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Under the portico of the Pantheon
Temple diagram with location of the pronaos highlighted

A portico (from Italian) is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls. This idea first appeared in Ancient Greece and has influenced many cultures, including most Western cultures.

Some noteworthy examples of porticos are the East Portico of the United States Capitolmarker, the portico adorning the Pantheonmarker in Romemarker and the portico of University College Londonmarker.

Bolognamarker, Italymarker, is very famous for its porticos. In total, there are over 45 kilometres of arcades, some 38 in the city center. The longest portico in the world, about 3.5 km, extends from the edge of the city to Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Lucamarker. In Turinmarker, Italymarker, porticos stretch for 18 kilometres.

Palladio was a pioneer of using temple-fronts for secular buildings.In the UKmarker, the temple-front applied to The Vynemarker, Hampshire was the first portico applied to an English country house.

A pronaos is the inner area of the portico of a Greek or Roman temple, situated between the portico's colonnade or walls and the entrance to the cella, or shrine. Roman temples commonly had an open pronaos, usually with only columns and no walls, and the pronaos could be as long as the cella. The word pronaos is Greek for "before a temple". In Latin, a pronaos is also referred to as an anticum or prodomus.

Types of portico

The different variants of porticos are named by the number of columns they have.


The tetrastyle has four columns; it was commonly employed by the Greek and the Etruscanmarker for small structures such as public buildings and amphiprostyles.

The Romans favoured the four columned portico for their pseudoperipteral temples like the Temple of Portunusmarker, and for amphiprostyle temples such as the Temple of Venus and Romamarker, and for the prostyle entrance porticos of large public buildings like the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantinemarker. Roman provincial capitals also manifested tetrastyle construction, such as the Capitoline Temple in Volubilismarker.

The North Portico of the White Housemarker is perhaps the most notable four-columned portico in the United States.


Hexastyle buildings had six columns and were the standard facade in canonical Greek Doric architecture between the archaic period 600–550 B.C up to the Age of Pericles 450–430 B.C.

Greek hexastyle

Some well-known examples of classical Doric hexastyle Greek temples:
  • The group at Paestummarker comprising the Temple of Hera (c. 550 B.C), the Temple of Apollo (c. 450 B.C), the first Temple of Athena ("Basilica") (c. 500 B.C) and the second Temple of Hera (460–440 B.C)
  • The Temple of Athena Aphaia (the invisible) at Aeginamarker c. 495 B.C
  • Temple E at Selinusmarker (465–450 B.C) dedicated to Hera
  • The Temple of Zeus at Olympiamarker, now a ruin
  • Temple F or the so-called "Temple of Concordmarker" at Agrigentummarker (c. 430 B.C), one of the best-preserved classical Greek temples, retaining almost all of its peristyle and entablature.
  • The "unfinished temple" at Segestamarker (c. 430 B.C)
  • The Hephaesteummarker below the Acropolis at Athens, long known as the "Theseum" (449–444 B.C), also one of the most intact Greek temples surviving from antiquity)
  • The Temple of Poseidon on Cape Suniummarker (c. 449 B.C)

Hexastyle was also applied to Ionic temples, such as the prostyle porch of the sanctuary of Athena on the Erechtheummarker, at the Acropolis of Athensmarker.

Roman hexastyle

With the colonization by the Greeks of Southern Italy, hexastyle was adopted by the Etruscanmarker and subsequently acquired by the ancient Romans. Roman taste favoured narrow pseudoperipteral and amphiprostyle buildings with tall columns, raised on podiums for the added pomp and grandeur conferred by considerable height. The Maison Carréemarker at Nîmesmarker, Francemarker, is the best-preserved Roman hexastyle temple surviving from antiquity.


The western side of the Parthenon.
Octostyle buildings had eight columns; they were considerably rarer than the hexastyle ones in the classical Greek architectural canon. The best-known octostyle buildings surviving from Antiquity are the Parthenonmarker in Athensmarker, built during the Age of Pericles (450–430 B.C), and the Pantheonmarker in Romemarker (125 A.D). The destroyed Temple of Divus Augustusmarker in Rome, the centre of the Augustan cult, is shown on Roman coins of the 2nd century AD as having been built in octostyle.


The decastyle has ten columns; as in the temple of Apollo Didymaeus at Miletusmarker, and the portico of University College Londonmarker.

See also

Line notes

  1. W. Burkert, Greek Religion (1987)


  • Greek architecture Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968
  • Stierlin, Henri. Greece: From Mycenae to the Parthenon, TASCHEN, 2004, Editor-in-chief Angelika Taschen, Cologne, ISBN 3-8228-1225-0
  • Stierlin, Henri. The Roman Empire: From the Etruscans to the Decline of the Roman Empire, TASCHEN, 2002, Edited by Silvia Kinkle, Cologne, ISBN 3-8228-1778-3

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