Ancient Greek Architecture

The Greeks were proud of their architecture – and with a good reason. We can see the remains of their buildings throughout the whole Mediterranean and in museums all around the world.

  • The architecture was important for the ancient Greeks. It was not only about structures and materials; the buildings needed to be beautiful in addition to being useful and technically correct.
  • Many buildings in the modern era – such as the White House in Washington – look very much like ancient Greek temples.

Ancient Greek Temples

  • The Greeks built ordinary houses and shops, but their temples and other public buildings were magnificent.
  • The temple had a special role in the ancient city. It was always a large building with a colossal statue of one of the Greek chief deities, such as Zeus, Apollo, or Poseidon. The statue was located in the central room called cella.
  • The temple interior was designed to make us feel we’re in the presence of the god.
  • Temples were usually parts of larger sanctuary complexes. One complex could have more than one temple.
  • A temple, just as the statue of the deity within it, was built with the purpose of making the people feel both fear and respect.
  • The largest and most famous temple in Athens was the Parthenon. It was built on the big hill of Acropolis, and it was dedicated to the goddess Athena.
  • Another notable temple that unfortunately was not preserved was the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • The temples were made of marble, and then painted in bright colors. Details on the columns, the backgrounds, and the sculptures were painted as well.
  • The ruins that we can see today are colorless, but in their best days those temples were all red, blue, yellow, and gold.

The history of ancient Greek architecture

  • The Minoans Greeks made fantastic buildings for all kind of purposes, not only religious.
  • The large-scale building of temples began after the dark ages.
  • The classic form of the Greek temple emerged during the seventh to fifth centuries BCE. Numerous cities throughout the Greek world started to build similar temples.
  • They were around a hundred foot tall (hekatompedon), and they were all constructed according to one basic plan.
  • The temples were rectangular and bounded by large columns. Inside there was a smaller rectangle, which was the interior room or cella.
  • The first temples were most likely made out of wood, and they didn’t last. From the early sixth century onward, most temples were made of marble.

Three Ancient Greek Architectural Orders

  • Even though the basic shape of all temples was uniform, there was still a lot of room for creativity.
  • Every city saw its big temple projects as an opportunity to display its fortune and the skill of their best artists. The temples were lavishly adorned in several ways.
  • Eventually, three remarkable architectural styles developed: Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian.
  • The main difference is visible in the way the columns were adorned and the look of the topmost parts (the capital and the entablature) of the columns.
    • The Ionic style emerged on the western coast of Asia Minor. Ionic columns had a carved horn-like curling block and a distinct decorative pattern.
    • The Doric style was developed in continental Greece. Doric columns have a simple stone capital made of two pieces that remind of a bowl. On top, there is a plain flat block.
    • The Corinthian style was not created in the city of Corinth. It was developed by the famous architect Callimachus who came from that city.

      The Corinthian column is thin and its ornaments look like the leaves of acanthus.


What all Greek temples had familiar?

They all had same basic structure and the statue of a god or goddess inside the building.

What were the differences between the temples?

Their columns and the way they were decorated were different.

What material was used for temple building?

It was marble. There were probably some wooden temples in the part, but there is no evidence that they were ever built.

What was the greatest temple in whole Greece?

It was the Parthenon at the Acropolis hill in Athens. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena.

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