Of the great Greek builders

Maruf Zakaria | Published: January 20, 2018 00:17:49


Greeks were great builders. They developed their structure and architecture through many stages of Greek civilization. The architecture of ancient Greece is the architecture produced by the Greek-speaking people (Hellenic people). Their culture flourished on the Greek mainland, the Peloponnese, the Aegean Islands and in colonies in Anatolia and Italy for a period from about 900 BC until the 1st century AD, with the earliest remaining architectural works dating from around 600 BC. Ancient Greek architecture is best known from its temples, many of which are found throughout the region, mostly as ruins but many are substantially intact. The second important type of building that survives all over the Hellenic world is the open-air theatre, with the earliest dating from around 525-480 BC. Other architectural forms that are still in evidence are the processional gateway, the public square (agora) surrounded by storied colonnade, the town council building, the public monument, the monumental tomb (mausoleum) and the stadium.

Greek architects provided some of the finest and most distinctive buildings in the entire ancient world and some of their structures, such as temples, theatres and stadia would become staple features of towns and cities from antiquity onwards. In addition, the Greek concern with simplicity, proportion, perspective and harmony in their buildings went on to greatly influence architects in the Roman world and provide the foundation for the classical architectural orders which dominate the western world from the Renaissance to the present day. The history of art and architecture in Ancient Greece is divided into three basic eras--the Archaic Period (600-500 BCE or Before the Common Era), the Classical Period (500-323 BCE) and the Hellenistic Period (323-27 BCE). About 600 BCE, inspired by the theory and practice of earlier Egyptian stone masons and builders, the Greeks set about replacing the wooden structures of their public buildings with stone structures-a process known as 'petrification'. Limestone and marble were used for building columns and walls and terracotta was used for roof tiles and ornaments. Decoration was done in metal, like bronze.

Greek architects used simple post-and-lintel building techniques. It wasn't until the Roman era that the arch was developed in order to span greater distances. As a result, Greek architects were forced to employ many more stone columns to support short horizontal beams overhead. Moreover, they could not construct buildings with large interior spaces, without having rows of internal support columns. The standard construction format, used in public buildings like the Hephaesteum at Athens, employed large blocks of limestone or a light porous stone known as tuff. Marble, being scarcer and more valuable, was reserved for sculptural decoration, except in the grandest buildings, such as the Parthenon at Acropolis. Acropolis was the city centre where general people were not permitted to enter Acropolis. This place was for their god and they treated it like the house for god. And the scale of that building was far larger than the human scale. Acropolis was known as the city of temple.

The typical rectangular building design was often surrounded by a column on all four sides (the Parthenon) or more rarely at the front and rear only (the Temple of Athena Nike). Roofs were laid with timber beams covered by terracotta tiles and were not domed. Pediments (the flattened triangular shape at each gable end of the building) were usually filled with sculptural decoration as was the row of lintels along the top of each side wall, between the roofs and the tops of the columns. In the late 4th and 5th centuries BCE, Greek architects began to depart from the strictly rectangular plan of traditional temples in favour of a circular structure, embellished with black marble to highlight certain architectural elements and provide rich colour contrasts. The interesting part of their architectural design is keeping symmetry in their work. Greeks divided their temple according to their design and used a lot of columns so that such space came out decoratively.

There are three distinct orders in Ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. These three were adopted by the Romans, who modified their capitals. The Roman adoption of the Greek orders took place in the 1st century BC. The three Ancient Greek orders have since been consistently used in neo-classical European architecture.

Sometimes the Doric order is considered the earliest order, but there is no evidence to support this. Rather, the Doric and Ionic orders seem to have appeared at around the same time-the Ionic in eastern Greece and the Doric in the west and mainland.

Both the Doric and the Ionic orders appear to have originated in wood. The Temple of Hera in Olympia is the oldest well-preserved temple of Doric architecture. It was built just after 600 BC. The Doric order later spread across Greece and into Sicily where it was the chief order for monumental architecture for 800 years.

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