ANCIENT GREEK ARCHITECTURE


ANCIENT GREEK ARCHITECTURE
   Ancient Greek architecture is widely revered for its formal elements that have come to be called "classical." These include a canon of proportion based on the human body, symmetry and harmony in terms of the relationship between all parts and the whole, and a standardized design created for a variety of building types. Greek buildings, made of stone, were highly sculptural, free-standing monuments of enduring appeal.
   Greek civilization developed out of a mix of new migrants and the former Minoan and Mycenaean peoples who lost dominance over the region of the Aegean Islands and the Peloponnese. Interestingly, although these peoples lived in different city-states around 900 BC and had differing backgrounds, they all spoke variants of the same language and considered themselves to have a similar Helladic heritage. The mainland cities of Athens, Sparta, and Corinth supplanted the Aegean Islands in power. In addition to their military strength, these cities developed literature, music, theater, and philosophical ideals that still inform western culture today. While Greek religious beliefs were polytheistic, philosophers maintained that humans were superior on earth and had a great responsibility in upholding the ideals of truth and beauty. Thus humanism, which focuses on cultivating and celebrating human achievements on earth, was born in Greece. Naturally, high aesthetic standards in the flourishing venues of art and architecture characterize this time in history. As in earlier civilizations, architecture continued to be used to assert economic power and confirm political and religious authority; therefore large market areas, administrative buildings, and monumental temples dominate the typological development of architecture in Ancient Greece. However, the broad-based social and cultural achievements of Greek society necessitated the introduction of such varied civic structures as amphitheaters, libraries, and museums.
   The religious temple—of clear proportions, a rational design, symmetry, and balance—epitomizes the Greek aesthetic ideal. Following the traditional focus on the sky gods in earlier Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, the religious beliefs of Ancient Greeks focused on the sky gods and deemphasized the female deities so important to Neolithic and Early Bronze Age peoples and their agricultural concerns. Greek religious buildings were therefore elevated. Several important sanctuary complexes are located in the mountainous areas of Greece; Mount Olympus, in the northeastern region of Greece, is where the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses was believed to have lived. The Sanctuary of Apollo, high up in Delphi near Mount Parnassus, marked the sacred birthplace of Apollo, who would communicate to humans through an oracle in the sanctuary's main temple, built in the 500s BC. Pilgrims would trek upward to get there through a ceremonial gate and the "Sacred Way."
   The complex also has athletic and performance areas, since the Pythian Games, which featured athletic events as well as music and theatrical performances, were hosted there annually. The rest of the complex consists of treasuries and memorials. The Temple of Apollo, now destroyed, was a rectangular building made of stone and was elevated from the ground by several steps that led to a continuous portico supported by a colonnade wrapped around the entire exterior. Although the vast majority of these temples were rectangular, smaller round temples were also built. Called a tholos, the round temple often had a funerary context. The beautiful round temple of Athena Pronaia in Delphi, dated around 400 BC, is a good example of this format. The Acropolis, located in Athens, is the most famous of these elevated sanctuaries.
   This profusion of columns and clear, geometric order became characteristic of Greek architecture in general. In the Archaic Period, temples featured simple Doric columns with wide, unadorned capitals. The Ionic order developed next, and featured scrolls in the capitals as well as more slender columns. Often, the shaft of the column would be ridged with vertical lines, called fluting. The Corinthian order, with taller columns and capitals carved with acanthus leaves and other organic decoration, was the most ornate of the supporting orders. The Temple of Hera I in Paestum, Italy, dated c. 550 BC, is a good example of a Doric ordered temple, while the Erechtheion as well as the small temple of Athena Nike, both on the Acropolis in Athens, feature the scroll-like Ionic order, and date to around 430 BC. The Temple of the Olympian Zeus in Athens was completed around AD 132, with the floral Corinthian order. All of these temples featured a post-and-lintel structural system, but with a raking, or slanted roof, which provided for the use of triangular pediments on either short end of the rectangular structure.
   In addition, architectural sculpture was integral to these buildings, and high relief carvings found in the frieze, located above the columns, and in the triangular pediments, depicted complex narratives related to the temple dedications. In the reconstructed Treasury of the Siphnians at Delphi, from around 530 BC, carved female figures called caryatids act as columnar supports to the front portico of this small one-room temple, called a temple "in antis," which has a front porch of two columns and no colonnade. Votive statues filled the rooms and courtyards on the Acropolis, while caryatids support the porch of the Erechtheion and gods and goddesses filled the triangular pediments of the Parthenon.
   The agora, or marketplace, was the center of civic life in Ancient Greece, and the Athenian Agora, located at the foot of the Acropolis and built around 400 BC, featured stoas, or covered walkways, that opened up into shops. Over time, agoras grew in size and importance to include temples, public and administrative buildings, and modest stuccofaced private dwellings, although private dwellings rarely revealed the degree of grandeur that is found in later Roman homes. Entertainment was very important to these people, and their theaters reflect this interest. All outdoors, the earliest theaters were small, with a dirt floor stage and a simple mat floor for spectators. Later, theaters grew into permanent structures built with tiered seating formed in a semicircle around an elevated stage of stone. The theater at Epidauros, from the 200s BC, is set against a hilly backdrop, and the stage, called an orchestra, originally had an elaborate set made of wood.
   Finally, the cities of Ancient Greece also often featured a symmetrical, regularized plan. While early Greek cities expanded out from a central citadel, later classical cities were more often built on a grid pattern, anticipating the organized urban plans of Ancient Roman architecture. The Ancient Greek city plan of Miletos in modern-day Turkey, from the 300s BC, shows this orthogonal plan. Because the southern region of Italy had been settled by the Ancient Greeks, who ultimately expanded their empire from Italy all the way to Persepolis in Iran, many architectural innovations of the Ancient Greeks were then expanded upon by the Romans. Thus, the classical aesthetic of these Greek buildings continued to be used by many subsequent cultures, and it is still seen today as the most enduring architectural style ever to have been developed.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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