Renowned for its balance and symmetry, ancient Greek architecture is characterized by its highly formalized structure. In temples and other buildings, Greek architects emphasized refined proportions, as well as the effects of natural light. These ideals are exemplified in the three main columnar orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The majority of Greek structures were constructed of marble and limestone.
Earlier civilizations in the Mediterranean world influenced architecture in ancient Greece. In the Archaic period, roughly 800 to 500 B.C., Greeks began erecting columnar stone temples similar to those at the Karnak temple complex in Luxor, Egypt. Greeks adopted the model of the hypostyle hall, in which the roof of an interior space is supported by pillars. In the fifth century B.C., when Greek architects built the Parthenon and other monumental temples, they incorporated these concepts into their designs.
The earliest principal style or order of ancient Greek architecture is the Doric, which is indicated by fluted or grooved columns without a base. The top of the column, called the capital, consists of a horizontal slab known as the abacus and a rounded molding called the echinus. Above the capital is the entablature, composed of three sections: the architrave, frieze and cornice. The lower section, the architrave, typically has no ornamentation. The frieze displays decorative features such as figurative relief sculpture or vertical tablets called triglyphs. The cornice is a linear architectural element without adornment. A well-preserved example of Doric architecture is the Temple of Apollo at Corinth, erected in the sixth century B.C.
The Ionic order is distinguished by fluted columns supported by a base. An Ionic capital has palm leaf adornments beneath two spiral decorations called volutes. The abacus of an Ionic capital is thinner than the Doric. The entablature consists of three horizontal bands, including the frieze, which is carved with sculptural reliefs arranged in a continuous line around the structure. While the Doric order was more popular in mainland Greece, the Ionic order appeared both on the mainland and the Greek islands. An important example of Ionic architecture is the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis, built in the fifth century B.C.
The most ornate Greek style or order, the Corinthian, emerged in the fifth century B.C. A Corinthian capital has a curved and open-ended echinus adorned with acanthus leaves, spirals and stylized palm leaves. Two small volutes appear at each corner of the capital, giving it the same appearance from all angles. The oldest preserved example of Corinithian architecture is the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, an isolated structure in Greece's Arcadia Mountains. Built in approximately 420 B.C., the temple ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume 1; Helen Gardner, et al.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Architecture in Ancient Greece
- A World History of Architecture; Marian Moffett, et al.
- Acropolis Museum: The Temple of Athena Nike
- UNESCO World Heritage Centre: Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images