Greek Architecture Essay Research Paper Greek ArchitectureArchitecture

Greek Architecture Essay, Research Paper

Greek Architecture

Architecture, the practice of building design and its resulting products; customary usage refers only to those designs and structures that are culturally significant. Architecture is to building as literature is to the printed word. Vitruvius, a 1st-century BC Roman, wrote encyclopedically about architecture, and the English poet Sir Henry Wotton was quoting him in his charmingly phrased dictum: Well building hath three conditions: Commoditie, Firmenes, and Delight. More prosaically, one would say today that architecture must satisfy its intended uses, must be technically sound, and must convey aesthetic meaning. But the best buildings are often so well constructed that they outlast their original use. They then survive not only as beautiful objects, but as documents of the history of cultures, achievements in architecture that testify to the nature of the society that produced them. These achievements are never wholly the work of individuals. Architecture is a social art (Encarta Online).

The architecture of ancient Greece is represented by buildings in the sanctuaries and cities of mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, southern Italy and Sicily, and the Ionian coast of Turkey. Monumental Greek architecture began in the archaic period, flourished through the classical and Hellenistic periods, and saw the first of many revivals during the Roman Empire. The roots of Greek architecture lie in the tradition of local Bronze Age house and palaces. The following paper will cover the basic forms of Greek architecture.

One of the many types of Greek building structures was Sacred Architecture. The Greeks conceived of their gods in human form, as anthropomorphic representations of the forces and elements of the natural world. These gods and goddesses were worshipped with sacrifices made at an outdoor altar. At many sanctuaries, the altar was much older than the temple, and some sanctuaries had only an altar. The temple designed simply is a shelter or home for the cult statue and as a storehouse for offerings. This shelter consisted of a cella (back wall), a pronaos (columned porch), an opisthodomus (enclosure), an antae (bronze grills securing the porches), and a colonnade that provided shelter for visitors (Levy, Kate).

The earliest monumental buildings in Greek architecture were the temples (Gabor 91). Since these were solidly built and carefully maintained, they had to be replaced only if destroyed. The architectural orders, Doric on the mainland and Ionic in the eastern Aegean, were developed in the archaic temples, and their lasting example tended to make Greek architecture conservative toward changes in design or in building technology.

The Archaic period evolved after the Mycenaen palace collapsed in 1200BCE during the dark ages when people began rebuilding (Scranton 6). This era brought about the introduction of both the Doric and Ionic Orders.

The Doric Order, which originated around 400 BC brought rise to a whole new type of building technique and style. In the archaic temples, stone gradually started to replace wood, and some of the structural details of the early buildings appear to have been copied in stone. At Thermon, in northwestern Greece, a succession of buildings from the Last Bronze Age throughout the sixth century BC show the evolution of the Doric temple from a hall shaped like a hairpin to a long rectangular building with a porch at either end and surrounded by columns. The temple of Hera at Olympia, built around 600 BC, had wooden columns that were gradually replaced by stone ones, probably as votive gifts. The distances between these columns were half their height (Humphrey). The variety of column and capital shapes illustrates the evolution of the Doric order. The earliest columns had a heavy, bulging profile, and their capitals were broad and low. During the archaic period, limestone became the standard building material for foundations, steps, walls, columns, and Doric entablature. Building such as the famous Temple of Aphaia on Aegina illustrates the dramatic influence of the Doric order (Snow 46).

While the Doric order became the standard for mainland Greece, the Ionian colonies in the eastern Aegean were developing a very different system of columns and entablature based on Egyptian and Near Eastern architecture. The tall slender columns, low entablature, and lack of sculptured frieze course were typical of Ionic buildings. The sixth century BC Ionic temples were unprecedented in size, as large as 55 by 112 m. Wealthy cities each have six major temples, sometimes arranged in a regular sequence, in addition to the standard civic buildings. An outstanding number of Ionic buildings can be found throughout the eastern Aegean.

During the classical period, Athenian Dominance greatly affected architecture. The war between the Greek city-states and Persia (499-480BCE) interrupted almost all temple building for a generation while the Greeks concentrated on restoring their defensive walls, civic buildings, and the fleet. Athens emerged as the leader, controlling the war chest of the Delian League, Panhellenic league; the city initiated extravagant program to rebuild the sanctuary of Athena on the Acropolis. The Parthenon, Propylaea, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheum were built entirely of marble and elaborately decorated with carved moldings and sculpture. The architects were Callicrates and Iotinus, and the chief sculptor was Phidias. A large school of builders and sculptors developed in Athens, during the second half of the fifth century BCE. Most of these craft workers were freed slaves from the eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps as a consequence there developed in Attica a unique blend of the Doric and Ionic orders seen in the fortified sanctuaries as well as in Athens.

The Corinthian order resulted from long civil wars during the fifth century BCE (Classical period). The Ionian cities recovered more quickly from the civil war under Persian sovereignty. The colossal sixth century BC temples and altars were replaced on a grander scale. Several Ionian cities were rebuilt on a grid plan that has been credited to Hippodamus of Miletus.

The rise of Macedonia and the conquests of Alexander the Great heralded the Hellenistic period. Old building types became more complex: altars, gate buildings, council houses, stoas with two or three levels, and theaters with large attached stage buildings. Many new building types were introduced, including the nymphaeum, monumental tomb, columned hall, choragic monument, clock tower and lighthouse. Many of these structures were decorated with dramatic marble sculpture (Goff 6).

Hellenistic architects made imaginative variations on the standard temple forms, introducing Apses, high podia (stepped or square platforms), and subtle combinations of Doric and Ionic features. Several temples had exterior Corinthian columns, such as the colossal temple of Zeus Olympiusin Athens, begun in 174 BCE. In the Ionic order, Hermogenes of Priene evolved new canons of proportion concerning the temple plan and the height and spacing of columns. His writings were also passed down to Roman architects who emulated his designs. Long after the Roman army captured Athens, the principles of Greek architecture continued to govern building designs in mainland Greece and in Anatolia and strongly influenced Roman architecture throughout the empire.

Greek architecture changed and evolved over a number of years. The creative architecture of the Greeks led to the construction of some of the most well known buildings in history. Therefore, the Greek’s advancements in the field of architecture were not only beneficial to their civilizations, but ours as well. Greek architecture has often been seen as the ideal of artistic symmetry, grace, strength and beauty. The Romans often modeled their public buildings after Greek temples, such as the Parthenon. Centuries after the fall of Rome, during the Renaissance period, Europeans rediscovered the arts and ideas of the Romans, and then those of the Greeks. European architects were profoundly influenced by Greek and Roman classical styles. In the process of colonizing other parts of the world, Europeans spread Greek architecture to new nations around the world. Just as it dominated public squares in ancient Rome. Greek architecture dominates the government buildings of Washington D.C., and many other cities around the United States.


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