Greek architecture is one of the most influential styles of architecture in the Western World. Greek construction emerged after the decline of the Mycenaean Civilization in the 8th century B.C. Drawing from Egyptian and earlier civilizations in the regions surrounding the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the emergence of Greek Architecture coincides with economic growth and beginnings of democratic forms of government over individual city-states. Greek life revolved the center of city-states and sacred sites. A boom in technological advancements, scientific studies, philosophical debates and new economies heralded a new architecture. Crowning natural summits along the coast, city-states celebrated sculptural temples and built dwellings, stoa, theaters, and other civic buildings. The growth of these city-states began the evolution of new building types like the courtyard home, the library, the market(stoa) and the theatre. The Classical Age (c. 450 B.C.) defined the image of modern man, ruled by law and moved by the intellect. A new harmony of man and nature established the settings for buildings in cities facing the sea. Greek architecture is very methodical and systematic way of building. Its proportions are pure geometry and based on human proportions. Greek architecture exists in buildings government and civic buildings today.
Activity 1 – Orders
Greek Architecture contributed three orders to the classical language: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Each order has columns, beams (or architraves) and an entablature and cornice (or crown). The Doric order is thought to have come from the Dorians, the Ionic from the Ionians in Turkey and the Corinthian from the Isle of Corinth. Columns are anthropomorphic or designed to assimilate the human form. The base represents the feet, the column/shaft the torso, and the entablature/capital the head of the human body. Each order proportions the base, column, and entablature as well as details the entablature and cornice. The Doric represented the strength and solidity of the male figure. The Ionic, slightly taller, represented both male and female, or an androgynous character; its rams horn connected by a string of eggs and darts represented simultaneity of male and female. The tallest Greek order, the Corinthian, is thought to represent a young maiden. Its capital has acanthus leaves cascading in three levels. Research drawings of the orders and draw one or all three of them!
Activity 2 – Greek Buildings
The Greek house, or megaron, consisted of rooms encircling an inner courtyard, creating privacy off of the busy city street. The megaron became enlarged with porches, wings and additional quarters to accommodate the wealth of the family. The stoa, or open colonnade, protected the marketplace from the sun and rain and provided the citizens with a communal meeting place, or agora. The Greek theater, second in importance only to the Greek Temple, was placed into the topography and landscape of the sea as the backdrop. Model a Greek building type.
Activity 3 – Greek Temples
Greek temples offer archaeologists many examples of trabeated structures or buildings built with stone columns and stone beams. Temples dedicated to Greek gods and goddesses shared in stone the strength, utility, and beauty of the deities. Each sacred site chosen for a temple faced the sea and drew upon the beauty of the surrounding view in its placement. The approach to temples always angled so that visitors experienced seeing the temple from a distance and then having time to admire it from many viewpoints as they approached. Temples crown sacred hilltops. Throughout the Greek landscape, many ruins of temples and temple sites are still present. In each unique siting, the building is an object crowning the summit. The different temple plan types refer to the number and spacing of columns on one to four sides surrounding the inner chamber, or cellae, which contained the statue of the god or goddess. The invention expressed in the constant progress towards perfection. Look at the Doric Temple at Segesta,(late 5th century B.C.); the Ionic Temple of Artemis at Ephesus,(6th century B.C. and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World); The Doric Temple of Athena at Paestum, ( 510 B.C.); the Ionic Temple of Athena Nike in Athens , ( 427 B.C. ); the Doric Temples of Hera at Paestum, ( c.550 and 450 B.C.); and the Doric Tholos at Delphi(c.390 B.C.) all express individuality in the use of the classical language and the temple type crowning a sacred summit. Make a drawing of different temple plan types and label them.
Activity 4 – The Parthenon
The Parthenon is the Greek Temple crowning the sacred site of Athena on top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Meaning head of the town, the Acropolis ruled over 150 city-states. Built between 447-432 B.C. and designed for Pericles by the architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, and the sculptor, Pheidias, the Parthenon remains the timeless symbol of a society dedicated to a harmonic relationship between man and nature. The sculpture of the triangular pediments represents the birth of Athena to the East and the contest of Athena and Poseidon for the soil of Attica to the West. Zeus, the god of the Sky, god of men, reigned over the mortals from Mt. Olympus. Apollo, the son of Zeus, the god of the Sun and song, music and dance and daughters Aphrodite, goddess of Love and Beauty and Athena, daughter of Zeus, born from his head, the goddess of War and Wisdom formed the Imperial Family. Poseidon, the brother of Zeus, known as the god of the Sea, and all of the other players in Homer’s writings provided a supernatural force that guided Greek society on earth. During Latin occupation, Romans remodeled the temple. In 1687, the Turks using it as ammunition storage, shelled it into the current ruinous state. In 1803, British explorers hauled many of the sculptural artifacts back to England. During the Olympics in Athens in 2003, the Greeks built a glass museum at the base of the Acropolis and requested that Greek Ruins return home. Research and draw the Parthenon or make a model of a Greek temple.
Activity 5 – Greek Theaters
Plays and performances play a huge part of Greek culture and history. The Greeks engineered theater sets, so the acoustics were perfect throughout. To do this, theatres were built into hillsides to take advantage of the slopes. The stage (skene) is at the lowest point, and the surrounding seats (theatron) stepping up the hillside, so all audience members have good views of the stage. An additional circular space, or orchestra, accessed by two side aisles (parados) was for the chorus to perform.Some theatres seated hundreds of people. Research an ancient Greek theater and build a model of it.
Activity 6 – Greek Markets
Stoa is the Greek architectural term for a covered walkway or colonnade. Early stoas were one story high and of the Doric order. Stoas connected complexes used by the publics for different purposes. Stoas held the markets, gathering places, meeting places, and more. Larger buildings connecting to the stoa had the same components as temples but often were longer. As Greek architecture evolved more building types, stoas grew to two and three stories in heights and became more decorative.
Research an ancient stoa and draw its elevation.
Activity 7 – Greek Citystates to the Roman Empire
Greek Civilization comprised territories on the Aegean Sea, roughly corresponding to the modern state of Greece, the western shores of Asia Minor, and the Islands. Colonized lands include areas such as Magna Graecia, or the south of Italy and Sicily. Romans built upon Greek sites throughout the eastern Mediterranean region, and extended far north into Germany, and westward into England. The foundation of the Greek civilization- the libraries, theaters, marketplaces and courtyard homes set the foundation for Roman Cities. Make a map of the city-states in Greek Civilization (1100 B.C. - 130 B.C.). Overlay this with the expansive outreach of the Roman Empire.
Activity 8 – Greek Architecture Today
In Greece, the ruins of ancient Greek architecture still stands. The Romans were the first to be heavily influenced by the Greeks and built many of their cities on top of Greek foundations. Over the centuries, especially in the Renaissance, the Greek Orders revived. Today, Greek architecture is evident throughout the Western world. Monuments, infrastructures, and even houses recall its architectural language. If you look at civic buildings, many entrances or façades feature Greek columns. The White House in Washington D.C. has Ionic columns. The Oslo Trading Building in Norway also uses Ionic columns.
Go around your neighborhood, and photograph any use or influence of Greek Architecture.
- Ancient Greek Architecture
- Delphi Museum
- ESMA Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments
- Greek Hippodromes
- History of the Acropolis
- Khan Academy Ancient Greece
- Khan academy Intro to Greek Architecture
- NAT GEO Ancient Greece Resource Library
- SMITHSONIAN Why Greek Acropolis Renovations are controversial
- South Portland Greek City States
- The Acropolis Museum History
- The Greek Archaeological Museum
- UNESCO Acropolis World Heritage Site
- UNESCO All GREEK World Heritage Sites
- Video Greek Classicism
- Video Khan Academy Greek Architecture