Limestone in Ancient Greek Architecture

The Greeks used limestone blocks in temples and monuments.
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Limestone is a type of sedimentary rock composed mostly of calcite, a carbonate mineral. It also contains fragments of marine invertebrates such as coral. Limestone is abundant throughout the world, including the Near East and the Mediterranean. It has numerous applications as a building material, since it is easy to cut. It is also heavy, durable and resistant to exposure. Limestone has been used in architecture since ancient times. The Great Pyramids of Egypt are made of limestone. Like the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks used limestone in some of their grandest temples and monuments, including the Parthenon.

1 Structural Features of Ancient Greek Architecture

The structural features of ancient Greek architecture are the platform, columns, entablature and pediment. Every part of a Greek building is connected to its overall structure. Although the Greeks built many types of structures, the temple is the most emblematic of Greek architecture. A temple integrated a rectangular plan with rows of columns on all four sides. The vertical structure conformed to the rules of symmetry and harmony. Columns were sculpted out of local stone, often limestone. Marble was also used in many Greek buildings.

2 Styles of Ancient Greek Architecture

The three Greek architectural styles are the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Doric style is exemplified by a solid fluted column without a base and a square slab resting on a rounded molding. The Ionic style features a based column with scrolled shapes called volutes at the top of the shaft on either side. The Corinthian style is the most ornamental style, with fluted columns decorated at the top with acanthus leaves and spirals.

3 Building Construction Using Limestone

Limestone and marble were the chief building materials in ancient Greece. Quarrying and transporting the stones was labor-intensive. Architects participated in every aspect of the building process, from choosing the stone and overseeing its extraction to supervising the craftsmen who cut each piece in the quarry. After workers shaped the stone and put the blocks into place, other skilled laborers completed the construction. Metalworkers, sculptors and painters did the ornamental work. Labor costs accounted for most of a building's price tag in ancient Greece. In the fifth century B.C., Pericles, the leader of Athens, spent the city's wealth on a number of limestone building projects, including the Acropolis.

4 The Acropolis at Athens

The monuments of the Acropolis are masterpieces of Greek architecture that reflect the architectural magnificence, power and wealth of Athens in the golden age of Pericles. Built on a rocky limestone hill, the Acropolis is an ancient citadel that was the spiritual hub of the city. It contains the ruins of several Classical Greek temples and monuments, including the main temple, the Parthenon. Dedicated to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon displays all the common structural features of Greek architecture. It is built from blocks of limestone and marble set on a limestone foundation. Limestone was also used in small amounts in its decorative relief sculptures and friezes. Limestone was used cautiously, however, because of its fragility. Marble was the preferred material for columns, walls and other weight-bearing structures. Construction of the Acropolis buildings took place over several decades between 447 and 406 B.C. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Acropolis at Athens symbolizes the spirit of ancient Greek civilization.

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.