Classical Architecture Series
Greek Architecture

History, Characteristics, Classical Orders, Legacy.

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Temple of Hephaistos (449 BCE)
Athens. A masterpiece of ancient art
and one of the best-preserved
temples of Classical Antiquity.

For the chronology and key dates
of architectural developments,
around the world, see:
History of Art Timeline.

Greek Architecture (c.900-27 BCE)


Greek Architecture: Why is it Important?
Development of Stone Architecture
Types of Buildings
The Greek Temple
- Layout
- Base and Walls
- Roof
- Column and Lintel
- Entablature and Pediment
- How Stone Temples Were Built
Orders of Greek Architecture (see: IMAGE)
- History
Doric Order
- The Parthenon
- Architectural Sculptures of the Parthenon
Ionic Order
- The Erechtheion
Corinthian Order
Legacy of Greek Architecture
Famous Greek Temples
Ancient Greek Architects



The architecture of Ancient Greece concerns the buildings erected on the Greek mainland, the Aegean Islands, and throughout the Greek colonies in Asia Minor (Turkey), Sicily and Italy, during the approximate period 900-27 BCE. Arguably the greatest form of Greek art, it is most famous for its stone temples (c.600 onwards), exemplified by the Temple of Hera I at Paestum, Italy; the Parthenon , Erechtheum, and Temple of Athena Nike, all on the Acropolis at Athens; and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus at the foot of the Acropolis. As well as temples and altars, Greek designers - who included some of the greatest architects of classical antiquity - are also famous for the design of their theatres (c.350 onwards), public squares, stadiums, and monumental tombs - exemplified by the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos (c.353 BCE), Turkey. Like Greek sculpture, Greece's architecture is traditionally divided into three periods: Archaic (c.650-480 BCE); Classical (c.480-323 BCE) and Hellenistic (c.323-27 BCE).

Greek Architecture: Why is it Important?

Greek architecture is important for several reasons: (1) Because of its logic and order. Logic and order are at the heart of Greek architecture. The Hellenes planned their temples according to a coded scheme of parts, based first on function, then on a reasoned system of sculptural decoration. Mathematics determined the symmetry, the harmony, the eye's pleasure.
There had never been an architecture in just this sense. Egyptian pyramid architecture had been an early, attempt, but Greek building art offered the first clear, strong expression of a rational, national architectural creed. It is the supreme example of the intellect working logically to create a unified aesthetic effect. Greek designers used precise mathematical calculations to determine the height, width and other characteristics of architectural elements. These proportions might be changed slightly, and certain individual elements (columns, capitals, base platform), might be tapered or curved, in order to create the optimum visual effect, as if the building was a piece of sculpture. (2) Because of its invention of the classical "orders": namely, namely, the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order - according to the type of column, capital and entablature used. (3) Because of its exquisite architectural sculpture. Architects commissioned sculptors to carve friezes, statues and other architectural sculptures, whose beauty has rarely, if ever, been equalled in the history of art. (4) Because of its influence on other schools. Although Greek architects rarely progressed further than simple post-and-lintel building techniques, and failed to match the engineering techniques (arch, vault) developed in Roman architecture, they succeeded in creating the most beautiful, monumental structures of the Ancient World. Their formulas - devised as far back as 550 BCE - paved the way for Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture, and had the greatest possible influence on the proportions, style and aesthetics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern architects, too, have been influenced by Greek architectural forms. Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), for instance, a leading figure in the First Chicago School, based a number of his skyscraper designs on the Greek template of base, shaft, and capital, while using vertical bands (reminiscent of the fluting on Greek columns) to draw the eye upwards.




The origins of Greek architectural design are not to be found in the various strands of Aegean art that appeared in the eastern Mediterranean, notably Minoan or Mycenean art, but in the Oriental cultures that poured their influences into the Greek settlements along the shore of Asia Minor (Turkey) and from there to Hellas itself. Ever since the Geometric Period (900-725 BCE), the main task of the Greek architect was to design temples honouring one or more Greek deities. In fact, until the 5th century BCE it was practically his only concern. The temple was merely a house (oikos) for the god, who was represented there by his cult statue, and most Geometric-era foundations indicate that they were constructed according to a simple rectangle. According to ceramic models (like the 8th century model found in the Sanctuary of Hera near Argos), they were made out of rubble and mud brick with timber beams and a thatched or flat clay roof. By 700 BCE, the latter was superceded by a sloping roof made from fired clay roof tiles. Their interiors used a standard plan adapted from the Mycenean palace megaron. The temple's main room, which contained the statue of the god, or gods, to whom the building was dedicated, was known as the cella or naos. (For more about the history of Greek architecture, see: Ancient Greek Art: c.650-27 BCE.)

Development of Stone Architecture

Until roughly 650 BCE, mid-way through the Orientalizing Period (725-600 BCE), no temples were constructed in finished stone. However, from 650 BCE onwards, or thereabouts, there was a renewal of contacts and trade links between Greece and the Middle East, including Egypt, the home of stone architecture. (See: Ancient Egyptian Architecture.) As a result, Greek designers and masons became familiar with Egypt's stone buildings and construction techniques, including those of Imhotep, which paved the way for monumental architecture and sculpture in Greece. This process - known as "petrification" - involved the replacement of wooden structures with stone ones. Limestone was typically used for pillars and walls, while terracotta was used for roof tiles and marble for ornamentation. It was a gradual process, which began in the latter part of the 7th century, and some structures, like the temple at Thermum, consisted of timber and fired clay, as well as stone.

Building Design in Ancient Egypt
Early Egyptian Architecture (c.3100-2181 BCE).
Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture (2055-1650 BCE).
Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture (1550-1069 BCE).
Late Egyptian Architecture (1069 BCE - 200 CE).

At the same time, the switch from brick and timber to more permanent stone stimulated Greek architects to design a basic architectural "template" for temples and other similar public buildings. This first "template", known as the "Doric Order" of architecture, laid down a series of rules concerning the characteristics and dimensions of columns, upper facades and decorative works. Subsequent "templates" included the Ionic Order (from 600) and the Corinthian Order (from 450).

Types of Buildings

Unlike their Minoan and Mycenean ancestors, the Ancient Greeks did not have royalty, and therefore had no need for palaces. This was why their architecture was devoted to public buildings, such as the temple, including the small circular variant (tholos); the central market place (agora), with its covered colonnade (stoa); the monumental gateway or processional entrance (propylon); the council building (bouleuterion) the open-air theatre; the gymnasium (palaestra); the hippodrome (horse racing); the stadium (athletics); and the monumental tomb (mausoleum). But of all these buildings, it is the temple that best captures the qualities of Greek design.

Figure 1. Greek Orders of Architecture


The Greek Temple

Except for the circular tholos, most Greek temples were oblong, roughly twice as long as they were wide. Most were small (30–100 feet long), although a few were more than 300 feet long and 150 feet wide. (For comparison, the dimensions of the Parthenon are 235 feet in length, 109 feet in width.) The typical oblong floor plan incorporated a colonnade of columns (peristyle) on all four sides; a front porch (pronaos), a back porch (opisthodomos). The upper works of the temple usually consisted of mudbrick and wood, except for the upper facade which was usually stone, and designed according to the Order (Doric, Ionic). Columns were typically carved from limestone, with upper facades usually decorated with marble.

The interior of the Greek temple typically consisted of an inner shrine (cella, or naos) which housed the cult statue, and sometimes one or two antechambers, which were used as storage places for devotees to leave their votive offerings, like money, precious objects, and weapons.

Note: For a brief comparison between the pagan Greek temple and the Christian church, see: Early Christian Art (150-1100).


The layout of the inner shrine, the other chambers (if any) and surrounding columns usually followed one of five basic designs, named as follows. (1) If the entrance to the cella incorporated a pair of columns, the building was known as a "templum in antis". ["in antis" means "between the wall pillars"] (Example: Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, 525 BCE; or Temple of Hera, Olympia, 590 BCE.) (2) If the entrance was preceded by a portico of columns across its front, the building was known as a prostyle temple. (Example: Temple B, Selinunte, Sicily, c.600-550 BCE.) (3) If in addition to the portico of columns at the front, there was a colonnade of columns at the rear exterior of the cella, the building was known as a amphiprostyle temple. (Example: Temple of Athena Nike, Athens, 425 BCE. Or see the later Temple of Venus and Roma, Rome, 141 CE.) (4) If the colonnade surrounded the entire building, it was known as a peripteral temple. (Example: The Parthenon, Athens, 447-437 BCE) (5) If the colonnade encircling the building comprised a double row of columns, it was known as a dipteral temple. (Example: The Heraion of Samos, 550 BCE; or Temple of Apollo, Didyma, Asia Minor, 313 BCE.)

Base and Walls

The temple was built on a masonry base (crepidoma), which elevated it above the surrounding ground. The base usually consists of three steps: the topmost step is the "stylobate"; the two lower steps are the "stereobate". Like the Parthenon, most temples have a three-step base, although the Temple of Zeus at Olympus, has two, while the Temple of Apollo at Didyma has six. During the petrification process (650/600 BCE onwards), temples were given masonry walls, consisting mostly of local stone rubble, sometimes augmented by high quality ashlar masonry. Inside the temple, the inner sanctum (cella/naos) was made of stone, as were the antechambers, if any.


All early temples had a flat thatched roof, supported by columns (hypostyle), but as soon as walls were made from stone and could therefore support a heavier load, temples were given a slightly sloping roof, covered with ceramic terracotta tiles. These roof tiles could be up to three-feet long and weigh as much as 80 pounds.

Column and Lintel

Greek architects and building engineers knew about both the "arch" (see, for instance, The Rhodes Footbridge, 4th century BCE) and the "vault" (corbel and barrel types), but they made little use of either in their architectural construction. Instead, they preferred to rely on the use of "post and lintel" techniques, involving vertical uprights (columns or posts) supporting horizontal beams (lintels). This method, known as trabeated construction, dates back to earliest times when temples were made from timber and clay, and was later applied to stone posts and horizontal stone beams. However, it remained a relatively primitive method of roofing an area, since it required a large number of supporting columns.

The stone columns themselves usually consisted of a series of solid stone "drums" - set one upon the other, without mortar - but sometimes joined inside with bronze pegs. The diameter of columns usually decreases from the bottom upwards, and to correct any illusion of concavity, Greek architects usually tapered them with a slight outward curve: an architectural technique known as "entasis".

Each column is composed of a shaft and a capital; some also have a base. The shaft may be decorated with vertical or spiral grooves, called fluting. The capital has two parts: a rounded lower part (echinus), above which is a square-shaped tablet (abacus). The appearance of the echinus and abacus varies according to the stylistic "template" or "Order" used in the temple's construction. Doric Order capitals are plainer and more austere, while Ionic and Corinthian capitals are more ornate.

Entablature and Pediment

The temple's columns support a two-tier horizontal structure: the "entablature" and the "pediment". The entablature - the first tier - is the major horizontal structural element supporting the roof, and encircles the whole building. It is made up of three sections. The lowest section is the "architrave", made up of a series of stone lintels which span the spaces between the columns. Each joint sits directly above the centre of each capital. The middle section is the "frieze", consisting of a broad horizontal band of relief sculpture. In Ionic and Corinthian temples, the frieze is continuous; in Doric temples sections of frieze (metopes) alternate with grooved rectangular blocks (triglyphs). The top part of the entablature immediately under the roof is the "cornice", which overhangs and protects the frieze.

The second tier is the pediment, a shallow triangular structure occupying the front and rear gable of the building. Traditionally, this triangular space contained the most important sculptural reliefs on the exterior of the building.

How Stone Temples Were Built

The design and construction of Greek temples was dependent above all on local raw materials. Fortunately, although Ancient Greece possessed few forests, it had lots of limestone, which was easily worked. In addition, there were plentiful supplies (on the mainland and the islands of Paros and Naxos) of high grade white marble for architectural and sculptural decoration. Lastly, deposits of clay, used for both roof tiles and architectural decoration, were readily available throughout the country, notably around Athens.

However, the quarrying and transport of stone was both costly and labour-intensive, and typically accounted for most of the cost of building a temple. It was only the wealth which Athens had accumulated after the Persian Wars, that enabled Pericles (495-429) to build the Parthenon (447-422 BCE) and other stone monuments on the Acropolis, at Athens. In some cases, older stone monuments were cannibalized for their marble and other precious stones.

Typically, each building project was controlled and supervised by the architect, who oversaw every aspect of construction. He selected the stone, managed its extraction, and supervised the craftsmen who cut and shaped it at the quarry. At the building site, master stone masons made the final precise carvings, to ensure that each stone block would slot into place without the need for mortar. After this, labourers hoisted each block into position. The architect also supervised the professional sculptors, who carved the reliefs on the frieze, metopes and pediments, as well as the painters who painted the sculptures and various architectural elements of the building.

Don't forget, the Greeks regularly painted their marble temples. In fact they seem not only to have painted them, but to have used gaudy colours for the purpose, indulging generously in red, blue, and gold. There must have been some attempt to correlate colour and structure, with the structural members kept clear and outstanding, the lower parts little coloured, and the upper parts alone flowering in hue as they did in sculptural adornment, but all evidence has long since vanished. See also: Greek Painting: Classical Period, and Greek Painting: Hellenistic Period.

Orders of Greek Architecture

Ancient Greek architecture devised three main "orders" or "templates": the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order. These Orders laid down a broad set of rules concerning the design and construction of temples and similar buildings. These rules regulated the shape, details, proportions, and proportional relationships of the columns, capitals, entablature, pediments and stylobate.

Take proportions, for instance, which are critical for the overall appearance of a building, especially a cult temple. The Doric Order stipulated that the height of a column should be five and a half times greater than its diameter, while the Ionic Order laid down a slimmer more elegant ratio of nine to one.

That said, Ancient Greek architects took a highly pragmatic approach to the rules surrounding proportions, and when it came to the mathematics of an architectural design they took "appearance" as their guiding principle. In other words, if the correct mathematical proportions didn't look right, they used a different set! In particular, they treated a temple like a sculptor treats a statue: they wanted it to look good from every angle. So they added a bit of width here, a bit of height there, and so on, until the structure looked perfect. As a result, measurements of Doric and Ionic temples can vary tremendously, so don't take the measurements and ratios, quoted below, too literally.

History of Greek Architectural Orders

Historically, the two early orders, the Doric and the Ionic, have parallels, if not antecedents, in earlier Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia. The stronger of the two, the Doric, retains primitive heaviness and the effect of powerful stability. It was a favourite with the Greek builders through the Archaic period (c.650-480 BCE); it was standard in the Greek settlements in Sicily and Italy, and was chosen for the Parthenon; but it gave way to the more ornamental types in the fourth century. The Doric column and capital are not unlike those to be observed in the Egyptian tombs at Beni-Hasan, though it is not necessary to infer direct copying from that model. (See also: Egyptian Art: 3100-395 BCE; Mesopotamian Art: 4500-539 BCE; and Ancient Persian Art: 3500-330 BCE.)

The more graceful and lighter Ionic order, however, has too many parallels in Eastern building not to be marked as an importation from the Orient. Probably the Egyptian lotus-capital had had echoes in Mesopotamia; and Ionian culture had developed in advance of that of the Greek mainland, partly due to the influence of Assyrian art (c.1500-612 BCE). When the Ionians refined the feature into something distinctively their own, they carried it back to the Athenians, who were their blood brothers.

At any rate, the austere Doric Order appeared on the Greek mainland during the pre-Archaic period and spread from there to Italy. It was well established in its mature form by 600 BCE, the approximate date of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. The more decorative Ionic order only arrived about 600 BCE, and co-existed thereafter alongside the Doric, being the favourite style of the rich and highly influential Greek cites of Ionia, along today's western coast of Turkey, as well as a number of other Aegean Islands. (Example: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.) It reached its mature form during the High Classical period, around 450 BCE. The flamboyant Corinthian Order, which elaborated many of the characteristic features of the Ionic Order, did not emerge until the era of Hellenistic art and was fully developed by the Romans.


Doric Order of Architecture

The Doric order is easily identified by its plain capital, and lack of column-base. Its echinus started out flat and more splayed in Archaic-era temples, before becoming deeper and more curvaceous in Classical-era temples, and smaller and straighter during the Hellenistc period. Doric columns nearly always have grooves, or flutes (usually 20), which run the full length of the column. The flutes have sharp edges known as arrises. At the top of the columns, there are three horizontal grooves known as the hypotrachelion.

The columns in early Doric-style temples (Temple of Apollo at Syracuse, Sicily, 565 BCE), may have a height to base-diameter ratio of only 4:1. Later, a ratio of 6:1 became more usual. During the Hellenistic era (323-27 BCE), the typically solid, masculine look of the Doric temple was partly replaced by slender, unfluted columns, with a height to diameter ratio of 7.5:1.

In the Doric order, there are clear rules about the positioning of architectural sculpture. Reliefs, for instance, are never used to decorate walls in an arbitrary way. They are always arranged in predetermined areas: the metopes and the pediment.

Doric temples are clearly identified by their sectioned, non-continuous frieze, with its alternating arrangement of scored triglyphs and sculpted metopes.

The Doric pediment, a notoriously difficult space in which to lay out a sculptural scene, was filled initially with relief sculpture. By the time of the Parthenon, sculptors had begun carving freestanding stone sculpture for the pediment. Even then, arranging figures inside the tapering triangular area continued to be problematical. But by the Early Classical period (480-450 BCE), as exemplified by the scenes carved at the temple of Zeus at Olympia, (460 BCE), sculptors had found the solution: they had a standing central figure flanked by rearing centaurs and fighting men shaped to fit each part of the space. At the Parthenon (c.435 BCE), the celebrated sculptor Phidias succeeded in filling the pediment with a complex arrangement of draped and undraped deities.

Doric Order temples occurs more often on the Greek mainland and at the sites of former colonies in Italy. Among the best-preserved examples of Archaic Doric architecture are the temple of Apollo at Corinth (540 BCE), and the temple of Aphaia, Aegina (490 BCE).

The Parthenon

The supreme example of Doric architecture of the Classical Period (c.480-323 BCE) is of course the Parthenon (447-437 BCE) on the Athens Acropolis. It was a Greek sculptor, not an architect, who said that "successful attainment in art is the result of meticulous accuracy in a multitude of arithmetical proportions"; but the Parthenon is the aptest illustration. Every esoteric scholar delving into the mysteries of "the divine proportion" or "the golden mean" claims the Parthenon as his first example: it has so unfailingly pleased millions of eyes, and it measures out so exactly to a mathematical formula. In the whole aspect there are calculated proportionings of parts and rhythmic correspondences. Then on from the whole to the parts: the areas of the entablature are divided on logical and harmonious ratios; and of course there is the equally refined relationship of column and capital. Perfection within perfection! The Greek builders, in their search for "perfect" expressiveness, went on to optical refinements unparalleled elsewhere. The entasis, or slight swelling and recession of the profile of the column, is but one of the mathematical tricks to ensure in the beholder's eye the illusion of perfect straightness or exact regularity. Another is that the tops of the columns lean slightly toward the centre at each side of the colonnade, the inclination increasing in proportion as they are farther toward each end, because a row of columns which are actually parallel seems more widely spaced at the top corners. (The Parthenon columns of the outer colonnade are inclined, curiously enough, at such angles that all their axes would meet, if continued, at a point one mile up in the air.) Another concession to the eye is the slight curve upward at the centre of the main horizontal lines, made because straight steps or straight-set series of columns seem to sag slightly at the centre.

Architectural Sculptures of the Parthenon

In general the bases of the structure, the weight-bearing members, and the first horizontals, were kept clear of elaboration or figurative sculpture. In the Parthenon and earlier structures, it was deemed that the proper place for exterior sculptures was in the spaces between the triglyphs, or surviving beam-ends, and in the pediment. On the roof, single figures might be set in silhouette against the sky, at gable top and especially gable ends. Within the colonnade in some late Doric temples a continuous frieze ran like a band around the cella's exterior wall, and was seen in bits from the outside, between columns.

The marble sculpture on the Parthenon originally appeared on the building in two series, the continuous frieze within the colonnade and the separated panels between the triglyphs; and the two triangular compositions in the pediments. The best preserved of the figures were taken to England early in the nineteenth century, and are universally known, from the name of the man who carried them away in battered remnant form, as the "Elgin marbles."

There is grandeur in the pediment figures. They are among the world's leading examples of monumental sculpture. As in the case of the architectural monument of which they were decorative details, they doubtless have gained in sheer aesthetic value by the accidents of time. The grand votive statues, such as the outdoor Athena on the Acropolis and the colossal image of the same goddess in the cella of the Parthenon, were big enough, by all report, but they seem to have been distressingly and distractingly overdressed, and their largeness and sculptural nobility were lost in excessive detail. The magnitude of the pediment figures is the magnitude of the powerful in repose, of strength kept simple. In terms of narrative, the east pediment group represented the contest of Athena and Poseidon over the site of Athens. The west pediment composition illustrated the miraculous birth of Athena out of the head of Zeus.

The technical problem of fitting elaborate sculptural representations within the confined triangular space of a low pediment challenged the inventiveness and logic of sculptors collaborating on temple projects. At Aegina, Olympia, and Athens the solution balanced nicely with the architecture. There was a related flow of movement within the triangle, which was lost in later examples and certainly in every attempted modern imitation.

The panels between the triglyphs under the Parthenon cornice, known as the "metopes," originally ninety-two in number, have been even more disastrously defaced or destroyed than have the pediment groups during their twenty-three centuries of neglect. Each panel, almost square, bore two figures in combat. Sometimes the subjects were taken from mythology, while others are read today as symbolic of moral conflict.

The low-relief frieze which runs like a decorative band around the outside of the cella wall, within the colonnaded porch, is of another range of excellence. The subject is the ceremonial procession which was an event of the Panathenaic festival held every fourth year. The figures in the sculptural field, which is a little over four feet high and no less than 524 feet long, are mainly those of everyday Athenian life. Even the gods, shown receiving the procession, are intimately real and folk-like, though oversize. To them goes all the world of Athens: priests and elders and sacrifice-bearers, musicians and soldiers, noble youths and patrician maidens.

There is a casualness about the sculptured procession, an informality that would hardly have served within the severe triangles of the pediments. Everything is flowing and lightly accented. Particularly graceful and fluent are the portions depicting horsemen. The animals and riders move forward rhythmically, their bodies crisply raised from the flat and undetailed background. The sense of rhythmic movement, of plastic animation within shallow depth limits, is in parts of the procession superbly accomplished.

See also: History of Sculpture (from 35,000 BCE).

Ionic Order of Architecture

Unlike Doric designs, Ionic columns always have bases. Furthermore, Ionic columns have more (25-40) and narrower flutes, which are separated not by a sharp edge but by a flat band (fillet). They appear much lighter than Doric columns, because they have a higher column-height to column-diameter ratio (9:1) than their Doric cousins (5:1).

Ionic Order temples are recognizable by the highly decorative voluted capitals of their columns, which form spirals (volutes) similar to that of a ram's horn. In fact, Ionic capitals have two volutes above a band of palm-leaf ornaments.

In the entablature, the architrave of the Ionic Order is occasionally left undecorated, but more usually (unlike the Doric architrave) it is ornamented with an arrangement of overlapping bands. An Ionic temple can also be quickly identified by its uninterrupted frieze, which runs in a continuous band around the building. It is separated from the cornice (above) and architrave (below) by a series of peg-like projections, known as dentils.

In Ionic architecture, notably from 480 BCE onwards, there is greater variety in the types and quantity of mouldings and decorations, especially around entrances, where voluted brackets are sometimes employed to support an ornamental cornice over a doorway, such as that at the Erechtheum on the Athens acropolis.

Ionic columns and entablatures were always more highly decorated than Doric ones. In some Ionic temples, for instance, (quite apart from the ornamented echinus), certain Ionic columns (like those at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus) contained a continuous frieze of figures around their lowest section, separated from the fluted section by a raised moulding.

The use of draped female figures (Caryatids) as vertical supports for the entablature, was a characteristic feature of the Ionic order, as exemplified by the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi (525 BCE) and the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis.

The Erechtheion

The Erechtheion (421-406 BCE) is representative of the special features of the Ionic Order at its best. The almost fragilely graceful columns are there, the less severe massing, the breaking up of the entablature into more delicate units, and the general lightening of effect and greater enrichment by applied ornamentation. The East Porch (now restored) is, like the Parthenon, Greek architecture at its purest. The doorway within the North Portico has served a thousand architects as the classic model. The South Porch of the Erechtheion follows an innovation already seen at Delphi. Six statues of maidens, known as caryatids, took the place of the conventional columns. The experiment leaves the building somewhere between architecture and sculpture, and the result is interesting as a novelty rather than for any defensible daring or good purpose in the art of building. The statues very likely serve their purpose as supports today with more architectural plausibility than they could have done in the days when their arms, noses, and other members had not been shorn off. Even so, they are a bit ludicrously natural and unmathematical. As the Greeks failed here, so they often enough failed elsewhere. The monuments they left are not always the matchless and perfect compositions we have been led to believe by other generations.

Another famous Ionic building, this time from the Hellenistic Period (323-27 BCE) is the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (c.166-156 BCE). As the name indicates, it was not a temple but merely an altar, possibly connected to the nearby Doric Temple of Athena (c.310 BCE). The Altar was accessed via a huge stairway leading to a flat Ionic-style colonnaded platform, and is noted for its 370-foot-long marble frieze depicting the Gigantomachy from Greek mythology. See also Pergamene School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE).

Corinthian Order of Architecture

The third order of Greek architecture, commonly known as the Corinthian Order, was first developed during the late Classical period (c.400-323 BCE), but did not become at all widespread until the Hellenistic era (323-27 BCE) and especially the Roman period, when Roman architects added a number of refinements and decorative details.

Unlike both the Doric and Ionic Orders, the Corinthian Order did not originate in wooden architecture. Instead, it emerged as an offshoot of the Ionic style about 450 BCE, distinguished by its more decorative capitals. The Corinthian capital was much taller than either the Doric or Ionic capital, being ornamented with a double row of acanthus leaves topped by voluted tendrils. Typically, it had a pair of volutes at each corner, thus providing the same view from all sides. According to the 1st century BCE Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, the distinctive Corinthian capital was invented by a bronze founder, Callimarchus of Corinth. The ratio of the column-height to column-diameter in Corinthian temples is usually 10:1 (compare Doric 5.5:1; Ionic 9:1), with the capital accounting for roughly 10 percent of the height.

To begin with, the Corinthian Order of architecture was used only internally, as in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae (450 BCE). In 334 BCE it was used on the exterior of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, and later on a huge scale at the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens (174 BCE). During the late Hellenistic period, Corinthian columns were sometimes constructed without any fluting.

In addition to the Greek Orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) there were two other styles of architecture. (1) The Tuscan Order, a solid-looking Roman adaptation of the Doric Order, famous for its unfluted shaft and a plain echinus-abacus capital. Not unlike the Doric in proportion and profile, it is much plainer in style. The ratio of its column-height to column-diameter is 7:1. (2) The Composite Order, only ranked as a separate order during the era of Renaissance art, is a late Roman development of the Corinthian Order. It is known as Composite because its capital consists of both Ionic volutes and Corinthian acanthus-leaf motifs. The ratio of its column-height to column-diameter is 10:1.

Legacy of Greek Architecture

The legacy of Greek architectural design lies in its aesthetic value: it created lots of beautiful buildings.

This beauty came not just from the grandeur and nobility of its architectural columns, but also from its ornamental features. The fluting of its columns, for instance, affords grace and vibration to the otherwise stolid shafts; but the channels reinforce rather than cut across support lines. The frieze is lifted above an architrave kept unadorned, preserving crossbar strength. The transitional members, capitals and moldings, agreeably soften the profile angles without loss of firmness. Supports are cushioned, but without undue softening. Just how great and distinctive are these achievements may be seen by contrast in Roman art when the insensitive Romans pick up the Greek elements and use them grandiosely and thoughtlessly, vulgarizing the ornamental features. Nevertheless, Greek ornament as a style of adornment in applied art was to be an overwhelming favourite in later ages, even down to the twentieth century. See also: Greatest Sculptors (from 500 BCE).

Whatever the precise ingredients of Greek building design, Western architects have tried for centuries to emulate the finished product. During the 15th and 16th centuries Renaissance architecture embraced the whole classical canon, albeit with a slightly more modern touch - examples include: Dome of Florence Cathedral, S Maria del Fiore, 1418-38, by Filippo Brunelleschi - for more on this, see: Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi and the Renaissance (1420-36) - as well as Tempietto of S Pietro in Montorio, Rome, 1502 by Donato Bramante. Meantime, Venetian Renaissance architecture featured numerous villas in Vicenza and the Veneto designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-80), who himself influenced the English designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652).

Baroque architecture used Greek designs as the basis for many of its greatest creations (examples: St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's Square, 1504-1657, by Bernini et al; St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1675-1710, by Christopher Wren (1632-1723).

Eighteenth century architects in both Europe and North America rediscovered Greek designwork in Neoclassical architecture (examples: the Pantheon, Paris, begun 1737, by Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-80); the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin built by Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808); the US Capitol Building, Washington DC, 1792-1827 by Thornton, Latrobe & Bulfinch; Baltimore Basilica, 1806-21, by Benjamin Latrobe; Walhalla, Regensburg, 1830-42, by Leo von Klenze). In nineteenth century architecture, Greek "Orders" were resurrected in both Europe and the United States through the Greek Revival movement. Even modern Art Nouveau architects like Victor Horta (1861-1947) borrowed from antique Greek designs.

For long periods of time Western Europe and America accepted the belief that artistic practice, even in the machine age, must be based upon study of these classic "Orders." This was part of the neo-Hellenism which was a religion in Europe, so that even in the 1920s Sir Banister Fletcher - the renowned architectural historian - could write: "Greek architecture stands alone in being accepted as above criticism, and therefore as the standard by which all periods of architecture may be tested." (A History of Architecture: 6th Edition, 1921.)

Ultimately, Greek architecture presents us with a concrete illustration of moral and spiritual truth. The solid foundation platform; the down-pressing mass of architrave, frieze, and roof-structure, counteracting the otherwise too powerful sense of lift, from the columns; the serenity of the colonnade, modified by the exuberance of sculptured frieze and pediment - all this may be seen as a tangible expression of the Greek combination of freedom and restraint, of perfectly poised aspiration and reason, of invention and discipline. The columns, some say, mark the rise toward truth or perfection; but the downbearing weight restores balance, caps the too aspiring lift. Thus Fate stops the too presumptuous human reach. This is the philosophical meaning of Greek architecture, which has entranced architects around the world for more than two thousand years.

Famous Greek Temples


Temple of Hera, Olympia (590 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building in the Archaic style.

Temple of Apollo, Syracuse, Sicily (565 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building.

Selinunte Temple C, Sicily (550 BCE)
A peripteral hexastyle temple, it is one of a series of Doric temples on the Selinunte Acropolis. Metopes depicting the Labours of Hercules are in the National Museum, at Palermo.

The Temple of Apollo, Corinth (540 BCE)
This Doric peripteral hexastyle temple resembled the Temple of Hera at Olympia, but was built entirely of stone.

Temple of Hera I, Paestum (530 BCE)
Known as "the Basilica", it is one of the earliest of all Doric temples to have survived largely intact.

Selinunte Temple G (The Great Temple of Apollo), Sicily (520-450 BCE)
A Doric peripteral octastyle structure, it is the largest temple at Selinunte and was never finished.

Temple of Apollo, Delphi (510 BCE)
This hexastyle Doric temple, supposedly designed by legendary architects Trophonius and Agamedes, was in fact erected by Spintharus, Xenodoros and Agathon. Little remains apart from foundations.

Temple of Athena, Paestum (510 BCE)
Known as the Temple of Demeter, this Doric peripteral hexastyle building displayed a number of Ionic features, including the columns of its pronaos.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Agrigento, Sicily. 510-409 BCE
Doric-style pseudoperipteral building.

Temple of Aphaia, Aegina (490 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle temple set high on the east side of the island of Aegina.

Temple of Athena, Syracuse, Sicily (480 BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple. Part of its structure is now in Syracuse Cathedral.

Delian Temple of Apollo, Delos (470 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building, now largely in ruins.

Temple of Hera Lacinia, Agrigento, Sicily (460 BCE)
Doric temple constructed southeast of Agrigento. It stands, along with the Temple of Concord, the Temple of Zeus Olympias and others, in the Valley of the Temples.

Temple of Zeus, Olympia (460 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle temple, designed by Libon of Elis. Famous for its marvellous pedimental sculpture, as well as its colossal chryselephantine sculpture of Zeus, sculpted by Phidias (488-431 BCE), who also created the Statue of Athena at the Parthenon.

Temple of Poseidon, Paestum (460 BCE)
One of the best preserved Doric hexastyle temples.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae (450 BCE)
Designed by the famous Greek architect Ictinus, it incorporates elements from all three Orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian).

Temple on the Ilissus, Athens (449 BCE)
A small Ionic amphiprostyle tetrastyle temple beside the Ilissus River, designed by the Greek architect Callicrates.

For the top Greek sculptors of the 5th century, see: Myron (fl. 480-444 BCE), Polykleitos, noted for his statue of Hera, and Callimachus (fl. 432-408 BCE).

Temple of Hephaestos, Athens (449 BCE)
Also called the Theseion, this exceptionally well-preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle building now acts as an Orthodox church.

The Parthenon, Athens Acropolis (447-432 BCE)
The major Doric temple on the Acropolis of Athens, and the quintessential work of Greek High Classical architecture, it remains one of the world's most influential and iconic buildings. Built for Pericles by architects Ictinus and Callicrates, and sculpted under the direction of Phidias, who personally created its huge chryselephantine cult statue of Athena, it is based on a peripetral octastyle ground plan. Although its pedimental and metope relief sculpture is laid out in the Doric style, it also has an Ionic style frieze which encircles the building.

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion (444 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building.

Temple of Nemesis, Rhamnous (436 BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple with an unfinished stylobate.

Temple of Concord, Agrigento, Sicily (430 BCE)
Well-preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle temple.

Temple at Segesta, Sicily (424 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building, complete with unique unfluted columns.

Selinunte Temple E (Temple of Hera), Sicily (5th Century BCE)
The best preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle temple at Selinunte, it belongs to the eastern group along with Temples "F" and "G".

Selinunte Temple C, Sicily (5th Century BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple with a deep colonnaded porch and a long narrow naos with a second chamber.


Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Asia Minor (560 BCE)
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the bottom drum of the columns of this Dipteral octastyle temple have an encircling figurative frieze.

Temple of Hera, Samos, Asia Minor (540 BCE)
Ionic dipteral temple designed by architects Rhoikos and Theodoros of Samos.

Temple of Athena Nike, Athens (427 BCE)
A small amphiprostyle tetrastyle building, also known as "Nike Apteros" (Victory without wings), this Ionic temple was designed by Greek architect Callicrates. Stands close to the Propylaea on the Athens Acropolis.

The Erechtheion, Athens Acropolis (421-406 BCE)
Ionic amphiprostyle hexastyle temple dedicated to Athena Polias, designed by Mnesicles.

Tholos of Athena, Delphi (400 BCE)
A circular temple - with a Doric exterior and a Corinthian interior - constructed by Theodorus of Phocaea.

Temple of Asclepius, Epidauros (380 BCE)
Doric hexastyle building designed by Theodotus, featuring pedimental sculpture by Timotheos.

Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Asia Minor (356 BCE)
Ionic Dipteral octastyle temple designed by Greek architects Demetrius and Paeonius of Ephesus, with reliefs by Skopas (395-350 BCE), but no frieze.

Tholos of Polycleitus, Epidauros (350 BCE)
Circular temple surrounded by 26 Doric columns. Also has 14 internal Corinthian-style columns.

For the top sculptors of the 4th century BCE, see: Lysippos (c.395-305 BCE), official sculptor to Alexander the Great, and Praxiteles (Active 375-335 BCE), famous for his Aphrodite of Cnidus.

The Philippeion, Olympia (339 BCE)
Ionic tholos building, surrounded by 18 Ionic-style columns and 9 internal Corinthian columns. Designed by architect and sculptor Leochares (4th Century BCE), it was erected to commemorate Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

Temple of Athena Polias, Priene, Asia Minor (334 BCE)
Ionic peripteral hexastyle temple designed by Pythius of Priene. Like the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, it had no frieze.

Temple of Artemis, Sardis, Asia Minor (325 BCE)
Ionic dipteral octastyle temple, one of the biggest temples in Asia Minor, it was left unfinished, and completed by the Romans.

Temple of Dionysus, Teos, Asia Minor (193 BCE)
Ionic peripteral hexastyle temple designed by architect Hermogenes of Priene.


Temple of Apollo Didymaeus, Miletus, Asia Minor (310 BCE - 40 CE)
Ionic dipteral decastyle temple with Corinthian features, designed by Greek architects Paeonius of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens (174 BCE)
One of the largest Corinthian dipteral octastyle temples, it was designed by architect Ossutius. Some of its columns were taken to Rome before the temple was finished and incorporated in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus where they had a major impact on Roman architecture.

Ancient Greek Architects

Few biographical details are known about the greatest Greek designers. While we know some of their names, and some of the buildings they designed, we know almost nothing about their training, or the extent of their careers. The most famous architects we know about, include:

Daphnis of Miletus, Demetrius of Ephesus, Hermogenes of Priene, Hippodamus of Miletus, Ictinus (mid-5th century BCE), Libon of Elis, Mnesicles (mid-5th century BCE), Ossutius, Paeonius of Ephesus, Polykleitos the Younger, Pythius of Priene, Rhoikos of Samos, Theodoros of Samos, and Theodotus, to name but a few.

• For more about building designs of Ancient Greece, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

Architecture Glossary
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