Greek Architecture- A Portrayal Of Greatness

Greek architecture: the art of building that arose on the shores of the Aegean Sea and flourished in the ancient world.” (Columbia Encyclopedia) Ancient Greek architecture began with the admiration of ancient Egyptian architecture, and much of the same concepts are applied to this very day. They modeled many aspects of Egyptian architecture and refined their structural imprecision to develop their very own unique style. The Romans, along with other civilizations, admired their unique architectural fashion and borrowed these characteristics to mold and shape a distinct style of their very own. Ancient Greece is known to be one of the greatest influences to present-day architecture. (Arrowhead)

The ancient Greeks loved life, and lived it with unmatchable gusto. They were a unique people who prized differences in personality and character. They believed individuality to be the foundation of their society, and individuals should be free as long as they acted within the laws of Greece. They highly respected intellectuals, and the concept of deep thinking. The strong emphasis placed upon intellectuality and individualism allowed them to excel in any area they desired. Greeks believed in striving for excellence no matter how big the challenge. Such an avid devotion for excellence paved the way for their many extraordinary accomplishments. (Arrowhead and Greek Culture)

The elegance of Greek architecture reveals their aspiration for beauty in distinction. They possessed several different methods of construction, which are still admired and often practiced today. The earliest method consists of rectangular temples of wood with simple post-and-lintel construction. By the fifth century B.C., trees suitable for use were next to impossible to find as a result of deforestation. Architects decided to improvise by using different materials. Limestone became popular, because it was easily carved. Stone and crude bricks were put to use, but builders of the classical period (fifth century B.C.) preferred marble- the most dignified of stones. They laid their masonry with joints cut to supreme exactness. A highly rubbed and polished coating of marble dust and lime was applied to coarse stonework and crude bricks, creating a very sophisticated appearance. Sometimes marble was even treated with this coating. Ancient Greece had been generally recognized for their sustained use of white marble, but archeologists have discovered traces of colors and embellishments utilized to accentuate decorative sculpture and particular details. Even though architects knew of arches and crypts as forms appropriate for masonry, they usually built using the same methods for wood. Wooden beams could span a gap of fifty feet or less; the builders spanned the same entablature (horizontal structure or architrave, frieze, and cornice between the columns and pediment on the roof.) They lacked the labor that some civilizations (Egyptians) possessed, and a ruler did not have the power to be forced to work. So around 515 B.C., Greek builders employed stone in blocks of 10 tons or less. These blocks could be raised by a crane with pulleys and manual wrenches. Others of this time, such as the Barbarians, took pride in using huge stones for enormous structures. The Greeks were content working within reasonable limits, seeking beauty in perfected form. They developed a satisfactory manner of construction from the unpretentious column and lintel method. They practiced it exclusively, drawing from it the utmost magnificence. Temple proportions gained refinement, but the basic plan and minute details for construction of temples remained unchanged (National Geographic Society, Columbia Encyclopedia.)

Temples are not the only component of Greek architecture, but are the main focus of study. Architects of early Greece constructed houses, amphitheatres, tombs, palaestrae, propylaea, agoras, and stoas.  The first populace of the Greek peninsula were said to be Neolithic. They crafted very primitive and basic structures using mud bricks and stones in the mud with reeds or brush to help build houses in circular, semi-circular, oval, or rectangular shape. Rectangular houses were sometimes oblong with an entrance set up at one of the short ends, but the majority resembled more of a square. Most of the houses had one room. There were seldom two. The following group of settlers was the Minoan. They were renowned as palace builders. Towns were mainly residential with few temples and public places. The houses were private, yet very open with many rooms. Pillars were employed to separate rooms. The stairways were a very prominent attribute of these massive homes. This began a whole new era for the Greeks concerning architecture. (Lee) Until the age of Alexander the Great, Greeks erected permanent stone buildings essentially to serve a religious purpose similar to the Egyptians, Hindus, and Sumerians. Their temples were not sizable inclusions of space but statue chambers housing a god’s sacred image. Right of entry to these chambers was only permitted to priests. Nonetheless, temples of ancient Greece have forever been recognized as fundamentally distinctive and superior to most premature religious types in three ways. The temples had a smoothness in form, superb purification of the finest examples, and because their architecture reflects the beginning of a cogent, philosophical approach to art in Greece that took the place of previous belief systems. (Crystal)

In architectural achievement, the Greeks are acknowledged with the creation of the three traditional architectural orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. (Janson) The Doric order was earliest and the one used for most buildings. (Greek Architecture/Columbia Encyclopedia) The most dignified monuments were erected in Doric order. (Columbia Encyclopedia) The Doric order is very plain, but powerful looking in its design. Doric, like most Greek styles, works well horizontally on buildings. This is why it was so good with the long rectangular buildings made by the Greeks. (Schulman) This type had arrived at a definite form in the seventh century B.C., but further improvements produced the perfected order of the fifth century B.C. as it appeared in the Parthenon and the Propylaea at Athens. (Crystal) This style was used in mainland Greece and the colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. It continued to be used by the Greeks until about the second century B.C. (Greek Architecture/ Columbia Encyclopedia) The capital (the top, or crown) is made of a circle topped by a square. The shaft (the tall part of the column) is plain and has 20 sides. There is no base in the Doric order. The area above the column, called the frieze [“freeze”], had simple patterns. Above the columns are the metopes and triglyphs. The metope [“met-o-pee”] is a plain, smooth stone section between triglyphs.

Sometimes the metopes had statues of heroes or gods on them. The triglyphs are a pattern of three vertical lines between the metopes.  Ionic shafts were taller than Doric ones. This makes the columns look slender. They also had flutes, which are lines carved into them from top to bottom. The shafts had a special characteristic: entasis, which is a little bulge in the columns. Without the bulge, the columns would appear to get narrower as they rise. Entasis gives the illusion that the columns are straight. The frieze is plain. The bases were large and looked like a set of stacked rings. Ionic capitals consist of scrolls above the shaft. The Ionic style is a little more decorative than the Doric. The Corinthian order is the most decorative. It is usually the favorite of modern people. Corinthian also uses entasis to make the shafts look straight. The Corinthian capitals have flowers and leaves below a small scroll. The shaft has flutes and the base is like the Ionian. Unlike the Doric and Ionian cornices, which are at a slant, the Corinthian roofs are flat. (Schulman)

Much of the architecture discovered in ancient Greece was revealed to be dedicated to a god or represent a victory. The earliest known structures were two large temples dedicated to Athena, the goddess of mainly wisdom but also war and craft. The Acropolis hill or “Sacred Rock” is the most important site of Athens. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both. During the Classical period (450-330 B.C.) three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike. The Parthenon is the largest building on top of the Acropolis. It was dedicated to the virginal Athena Parthenos, patron goddess of Athens. It was constructed in Doric order between 447 B.C. and 438 B.C. out of pentelic marble (fine, white marble). The temple is

surrounded be freestanding columns. It was designed by Ictinus and Callcrates, and sculptured by Phidias. It is the most important and featured monument of the ancient Greek civilization, and remains an international icon to this day. Construction of the Erechtheion began around 420 B.C. in the Ionic order. The purpose was to accommodate the religious rituals that the old temple housed.  It has a prostasis on the east side, a monumental propylon on the north, and the famous porch of the Caryatids on the south. The main temple was divided into two sections, dedicated to the worship of the two principal gods of Athens, Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus. The architect Kallikrates erected the Temple of Athena Nike around 420 B.C. It is build in Ionic order, and it is amphiprostyle (set of columns only in front and back) with four columns on each narrow side. A marble parapet decorated with the relief representation of Nikae (victories), protected the edge of the Bastion where the temple was constructed. The Propylaea- also an important Greek structure- is the monumental gateway of the Acropolis. The architect Mnesikles designed it in 437- 432 B.C. It encompasses a central building and two lateral wings. Other important Greek monuments include the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Delphi Theatre, Delphi Stadium, Delphi Tholos (sanctuary), and a few palaces such as Knossos. (Sakolas, Crystal, Hellenic Ministry of Culture)

Ancient Greece was one of the largest contributors with respects to architecture. Not only did several civilizations of ancient times, such as the Romans, incorporate the architectural approach accustomed to the Grecian architects; we apply much of their same practices to this very day. Contributions are not limited to an architectural aspect. Other facets such as democracy, philosophy, astrology, biology, mathematics, physics, and the theatre only begin to articulate their contributions. The Greek’s passionate aspiration in regards to merit and eccentricity allowed them to accomplish a distinct greatness in their sculptures and other areas of life. Past civilizations as well as today’s humanity have always respected and admired the ancient Greek way of life.

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