Ancient Greek Architecture


According to the Roman Architect Vitruvius in his book De Architectura Libri Decem, the meaning of architecture lies in three qualities: utilitas or the functionality of the space, firmitas or the firmness of the structure, and venustas or the aesthetics of the building. The Greek buildings that were constructed in the ancient times, on the other hand, embody these three qualities. First of all, it is because Ancient Greek buildings were highly functional and they served the purpose to which they were constructed. Second, they were stable and the majority of these structures were able to withstand the test of time for hundreds of years. Finally, the majority of the Greek public buildings were made of marble and limestone – two materials that can exhibit an exquisite finish when exposed to natural sunlight. These finishes, in addition to the intricate details and monumental scale, have contributed to the aesthetic and grandiose characteristics of renowned Ancient Greek structures. Consequently, many scholars and researchers believe that Ancient Greek Architecture is very crucial in the development of architecture in the latter years - even up until the present - because of its adherence to the main qualities emphasized by Vitruvius in his attempt to define the profound meaning of architecture.

The architectural concepts of the Greek structures did not only adhere to the three qualities mentioned by Vitruvius but to a humanistic philosophy as well, which indicates that “man is the center of the universe”. As a result, Ancient Greek buildings that were highly formal in nature were also designed in accordance with political and religious hierarchy within a Greek community. Since religious beliefs in Greece were highly revered, Ancient Greek communities established temples on platforms, possibly on the highest terrains to indicate that each temple is considered as the most important building in that particular society, and to serve as the city’s focal point, which also makes it readily visible to anyone who would enter the city. Located on the lower terrains, on the other hand, are the government centers, wherein leaders conferred and where public gatherings were often made. The temples and government centers are the embodiment of the Greek humanistic philosophy because such buildings were utilized in such a way that these spaces could encourage social interaction between participants through group activities like group worshipping and public discussions. Such activities also promote order within the Greek society, which is deemed crucial in the Greeks’ endeavors in promoting human intellect and reasoning as the main aspects of their humanistic philosophy.

On the other hand, the Greeks’ structures were also influenced by Greece’s geographical location, resource availability, and climate. Although in the earlier stages of Ancient Greek Architecture, wood was utilized to build monumental structures, it was eventually replaced by lime and marble due to the limited availability of such resources. Coincidentally, the application of limestone and marble in the structures complement well with Greece’s maritime climate and landscape. Greece’s rich history has substantially contributed to the development of arts as well – including pottery, sculpture and architectural motifs. In fact, the majority of these works of art can be traced back from the motifs made by the peoples of Crete and Mycenae.

Although domestic architecture is crucial in determining the culture of the ancient Greeks in the earlier ages, very little is known of Ancient Greek Architecture in the form of domestic buildings. They were basic and primitive in nature, and they were built by using sun-dried bricks and thatched roofing. Even so, the ancient Greeks managed to develop monumental architecture in strict accordance with utilitas, firmitas and venustas. Eventually, the three qualities began to materialize completely in the Ancient Greek Classical Orders – Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Doric Order, which was first utilized in temples around the 7th Century, is the oldest and the heaviest among the three organizational systems. It is characterized mainly by the presence of an echinus, an abacus and a fluted shaft. The Ionic Order was designed in almost the same way as the Doric Order but instead of having a plainly designed abacus, the Ionic Order can be easily recognized because of its scrolls or volutes. The last Order, which is Corinthian, is characterized by sculpted forms of acanthus leaves.

For more facts about Ancient Greek Architecture, please refer to the following links:

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Architecture in Ancient Greece- Presents information on the prominent architectural components of the Ancient Greek structures. The approach is slightly technical but it deeply dwells on the intricacies of the architectural details present in the structures mentioned.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Greece – Discusses the Greek timeline and how Ancient Greek Art and Architecture was brought about.

 CSA Propylaea Project: Ancient Greek Architecture Discussion, General Planning Issues – Offers technical discussions on how the architectural designs and concepts of Ancient Greek Architecture were derived and on how the building methods were used.

Ancient Greek Architecture - Provides a brief introduction on Greece’s history, the types of buildings the Greeks have built during the Ancient times, and the methods on how they modified their structures to cope with the changing times in the dawning of monumental architecture. 

American Journal of Archaeology: Greek Architecture [PDF] – Provides a detailed analysis on the Ancient Greek Architecture and how it may contribute to the development of Architecture in the future.

History World - Greek and Roman Art - Discusses Greek Art and Architecture and how it relates to Roman Art and Architecture

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission: Classical Orders – Intended for young readers but provides rich images and detailed descriptions of the Classical Orders

Thinkquest: Greek Architecture - Provides short but helpful information on the development of architecture in Greece – from the very basic and primitive domestic structures to the most renowned Greek Classical buildings.

ABC Winged Sandals: Greek Architecture: Then and Now – Provides detailed descriptions about the Ancient Greek structures and information on how Greek Architecture is being utilized or improvised to meet the changes in the present society.

Reed College: The Parthenon- Discusses about the Ancient Greek Classical Orders and how they were utilized in the development of The Parthenon, the most renowned Ancient Greek building.

Alamo Colleges: A Brief Discussion of the Architecture of Ancient Greece – Provides rich photos and captions of the ruins of some of the most famous Ancient Greek structures.

Cedarville University: Ancient Greece – An overview on the history of Greece, which also includes timelines, chronology and maps of the Ancient Greek world. It also presents information on other aspects that influenced Greek Architecture like religion, government and Greek hierarchy.

Discovery Channel: Ancient Greece – Brief description about Greek Architecture, its recognizable characteristics and its Classical Orders.

History: Greek Architecture Photo Gallery – Provides great photos of famous Ancient Greek structures. Its captions are rich with information but an easy read.

Influences of Greek Architecture – Talks mainly about the Classical Orders and on how Greek Architecture influenced the Greco-Roman style that is popular among public buildings in the US and other countries.