Skip to content

Greece Architecture

Greece Architecture

How did Greek architecture influence the world?

The greatness of ancient Greek architecture dates back to the archaic era (800-480 BC) and the classical era (479-323 BC), during which the high achievements of ancient Greek civilization were noted.

Ancient Architects

The most important of the architects of the archaic and classical period are Iktinos, Kallikrates, Apollodorus of Damascus, Andronikos the Kyrrist, Dimokopos Myrillos, Aristainetos, Hippodamus Milesius and Ermogenys.

Based on the existing historical data, Kallikrates together with Iktinos were the two famous architects of the second half of the 5th century BC, of ​​the “golden age of Pericles”. The temples and works they built were great in importance and perfection. We can divide the Greek architecture into four periods.

Kallikrates and Iktinos

Kallikrates, according to Plutarch, collaborated with Iktinos for the construction of the Parthenon, the most important ancient Greek temple. He also worked between 460 and 450 BC on the construction of the Long Walls and is also credited with other major works of ancient Athens such as the repair of part of the peripheral walls of the city, the reconstruction of a temple dedicated to Apteros Athena Nike on the Acropolis and perhaps of the Erechtheion.

Iktinos was a close friend of the great sculptor Pheidias. In addition to the construction of the Parthenon, Iktinos is credited with the construction of the temple of Epicurean Temple of Apollo at Bassae, as reported by Pausanias and the Temple of Demeter in Eleusis. Also, according to Vitruvius, Iktinos co-authored with Carpius the technical study “for the Doric temple of Athena in Athens”.

The two architects – and especially Iktinos – possessed very special knowledge that at that time was taught only in the Schools of Mysteries. Thus, it is believed that Iktinos and Kallikrates may have acquired this special knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. They were likely initiated into the Mysteries of Egypt, Greece or elsewhere, and then applied this secret, initiation, ancient knowledge to the construction of their temples. What is certain, however, is that the temples they built are made like a microscopic image of the perfect universe. In the same way, the culture of Egypt was the earthly image of heavenly Egypt, thus uniting visible and invisible with the construction of the Pyramids, which seem to bear similar signs of perfection to those of the Parthenon. For this reason, many ancients believed that the knowledge of the ancient Greeks about mathematics came from the knowledge of the Egyptians in this field. Specifically, Aristotle in his “Metaphysics” states: “Thus the science of mathematics came from neighboring Egypt because there the priestly class had this occupation.”

Ancient Greek Theater

The ancient Greek theater as an architecture is an outdoor amphitheater construction of a semicircular plan around a circular square. It was used for religious rituals, music and poetry competitions, theatrical performances, municipal or city-state assemblies and even as a market.

The parts of the Ancient Greek Theater

The main parts of the ancient Greek theater were the stage, the orchestra and the concave, with the following sub-parts:

The stage: rectangular, elongated building, added during the 5th c. BC on the periphery of the orchestra opposite the cavity. In the beginning it was ground floor and was used only as locker rooms, like today’s backstage and dressing rooms.
The foreground: a gallery with columns in front of the stage. Between the spaces of the columns were porters and paintings (the sets). The doors of the foreground yielded three gates, from which the hypocrites came out. The foreground was initially collapsible, probably wooden.

The backstage: the two ends of the scene that protrude giving it a P shape in the floor plan.
The lanes: the corridors to the right and left of the stage leading to the orchestra. They were usually covered with arches.
The orchestra: The semicircular (or circular, eg Epidaurus) square in the center of the theater. Usually paved. There was dancing.
The hollow: the whole amphitheater (with the seats, the stairs and the moldings) around the orchestra, where the spectators sat.
The cornices: horizontal corridors that divide the seats of the spectators into horizontal zones.
The stands: groups of seats in wedge-shaped sections created by the separation of the zones with the stairs.
The seats: the seats, the seats of the spectators.
Presidency: the first row of seats, where the officials were sitting

The Cretan civilization (Minoan, 1800-1300 BC)

This is one of the earliest known architectural periods of ancient Greece. The most famous site of this period is the huge Palace and residential complexes of Knossos, in the isle of Crete. This imposing palace is built on a hill, in a site admired for its natural advantages, with access to the sea and proximity to a large forest full of Cephalonian pines, trees that were used for the construction of the columns and the beams of the Palace. All around the Palace you can see a lot of residential buildings like the “Little Palace”, the “Royal Villa” and the “South House”, forming the large city of Knossos, the city with a population not less than 100 000 inhabitants. The central court divides the Palace of Knossos into the West wing where you can visit today the religious and official staterooms, and the East wing which was used for domestic and workshop purposes. The Palace was destroyed around 1450 BC by the volcanic eruption of Santorini.

The Mycenaean (Achaean) civilization (1300-1000 BC)

The Mycenaean period is the period following the Minoan period. Leaving behind the open, labyrinthine palaces built by the Minoans, the Mycenaean formed a different style: citadels built on a compact, orderly plan and fortified by strong walls. One of the most important remains of Mycenaean architecture was found by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s and is located in the Peloponnese, in the ancient city-states of Mycenae and Tiryns. The primary remains you’re going to find at Mycenae are walls and tombs because the palace itself has been destroyed. Because of that, a strange atmosphere of death reign in this site, atmosphere, mostly due to the mythological stories connected to this place. Here was the supposed location of the House of Atreus, who fed his brother, Thyestes, his children for dinner, in the last attempt of a dynastic struggle.

Therefore the next generation descending from Atreus will be cursed until the last one. The king Agamemnon will sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to ask the gods for favorable winds that will help the Greeks to go to fight against Troy. Returning from this devastating war, Agamemnon will be killed by his wife Clytemnestra, who will, in her turn, be killed by her children, Orestes and Electra. The famous Lion Gate at the palace of Mycenae as well as the galleries of the palace at Tiryns shows the amazing engineering expertise of the Mycenaean civilization.

Archaic and Classical Greek architecture

The great advance in Ancient Greek architecture is visible by the construction of the first monumental stone temples from the Archaic and Classical periods. Those temples are characterized by the famous order of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian style.

The Doric order

From an architecture point of view, the greatest monument that was ever built in Athens is the famous Acropolis with its central temple, the Parthenon, a brilliant Doric temple. This temple has the reputation of the most perfect Doric temple ever built. It was built in 477-438 BC by Ictinus and Callicrates, with the collaboration of Phidias. The temple stands on the conventional three steps and has a cell with two rooms with hexastyle prostyle porches. When it was first built you could find, inside the colonnades, the fabulous work of Phidias, the gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos, representing the goddess Athena with her spear, helmet and aegis, a snake around her and holding the statue of victory. The ceiling of the temple was supposed to be made of wood, covered with painted decoration. In the late sixth century, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church and in 1458 it was used by the Turks to serve as a mosque. Most of the damage to the different temples forming the Acropolis is due to an Italian attack against the Turks. Another important Doric example is the Temple of Hera in Olympia, built in the 6th century BC. It is a peripteral temple situated toward the northwest corner of the Sanctuary of Zeus, east of Philippeion and north of the Temple of Zeus. The temple has a total of 14 Doric columns, creating two narrow side aisles, in front of the north and south walls. The Temple of Hera is also named Heraion and is the earliest monumental temple in Greece.

The Ionic order

Unlike the austere Doric style, the Ionic column has an ornamented necking, a base in several tiers, and has more flutes. This order is much less massive than the Doric style and generally more graceful. The Ionic style is well illustrated in Athens Architecture of the beautiful Temple of Athena Nike (goddess of Victory), built by Callicrates around 420 BC, beside the gateway to the Acropolis. It is the earliest Ionic temple built on the Acropolis. Quite small, it has four columns at each end of the projecting porches. The Erechtheion, opposite the Parthenon, is another famous example of the Ionic style. One of its ends was dedicated to Athena Polias and its altars built in honor of Poseidon-Herechtheus and Hephaestus. It is in this temple where you can admire the famous Porch of the Caryatid (the Maidens); which is a pro-style tetrastyle porch with a roof supported by six beautiful Caryatid statues.

The Corinthian order

This order appeared at the end of the classical period and was used a lot by the Romans to build their proper constructions. The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens is an excellent example of a Corinthian temple. It was an enormous structure, even exceeding in size the Temple of the Parthenon. It had 104 columns made of Pentelic marble and each of those columns were 17 meters high. Today, only 15 of these Corinthian columns are still standing in the middle of the Olympic where stood one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the huge gold statue of Zeus.

The classical period is also the period during which all the wonderful theatres you can discover in Greece were built. The great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were all performed in those architectural wonders, but first of all in the little Theatre of Dionysos (built in the slope of Acropolis in the 5th century BC), actually standing behind the theatre of Herodes Atticus.

Athens also has remains of this period with, for the best example, the Roman Agora, built in the time of Augustus and standing at the bottom of the Acropolis. A century and a half later, the emperor Hadrian built the famous Arch of Hadrian that still stands in the center of Athens.

The Byzantine period explains the incredible amount of lovely and heavy decorated churches that decorate the city.

After the War of Independence, during the monarchy, Athens is embellished by buildings in neoclassical style like the National Library and the Athens University in Panepistimiou avenue, the majestic Parliament, and some hotels and museums.

The influence of the Byzantine Empire

The architecture of the early Christian period, that is, the period that begins with the recognition of Christianity as an official religion by Constantine the Great (313) and that ends with the Arab conquest of the southern provinces of the empire. At this time the art of the Greco-Roman world continues and expands, whose monumental forms are now used to meet the needs of the new official religion. The significance of this era for the history of medieval art is enormous.

The vast territory of the empire includes the thriving Hellenistic cities with strong domestic artistic traditions, such as Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, and the capital Constantinople, which is constantly enriched with new ecclesiastical and imperial buildings. The type of church that dominates until the 6th century is the basilica, which originates from a spacious Hellenistic and Roman building for public gatherings.

The rich interior decoration, colorful marbles, mosaics, gilded ceiling, show the effort to give to the bright space, which covers the walls and the floor valuable materials, all with colorful reflections, all set in the luxury scale.