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The restored Stoa of Attalus, Athens.
Architecture was extinct in Greecemarker from the end of the Mycenaean period (about 1200 BC) to the 7th century BC, when plebian life and prosperity recovered to a point where public building could be undertaken. But since many Greek buildings in the colonization period (8th - 6th century BC), were made of wood or mud-brick or clay, nothing remains of them except for a few ground-plans, and almost no written sources on early architecture or descriptions of these embryonic buildings exist.

Common materials of Greek architecture were wood, used for supports and roof beams; plaster, used for sinks and bathtubs; unbaked brick, used for walls, especially for private homes; limestone and marble, used for columns, walls, and upper portions of temples and public buildings; terracotta, used for roof tiles and ornaments; and metals, especially bronze, used for decorative details. Architects of the Archaic and Classical periods used these building materials to construct five simple types of buildings: religious, civic, domestic, funerary, or recreational.


Around 600 BC, the wooden columns of the old Temple of Heramarker at Olympiamarker underwent a material transformation, known as "petrification", in which they were replaced by stone columns. By degrees, other parts of the temple were "petrified".

Most of our knowledge of Greek architecture is of the late archaic period (550 - 500 BC), the Periclean age (450 - 430 BC), and the early to pure classical period (430 - 400 BC). Greek examples are considered alongside Hellenistic and Roman periods (since Roman architecture heavily copied Greek), and late written sources such as Vitruvius (1st century). This results in a strong bias towards temples, the only buildings which survive in large numbers

Like Greek painting and sculpture, Greek Architecture in the first half of classical antiquity was not "art for art's sake" in the modern sense. The architect was a craftsman employed by the state or a wealthy private client. No distinction was made between the architect and the building contractor. The architect designed the building, hired the laborers and craftsmen who built it, and was responsible for both its budget and its timely completion. He did not enjoy any of the lofty status accorded to modern architects of public buildings. Even the names of architects are not known before the 5th century. An architect like Iktinos, who designed the Parthenonmarker, who would today be seen as a genius, was treated in his lifetime as no more than a very valuable master tradesman.

Greek public architecture

The temple was the most common and best-known form of Greek public architecture. The temple did not serve the same function as a modern church, since the altar stood under the open sky in the temenos or sacred fane, often directly before the temple. Temples served as storage places for the treasury associated with the cult of the god in question, as the location of a cult image, and as a place for devotees of the god to leave their votive offerings, such as statues, helmets and weapons. The inner room of the temple, the cella, served mainly as a strongroom and storeroom. It was usually lined by another row of columns. Some Greek temples were oriented astronomically.

Other architectural forms used by the Greeks were the tholos or circular temple, of which the best example is the Tholos of Theodorus at Delphimarker dedicated to the worship of Athena Pronaia; the propylon or porch, forming the entrance to temple sanctuaries (the best-surviving example is the Propylaeamarker on the Acropolis of Athensmarker); the fountain house, a building where women filled their vases with water from a public fountain; and the stoa, a long narrow hall with an open colonnade on one side, which used to house rows of shops in the agoras (commercial centers) of Greek towns. A completely restored stoa, the Stoa of Attalus, can be seen in Athensmarker. Greek towns of substantial size also had a palaestra or a gymnasium, the social centre for male citizens. These peripterally enclosed space open to the sky were used for athletic contests and exercise. Greek towns also needed at least one bouleuterion or council chamber, a large public building which served as a court house and as a meeting place for the town council (boule). Because the Greeks did not use arches or domes, they could not construct buildings with large interior spaces. The bouleuterion thus had rows of internal columns to hold the roof up (hypostyle). No examples of these buildings survive.

Finally, every Greek town had a theatre. These were used for both public meetings as well as dramatic performances. The theatre was usually set in a hillside outside the town, and had rows of tiered seating set in a semi-circle around the central performance area, the orchestra. Behind the orchestra was a low building called the skene, which served as a store-room, a dressing-room, and also as a backdrop to the action taking place in the orchestra. A number of Greek theatres survive almost intact, the best known being at Epidaurusmarker.

Orders of Greek architecture

There were two main styles (or "orders") of early Greek architecture, the Doric and the Ionic. These names were used by the Greeks themselves, and reflected their belief that the styles descended from the Dorian and Ionian Greeks of the Dark Ages, but this is unlikely to be true. The Doric style was used in mainland Greece and spread from there to the Greek colonies in Italymarker. The Ionic style was used in the cities of Ionia (now the west coast of Turkeymarker) and some of the Aegeanmarker islands. The Doric style was more formal and austere, the Ionic was more relaxed and decorative. The more ornate Corinthian style was a later development of the Ionic. These styles are best known through the three orders of column capitals, but there are differences in most points of design and decoration between the orders.

Most surviving Greek buildings, such as the Parthenonmarker and the Temple of Hephaestusmarker in Athens, are Doric. The Erechtheummarker and the small temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis are Ionic however. The Ionic order became dominant in the Hellenistic period, since its more decorative style suited the aesthetic of the period better than the more restrained Doric. Records show that the evolution of the Ionic order was resisted by many Greek States, as they claimed it represented the dominance of Athensmarker. Some of the best surviving Hellenistic buildings, such as the Library of Celsusmarker, can be seen in Turkeymarker, at cities such as Ephesusmarker and Pergamum. But in the greatest of Hellenistic cities, Alexandriamarker in Egyptmarker, almost nothing survives.

Roof tiles

The earliest finds of roof tiles in archaic Greece are documented from a very restricted area around Corinthmarker (Greecemarker), where fired tiles began to replace thatched roofs at two temples of Apollo and Poseidon between 700-650 BC. Spreading rapidly, roof tiles were within fifty years in evidence for a large number of sites around the Eastern Mediterraneanmarker, including Mainland Greecemarker, Western Asia Minormarker, Southern and Central Italymarker. Early roof tiles showed an S-shape, with the pan and cover tile forming one piece. They were rather bulky, weighing around 30 kg apiece. Being more expensive and labour-intensive to produce than thatchet, their introduction has been explained with their greatly enhanced fire resistance which gave desired protection to the costly temples.

The spread of the roof tile technique has to be viewed in connection with the simultaneous rise of monumental architecture in Archaic Greece. Only stone walls, which were replacing the earlier mudbrick and wood walls, were strong enough to support the weight of a tiled roof. As a side-effect, it has been assumed that the new stone and tile construction also ushered in the end of 'Chinese roof' (Knickdach) construction in Greek architecture, as they made the need for an extended roof as rain protection for the mudbrick walls obsolete.

See also


  1. Penrose, F.C., (communicated by Joseph Norman Lockyer), The Orientation of Greek Temples, Nature, v.48, n.1228, May 11, 1893, pp.42-43
  2. Orjan Wikander, p.285
  3. Orjan Wikander, p.286
  4. William Rostoker; Elizabeth Gebhard, p. 212
  5. Orjan Wikander, p.289
  6. Marilyn Y. Goldberg, p.309
  7. Marilyn Y. Goldberg, p.305


Re-invention of roof tiles
  • Marilyn Y. Goldberg, “Greek Temples and Chinese Roofs,” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 87, No. 3. (Jul., 1983), pp. 305-310
  • Orjan Wikander, “Archaic Roof Tiles the First Generations,” Hesperia, Vol. 59, No. 1. (Jan. - Mar., 1990), pp. 285-290
  • William Rostoker; Elizabeth Gebhard, “The Reproduction of Rooftiles for the Archaic Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia, Greece,” Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Summer, 1981), pp. 211-2

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