Ancient Architecture Essay Research Paper The sun

Ancient Architecture Essay, Research Paper

The sun sets. Its crimson shadow is cast over vast empires, empires that spanned centuries. As the world gazed on with admiration, the two ancient powers of Greece and Rome achieved architectural supremacy before its eyes. The temples and architectural ingenuity of these two powers immortalized their civilizations and left permanent indentation upon architectural design today.

Millennia have now past, and all that is left are the antiquities showing the exemplar artistic feats of man. Greece and Rome were profound in achieving such accomplishments. Greece praised art and triumphed in architectural design; while Rome enhanced Grecian styles and created new design elements that reflect some of the great architectural achievements in human history. Remnants of Greco-Roman architecture can be admired throughout the world, from the pristine cathedrals in England, to government facilities in the United States. These echoes from an era of peak artistry and innovation have survived thousands of years and yet continue to ripple into our lives today. In many ways, Greece and Rome provided some of the greatest architecture man has produced and paved the way for human ingenuity. But how did they achieve such terrific feats in the ancient world?

Vanquishing with the sword, the Grecian empire expanded with the same charisma as former world powers before them, conquering and assimilating surrounding nations into their culture. Antiquities leave us their legacy of the past, and subsequently, our present. The Greco-Roman era has made a profound impact upon our lives, and continues to direct our fundamentals in architectural design. Although Greece was one of the greatest innovators in the ancient world, it was still subject to the rippling effects of architectural predecessors, much like western architecture is to Greco-Roman stylesj. We find evidence of this in a beautiful white column, displayed at one of the most renowned museums in the world, the Louvre, in Paris, France. One may become amazed to discover the column belongs not to the Greeks, but rather to the columns of Persepolis, Circa (one of the ancient capitals of Persia), in 500 BC. However columns are still primarily associated with one of Greece s great innovations, due to the elegance within their exhibition in pagan temples. However, these extravagant temples did not surface right away.

In early architectural forms, homes were built of mud-brick walls, wooden columns, and thatched roofing. It was not until the eighth century BC that monumental temples took their first emergence. Although the temples still used similar materials as dwelling structures, their sizes became progressively larger. These sacred Greek temples were infamous for their immensity; being made of various specific parts which all served their own independent purpose. The temple serves as a shelter for the statue and a storehouse for offerings made unto the gods. On the island of Samos, a rectangular temple was built to the goddess Hera, making a clear distinction between divine and human houses (Pomeroy 76). Greece showed their wealth and abundance of resources by engaging in architectural projects and thus bringing additional honor to their empire. In the Archaic period, methods for design improved, incorporating vast amounts of limestone with stucco made of marble dust. At times temples were entirely constructed of marble and limestone (imitating the presence of wood within a structure). Dr. Aldo Manos, a senior official of the United Nations, deduced that structures were built entirely of stone in order to avert the threat fire posed to many ancient civilizations as the case in many classical Greek temples (Manos). Surrounding these awe-inspiring temples were situated the Greek columns, the centerpiece of Greek architecture.

In the seventh century BC three architectural orders began to surface, all made distinct by five factors: the purpose, capitol, fluting, base, and frieze. First the column must serve a purpose, whether being for support, religious implement, or for perceptual gratitude. The capital likewise played an influential role. Located atop the column, the capital adjoined the shaft to the ceiling the column supported, or the architrave. The ceiling is binary consisting of an upper portion, known as the frieze, and a lower portion, the architrave. The grooves upon the shaft of the column, the fluting, were present and yet differed among all of the Greek orders. The final aspect is revered as the base for its position on the column. This piece adjoins the shaft to the steps of the building and is often found decorated on the upper portion, or the torus. These five factors are distinguished by the three architectural orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian (Pomeroy 276).

The Doric order, being the first, possessed some of the faults later corrected by following orders. Dating back to the early seventh century BC, the Doric order used columns that connected directly to the steps without the use of a base. The diameter of the shaft was often one-fifth or one-sixth the height of the column. The temple of Athena Parthenos (the Parthenon), built between 447 and 438 BC, was the largest structure atop the Acropolis and contained some 136 massive Doric columns (Pomeroy 277). The capital atop the shaft consisted of a circular molding (Pomeroy 276) with a square slab above that supported the plain slab architrave. However the frieze was not as simplistic, containing alternating metopes and triglyphs. Metopes alternated with the triglyphs as flat slabs indented upon the frieze. The triglyphs were then divided by grooves to form three vertical bars Together the architrave and the frieze created the entablature upon which the triangular roof sits (Cartledge 261).

During the late sixth century BC, the Ionic order began to make an appearance. In response to the bulkiness of the columns of the Doric order, the Ionic column s diameter was one-eighth/one-ninth the height of the shaft. In contrast to the Doric s fluting, the column possessed deep groves. The addition of a base was present, and the capital was complicated with decorations of spiral scrolls.

The final order, the Corinthian order, was developed in the fifth century BC as a successor of the Ionic order. The primary difference was the carvings of acanthus leaves upon an inverted bell shaped capital. The finest example of a Corinthian style temple is the Temple of Zeus at Akragas, one of the most colossal sacred buildings in the classical world (Gore 14). In this temple, five story pillars were assembled in sections, and then a stonecutter carved the flutings (Gore 15). The Romans used this order extensively in the first century BC after their empire had acquired adequate greatness and prestige.

Rome s greatness however, came with the demise over the Greek civilization. Rome, with Greece s passion for world conquest, had overtaken the entire Italian Peninsula by 272 BC. The Roman expansion soon enveloped Greece with battles gaining higher and higher technical prowess. Archimedes, a Greek mathematician, was in charge of creating implements of war; machines that hurled stone boulders, the catapult, and iron claws that disabled enemy ships from atop stonewalls. Although their spirits were strong, the Greeks were defeated. In the first century BC only Akragas was left standing. There the orator Cicero tells of how the people of Akragas rushed to the temple to keep Romans from stealing a treasured statue of Heracles, (Gore 36) the symbol of the Greek civilization. The legacy of the Grecian empire would soon end, and thus passed their position of world dominance to Rome, who displayed on many of the same artistic qualities.

Roman architecture was significantly influenced by the Greek style of architecture. In fact the Roman Forum in 200 AD used all three of the Greek architectural orders (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) in their construction of: the Basilica Julia, the temples of Saturn, Vespasian, and Concord, and the Arch of Septimius Severus (Papanek 23). Greek artisans, employed by wealthy Romans, cleverly took older Greek styles and remolded them according to the needs of their employers. This created the majority of the Roman architectural structures, sculptures, and paintings in the first century BC (Hinds 20). Within the nine centuries of their world dominance, Rome raised the bar of architectural excellence that Greece had held at so high of an esteem before them. In contrast to the geometric form emphasized by Greek architects, the Romans focused on the rounded form. Moreover, combing this rounded form with use of concrete and brick, they were able to create the arch, vault and dome.

The arch used rudimental physics to connect two columns in an arch able to support a tremendous amount of weight. The arch is first constructed using wood, the stones are then placed upon the wooden structure until the final piece, or keystone, is placed within the arch. After the keystone is placed, the wooden structure is demolished and the arch stands freely. This form of architecture was instrumental in the construction of many of the Romans amphitheatres. Most prominent of the amphitheatres were the Circus Maximus and the four-story Flavius AmphitheaterY.

Roman architects then devised a structure that crossed two arches, known as the vault. The vault was constructed identically with the arch, using wooden structures to keep the stones in place until the final keystone was inserted. This form of architecture is primarily found along the vaulted ceilings of Roman Catholic cathedrals in Italy.

The architectural rounded form later brought about the final structure in Roman Architecture, the dome. The dome was a derivative of the vault, however possessed the quality of a perfectly rounded sphere. The Pantheon in Rome was one of the most ingenious architectural projects completed by the Romans. The plans used a perfect sphere to create a structure 140 ft. in diameter and 140 ft. in height. The only source of light comes from an opening in the top of the dome 27 ft. in diameter (Reid 35,36). This immense structure could only be built by using lighter material as the dome progressively reached the top. Inside, arches and columns are used for decorations, combining the vast legacy of architectural feats of both these majestic empires.

Architecture from these ancient empires continue to stand today as reminders of our past. Architects during the Greek Revival utilized the three major forms of colonnade structures acquired from the Greeks: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Rome enhanced these orders within their temple structures and eventually able to create the arch, vault, and dome, fundamentals found within everyday building schematics. These designs are still used extensively in cathedrals (vaults) and government facilities (domes), thus directly impacting our lives today. Through ingenious ingenuity and the abundance of wealth, Greece and Rome were able to make a permanent indentation upon the architectural world. These ancient empires have long past, but leave their ruins are an eternal reminder of what they offered the world while they were here.

Works Consulted

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Facts On File, Inc, 1997.

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Gore, Rick. When Ancient Greeks Went West. National Geographic Society. Vol.

186, No. 5. (November 1994): 2-37.

Hamlin, Talbot Faulkner. Greek Revival Architecture in America. New York: Dover

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Papanek, John L., ed. Rome: Echoes of Imperial Glory. In Lost Civilizations.

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Manos, Aldo, Dr. The Role of the Environment. (6 Oct. 1988). BioPolitics Volume II:

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Rilfkind, Carole. A Field Guide to American Architecture. New York: Penguin USA


Written by chris mattson.



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