Architecture Around the World

Classical Greek Architecture

Table of Contents





3000 B.C. Early Helladic civilization on the mainland, Cycladic in the Aegean Sea and Minoan on Crete Cycladic (3000-2000): ceramics, idols, small useful objects
2500 - 2000 Achaian and Ionian invasions Minoan (2000-4000); frescoes, low relief sculptures, ceramics, statuettes
1500 Linear B, early Greek script. Mycenaean (1551-1100):masks, golden vessels and funerary objects, ivory and rock crystal trinkets, arms, helmets
1200 Capture of Tory by the Achaians (or Mycenaeans)  
1150 Dorian invasions  
1100 Colonization of Asia Minor by the Greeks (Ionians) Geometric (1100-700): ceramics with linear decoration, small bronzes, implements, funerary objects
900 Homer  
700 Lycurgus (Sparta) Greek colonies in Syria, Italy, Sicily, Egypt, Euxine (Black Sea), Liguria (Marseilles) Archaic (1700-500): temples of tufa and sculptures in oriental style, Kouroi and Korai, Corinthian vases, black figure ceramics
600 Solon (Athens) Peisistratos (Athens)  
500 1st Persian War: Persians defeated at Marathon (490)  
480 2nd Persian War: Persians defeated at salamis (480) Classical (500-300): marble temples, marble, gold and ivory sculptures, great bronzes, red figure ceramics
450 Age of Pericles (5C): Socrates and Plato in Athens  
431-404 Peloponnesian War won by Sparta  
371-362 Theban hegemony  
350 Philip of Macedon: Greeks defeated at Chaironeia (338) 330 Alexander the Great  
200 First Roman incursions Hellenistic (300-100): Macedonia tombs and treasuries, stoas, great statues in marble and bronze, Tanagra figurines
100 Greece a Roman province: capture of Athens by Sulla (86) battle of actium (31)  
AD 50 Paul the Apostle in Greece  
130 The Emperor Hadrian and his favorite Antinous in Greece Roman: urban complexes, administrative buildings, baths, arches, busts, portraits, mosaics
200 Barbarian invasions  

Building Materials

Quarries -- The chief building material was stone: limestone tufa (often shell limestone) and marble from the quarries on Pentelikon, Thassos and Naxos. The stone blocks were quarried with a pickax and extracted with the aid of metal or wooden wedges the latter were soaked to make them expand. Often the blocks were then shaped on the spot into architectural elements: columns. capitals, models of statues.

Transport - The blocks were removed from the quarry down a slipway constructed so as to have a regular gradient. Weighing on average 5 tons, they were loaded on to wooden sledges which were lowered on ropes hitched round fixed bollards. The blocks were then transferred to carts or drays drawn by bullocks for transport to the building site.

Building sites - On the site the rough or prepared blocks were unloaded with the aid of levers and rollers and sent to the workshop to be dressed or decorated (fluting, molding) or carved (capitals, pediments and metopes).The blocks were raised into position with a block and tackle and hoist or derrick. The dressed stones which were placed one upon another without mortar were held in place by H or N cramps. Wooden or metal pins were used to secure the piles of drums which made up a column: the holes which held them can still be seen. Stone columns received a coat of stucco.

Bonding - In large scale constructions the blocks of stone were cut and placed in various ways according to the purpose and penod of the building and the means and time available. No bonding material was used. This gives Greek stonework an almost unrivaled aesthetic and functional value. The Cyclopean style of construction, rough but sturdy, is to be found in some Mycenaean structures.

Temples (from 700 BC)

The temple was the dwelling place of the god or goddess to whom it was dedicated and housed his or her statue: some temples were dedicated to more than one divinity.

Proportions - The temples, which were thought to represent the architectural ideal, are essentially a blend of structural simplicity and harmonious proportions The proportions were governed by the module the average radius of the column. which determined the height since the column was the basic element in the elevation of a building. In some buildings the architects departed from rigid verticals and horizontals to correct optical distortion. The horizontal entablatures were slightly bowed making the center imperceptibly higher than the ends: each column was inclined towards its inner neighbor as it rose, the angle of incline increasing from the center of the colonnade towards the outer corner.

Decoration - The sculpted figures, often didactic, were placed on the secondary architectural features: the tympanum (pediment) and the metopes (architrave). The temples were painted: the background was generally red with the prominent features in blue to form a contrast. These brilliant colors made the stone or white marble sculptures stand out. A gilded bronze color was used to pick out certain decorative motifs such as shields or acroteria.


Nearly all religious sites in ancient Greece included a theater which was originally designed for festivals for the god of wine, Dionysos, which included hymns or dithyrambs which later developed into tragedy.

The original wooden structures were later built of stone and from the 4th c. B. C. and were comprised of four parts:

Odeons were covered theaters which became very numerous in the Roman period.

The major theaters are in Athens, Delphi. Argos and Epidauros and Dodona.


Archaic Period - 700-5OO B.C. In the 7th c. B.C. the Greek World began to produce its first full size statues, strange rigid figures with ecstatic expressions made of wood inspired by Asiatic, particularly Egyptian, models.

In the 6th c. two well-known and distinctive types of statue were produced: the kouros, a naked young man, and the kore, a young woman dressed in a tunic. The figures, which were life size or larger, were sometimes made of bronz, but more often of limestone (poros) or marble and then painted with vivid colors.

The high reliefs, carved in stone and also painted, mostly come from pediments and are impressive for their realistic and expressive appearance; the bronze sculptures are more stylised.

Examples typical of Archaic art are the marble frieze from the Siphnian Treasury and two kouroi representing Cleobis and Biton (Delphi Museum).

Classical Period - 5OO-300 B.C. There was a transition period, marked by the Charioteer from Delphi (475 BC), where the figure turns slightly to the right and takes his weight on one hip.

Classical statuary then freed itself from the rigid frontal stance passing through two distinct phases. In the "idealistic" phase (5th c. B.C.), Greek sculpture reached its height in the work of Polykleitos and Pheidias. The former established a standard model, the "canon." Pheidias created an ideal standard of beauty composed of strength, majesty and serenity in the delicately carved lines of his marble figures. His genius is expressed in the Parthenon sculptures (Acropolis Museum, British Museum, Louvre); unfortunately the famous chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus at Olympia has been destroyed.

During the "naturalist'' phase (4C) majesty gave way to grace and the female nude made its appearance. Artists began to compose from nature giving their figures ex pressive faces; the best known are Skopas. Lysippos and Praxiteles who produced tall figures such as the Hermes of Olympia.

Hellenistic Period - 300 100 BC. Sculpture began to be influenced by expressionism and orientalism. A realism, sometimes excessive, was used to express not only pain but also movement as in the Laocoon (Vatican) and the Victory of Samothrace (Louvre); at the same time it could produce the beautiful serenity of the Melos Aphrodite (Venus de Milo). Artists took delight in representing old people and children. such as the bronze jockey from Artemision in the Athens Museum.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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