Greek Doric temple. It remains iconic today as one of the oldest column styles. 

 

The Ionic Style was developed between 448 to 421 BCE.

Some aspects of the Parthenon had Ionic style incorporated into the temple. It is seen as more feminine compared to the Doric, due to the two scrolls at the top called Volutes. The Volutes were inspired by waves or animal horns.

 

The Corinthian style was not used as much by the Greeks compared to the previous styles.

Though the base and column are similar, the top is far more creative and intricate with its leafy design.

The design was named after the city of Corinth, created by a sculptor named Callimachus at the end of the 5th Century BCE. .

 

 

 

Conclusion:

The Greeks' respect for their deities motivated them to do their best. Ideas and potential limitations were thoroughly considered before construction began. With the Parthenon in full view of the city, it represented more than just place of worship; it represented the excellence of their culture. An image of magnificence to show the rest of the world the might of the Greeks.

The Parthenon became a hub for all city-state dwellers. The workmanship and artistic ideals of the ancient Greeks have continued on even till today. From the examples and pictures shared throughout the post, it is easy to see that the architecture of ancient Greece has influenced many across the world as well as through time.

This influence has often led many to hold the Greek style in regard as high quality of art, as a symbol of class and status. It is likely that it will continue to be held in such high regard.

 

References:

  1. Heyman, Jacques. (1972). "Gothic" Construction in Ancient Greece. Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians. http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/pdf/988722.pdf
  2. Hollinshead, B. Mary. (1999). "Adyton," "Opisthodomos," and the Inner Room of the Greek Temple. Source: Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol.68, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1999), pp. 189-218
  3. Published by: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/pdf/148373.pdf
  4. Waddell, Gene. (2002). The Principal Design Methods for Greek Doric Temples and Their Modification for the Parthenon. Published by: SAHGB Publications Limited. http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/pdf/1568774.pdf
  5. Georgopoulos, Georg &Telioni, Elisavet. (2012). Approximation of the Curvature of the Parthenon Stylobate Using Least Squares Techniques. Journal of Surveying Engineering. Vol. 138 Issue 3, p154-159. 6p. Retrieved from: http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=5&sid=17bfa8a7-6257-40c5-9fa5-59683febbb48%40sessionmgr4009&hid=4212&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=92859615&db=aph
  6. Barletta, A. Barbara. (2011). Greek Architecture. Published by: Archaeological Institute of America. http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/pdf/10.3764/aja.115.4.0611.pdf
  7. Petit, Thierry. (2013). THE SPHINX ON THE ROOF: THE MEANING OF THE GREEK TEMPLE ACROTERIA. Source: The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. 108, pp. 201-234. Published by: British School at Athens. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43188531
  8. Cartwright, Mark. (2012). “Parthenon,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://www.ancient.eu/parthenon/
  9. Schwab, Katherine. (1996). Parthenon East Metope XI: Herakles and the Gigantomachy. American Journal of Archaeology, 100(1), 81-90. doi:10.2307/506298. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/506298?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  10. Gorham, Stevens. (1955). Remarks upon the Colossal Chryselephantine Statue of Athena in the Parthenon. Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 24(3), 240-276. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/147073
  11. Adair, Mark. (1990). A dream in the parthenon. American Journal of Art Therapy, 00074764, Aug90, Vol. 29, Issue 1; Academic Search Premier. Retrieved from: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=6a34a257-9668-4588-b5e4-4af1c0dd37b4%40sessionmgr101&vid=6&hid=125&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=9610280008&db=aph