Substantive Education

February 10, 2009

Greek Architecture Part 1

More info. for my Art Classes. This will probably take several posts to get through the Architecture…greece-5

Early Greek temples were made of mud and bricks with wood roofs. They had a simple rectangular structure with a sheltered porch area. We have had to piece together their structure and look by ruins, descriptions, and small ceramic models. This model of a temple was found in the Sanctuary of Hera. Notice the geometric design on the steeply pitched roof. The main room was called a cella or naos. There would have been a statue of the god or goddess in this area that the temple was dedicated to. There was a small reception area that preceded the main hall that functioned as the temples vestibule.

Greek temples grew in both size and complexity. Stone and marble began to replace the mud, bricks, and wood. Of course using stone and marble created problems with weight and the designs of temples had to be worked out carefully so that the columns and walls could support the roof and the decorative architectural elements that began to be added on. greek-8

A number of standardized plans began to develop. Builders experimented with the elevations of temples..or the proportions and appearance of columns and entablatures. During the archaic period two distinct designs developed, the Ionic Order and the Doric Order. The Corinthian Order would come later and, at first, be used largely in interior areas.

The Temple of Hera (The wife of Zeus) is one of the earliest standing temples. It was built in about 550 BC. (Actually there are two Temples of Hera, built right next to one another about 100 years apart…they are generally referred to as Hera I and Hera II.)

Hera I is a large, rectangular temple with a post-and-lintel structure. There is a stepped foundation that supports a peristyle. A peristyle is a row of columns that surround the cella (main area) on all four sides. The single peristyle plan is also called a peripteral temple. See figures E through G. Both Hera I and the Parthenon are examples of a peripteral temple.

Hera is also a Doric Temple, meaning it used the Doric Order, or set of proportions in it’s construction. Working with stone and marble presents several difficulties because of the weight of the stones. The Greeks found that columns of a certain diameter and height could support the rest of the structure. In general, the Doric order has shorter, fatter columns than the other orders and is the oldest of the Orders. The columns sat directly on the floor of the temple and had a very plain capital. Each successive order would elaborate on these basics, adding more decoration, more heights, and thinning the columns.

Let’s take a look at each of the parts of the temple so that we can compare the orders and look at some examples.

The columns is generally what we think of as being distinctive of each Order. The columns are an upright support hat extends from a base at the bottom to a capital at the top — much like the feet, body, and head of the human figure. The central part is known as the shaft. The shaft is not one huge solid piece, but several drum shaped pieces that are stacked onto a metal pole. This provides flexible support, allowing these works of art to survive time and earthquakes. The capital was often a stylized representation of natural forms, such as animal horns or plant leaves.

You can see the basic parts of a column below. A Doric Column did not have a pedestal, but sat directly on the floor of the temple, or the stylobate. Greek temples generally had stepped foundation and the top level, which was also the floor of the temple was the stylobate. The entire stepped foundation was called the stereobate.

The columns support a horizontal element…hence the post-and-lintel construction. This element is called the entablature and is divided up into three different parts: the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice.
At each end there was a triangular gable called the pediment.
greece-8In Hera I you can see the classic components of a Doric Temple. The fluted shafts of the columns that rest without any bases on the stylobate and the very plain capitals made up of necking transition to a cushionlike echinus and then a square abacus on the top.
There is a three part entablature that has a plain flat band that is the architrave, it is topped by a decorative band called a frieze. In the Doric order the frieze has flat areas called metopes that alternate with projecting blocks that have three vertical lines on them called triglyphs. This part of the entablature were usually painted, or carved and then painted in bright colors.
The Doric column is only about four times as high as the diameter of the column. This design creates a feeling of stability and permanence. The columns are wider the middle than at the tops or bottoms. Hera I has an uneven number of columns and there is a central row of columns that supported the roof, and divided the main cella in two. This suggests that there were two deities worshiped here, possible Hera and her mate Zeus…or Hera and Poseidon, patron god of the city.
Here is some additional info and a summary from Greek Architecture for Dummies.

Doric: Heavy simplicity

The oldest, simplest, and most massive of the three Greek orders is the Doric, which was applied to temples beginning in the 7th century B.C. As shown in Figure 2, columns are placed close together and are often without bases. Their shafts are sculpted with concave curves called flutes. The capitals are plain with a rounded section at the bottom, known as the echinus, and a square at the top, called the abacus. The entablature has a distinctive frieze decorated with vertical channels, or triglyphs. In between the triglyphs are spaces, called metopes, which were commonly sculpted with figures and ornamentation. The frieze is separated from the architrave by a narrow band called the regula. Together, these elements formed a rectangular structure surrounded by a double row of columns that conveyed a bold unity. The Doric order reached its pinnacle of perfection in the Parthenon.



  1. The temples of the ancient world were similar in structure, they represented what the ancients saw as the structure of the “cosmos”, the universe as they knew it. All the temples, including the temple in Jerusalem follow this idea, a representation of the heavens and the earth in building form. So you have the inner “holy place” which represented heaven and was inaccessible and the outer courts representing earth and open to people. This “cosmological” structure is an important feature in temple architecture.

    Comment by Steve — February 25, 2009 @ 9:52 pm | Reply

  2. […] תוכניות המקדשים היוונים לקוחות מכאן. […]

    Pingback by תיבות עם חורים – הרהורים לאדריכלים בלבד « ערסיטקטורה — May 28, 2010 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

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