From the magnificent Parthenon to the Temple of Apollo at Corinth, Greek architecture has greatly influenced later civilizations. Many modern-day architects incorporate classical Greek elements into their buildings. There were three basic styles, or orders, of Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Each order has its own distinguishing features, ornaments and details that not only set it apart from the others, but also help to make Greek architecture so recognizable today.
The Doric style was the simplest and the oldest of the architectural styles, first appearing around 500 B.C. Doric architecture was most commonly seen on mainland Greece and in the Greek colonies on the Italian peninsula. Doric columns had no bases, resting directly on the stone, and were thicker on the bottom than at the top. The columns had channels or grooves, also known as flutes. The tops, or capitals, were left plain and unadorned. The best-known example of Doric architecture is the Parthenon, built to honor the goddess Athena.
The Ionic style, which emerged in the mid-classical period, was slightly more ornate than its predecessor. It was most commonly used in the Greek islands and in Asia Minor. Ionic columns are thinner than their Doric counterparts, and do not have fluted grooves. Both the tops and bases of the columns had volutes, spiral ornaments resembling scrolls. Volutes typically decorated all four sides of a column, although they were sometimes found only on the front and rear. Two of the best-known examples of Ionic architecture are the Erechtheum Temple and the Temple of the Wingless Victory, built to honor Nike, the goddess of victory.
Corinthian architecture did not emerge until the late classical period, around the middle of the fourth century B.C., and is most commonly found in Roman structures. Corinthian architecture was the most ornate of the three orders, consisting of very slender columns. The capital was shaped like an inverted bell and adorned with rows of carved acanthus leaves. The Temple of Apollo at Bassae and the Temple of Zeus at Athens were both built in the Corinthian style.
Temples are the best examples of Greek architecture that have survived into the modern era. This is perhaps because the Greeks built so many of them to honor their various gods. Every part of a Greek building was an integral part of the structure, and the architectural order governed the relationships among all the different elements of the building. Regardless of which architectural order was used, all Greek temples followed a specific pattern: oblong in shape, with one or more rows of columns around all four sides. Temples usually had a pronaos, or front porch, and a opisthodornos, or back porch. The columns were carved from limestone or tufa, while the upper parts were constructed of mudbrick and timber. The architect who designed the temple typically oversaw all aspects of its construction: he chose the stone, supervised the excavation and oversaw the craftsmen who constructed it.
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