Greece: Art and Architecture

Greece Architecture

Greek life was dominated by religion and so it is not surprising that the temples of ancient Greece were the biggest and most beautiful.They also had a political purpose as they were often built to celebrate civic power and pride, or offer thanksgiving to the patron deity of a city for success in war.

The Greeks developed three architectural systems, called orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The Greek orders are: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.



The Doric style is rather sturdy and its top (the capital), is plain. This style was used in mainland Greece and the colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. The Ionic style is thinner and more elegant. Its capital is decorated with a scroll-like design (a volute). This style was found in eastern Greece and the islands. The Corinthian style is seldom used in the Greek world, but often seen on Roman temples. Its capital is very elaborate and decorated with acanthus leaves.

Further Images


Doric Order

Parthenon - temple of Athena Parthenos ("Virgin"), Greek goddess of wisdom, on the Acropolis in Athens. The Parthenon was built in the 5th century BC, and despite the enormous damage it has sustained over the centuries, it still communicates the ideals of order and harmony for which Greek architecture is known.


The Doric style - Custom's House, New York


Ionic Order

Erechtheum - temple from the middle classical period of Greek art and architecture, built on the Acropolis of Athens between 421 and 405BC.

The Erechtheum contained sanctuaries to Athena Polias, Poseidon, and Erechtheus. The requirements of the several shrines and the location upon a sloping site produced an unusual plan. From the body of the building porticoes project on east, north, and south sides. The eastern portico, hexastyle Ionic, gave access to the shrine of Athena, which was separated by a partition from the western cella. The northern portico, tetrastyle Ionic, stands at a lower level and gives access to the western cella through a fine doorway. The southern portico, known as the Porch of the Caryatids (see caryatid) from the six sculptured draped female figures that support its entablature, is the temple's most striking feature; it forms a gallery or tribune. The west end of the building, with windows and engaged Ionic columns, is a modification of the original, built by the Romans when they restored the building. One of the east columns and one of the caryatids were removed to London by Lord Elgin, replicas being installed in their places.

The Temple of Apollo at Didyma - The Greeks built the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Turkey (about 300 BC). The design of the temple was known as dipteral, a term that refers to the two sets of columns surrounding the interior section. These columns surrounded a small chamber that housed the statue of Apollo. With Ionic columns reaching 19.5 m (64 ft) high, these ruins suggest the former grandeur of the ancient temple.

The Temple of Athena Nike - part of the Acropolis in the city of Athens. The Greeks built the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Turkey (about 300 BC). The design of the temple was known as dipteral, a term that refers to the two sets of columns surrounding the interior section. These columns surrounded a small chamber that housed the statue of Apollo. With Ionic columns reaching 19.5 m (64 ft) high, these ruins suggest the former grandeur of the ancient temple.


The Ionic style - University of Virginia


Corinthian Order

The most ornate of the classic orders of architecture. It was also the latest, not arriving at full development until the middle of the 4th cent. B.C. The oldest known example, however, is found in the temple of Apollo at Bassae (c.420 B.C.). The Greeks made little use of the order; the chief example is the circular structure at Athens known as the choragic monument of Lysicrates ( 335 B.C.). The temple of Zeus at Athens (started in the 2d cent. B.C. and completed by Emperor Hadrian in the 2d cent. A.D.) was perhaps the most notable of the Corinthian temples.


The Corinthian style - Russell House, Connecticut


Articles on Greek Architecture

Images of Greek Architecture

360 Degree Images of Greek Architecture (requires QuickTime)



Temple of Apollo at Delphi

"Know Thyself"

Central among the number of impossing ruins that are interspersed on the Southern slopes of Parnassos mountain is the temple of Apollo. It is an impossing temple of the Doric order whose existence was woven through the turbulant history of the site, and endured numerous incarnations before it setlled to the ruinous state we find it today, and which dates back to the 4th c. B.C. The temple of Apollo was first built around the 7th c. B.C. by the two legendary architects Trophonios and Agamedes. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 6th c. B.C.. and was named the "Temple of Alcmeonidae" in tribute to the noble Athenian family that oversaw its construction with funds form all over Greece and foreign emperors. This temple was also of the Doric order and had 6 columns at the front, and 15 columns at the flanks.

This temple was destroyed in 373 B.C. by an earthquake and was rebuilt for the third time in 330 B.C. Spintharos, Xenodoros, and Agathon, architects from Corinth. The sculptures that adorned its pediment were the creation of Athenian sculptors Praxias and Androsthenes. It was built to similar proportions and size as the Alcmeonidae version of the temple, with a peristasis of 6 and 15 columns along the short and long edges respectivelly.

The temple's foundations survive today alongh with several Doric columns made of porous stone and limestone which is fairly soft material, and have allowed for the temple's advanced decaying. Very little is known about the temple's interior arrangement.


The Oracle of Delphi

As a young man, Apollo killed the vicious dragon Python, which lived in Delphi beside the Castalian Spring. This was the spring which emitted vapors that caused the Oracle at Delphi to give her prophesies. Apollo killed Python but had to be punished for it, since Python was a child of Gaia. The shrine dedicated to Apollo was probably originally dedicated to Gaia and then Poseidon. The oracle at that time predicted the future based on the lapping water and leaves rustling in the trees.

The first oracle at Delphi was commonly known as Sibyl, though her name was Herophile. She sang her predictions, which she received from Gaia. Later, "Sibyl" became a title given to whichever priestess manned the oracle at the time. The Sibyll sat on the Sibylline Rock, breathing in vapors from the ground and gaining her often puzzling predictions from that. Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph". Others said she was sister or daughter to Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyll received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Thetis, who passed it to Phoebe.

This oracle exerted considerable influence across the country, and was consulted before all major undertakings -- wars, the founding of colonies, and so forth. She also was respected by the semi-Hellenic countries around the Greek world, such as Macedonia, Lydia, Caria, and even Egypt. Croesus of Lydia consulted Delphi before attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus received the answer "if you do, you will destroy a great empire." Croesus found the response favorable and attacked, and was utterly overthrown.

The oracle is also said to have proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates said that if so, this was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance. In the 3rd century A.D., the oracle (perhaps bribed) declared that the god would no longer speak there.


Questioning the Delphic Oracle

By John R. Hale, Jelle Zeilinga de Boer, Jeffrey P. Chanton and Henry A. Spiller

Summary: Two geologic faults intersect under the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. This intersection made the rock more permeable and provided pathways along which both groundwater and gases were able to rise. Tectonic activity heated the limestone adjacent to the faults to temperatures high enough to vaporize some of its petrochemical constituents. These gaseous vapors then moved through the fissures created by the faults into the small, enclosed chamber lying below the floor level of the temple, where the oracle sat to prophesy.


Golden Section in Greek's Art


The idea of harmony based on the "golden section" became one of the fruitful ideas of the Greek art. The nature taken in a broad sense included also of the person creative patterns, art, music, where the same laws of a rhythm and harmony act. Let's give a word to Aristotle:

"The Nature aims to the contrasts and from them, instead of from similar things, it forms a consonance ... It combined a male with female and thus the first public connection is formed through the connection of contrasts, instead of by means of similar. As well the art, apparently, by imitating to the nature acts in the same way. Namely the painting makes the pictures conforming to the originals by admixing white, black, yellow and red paints. Music creates the unified harmony by mixing of different voices, high and low, lingering and short, in a congregational singing. The grammar created the whole art from the mixture of vowels and consonants".

To take a material and to eliminate all superfluous is the aphoristically embodied schedule of artist incorporated all gravity of philosophical wisdom of the antique thinker. And this is the main idea of the Greek art, for which the "golden section" became some aesthetic canon.

Theory of proportions is the basis of art. And, certainly, the problems of proportionality could not pass past Pythagor. Among the Greek's philosophers Pythagor was the first one who attempted mathematically to understand an essence of musical harmonic proportions. Pythagor knew, that the intervals of the octave can be expressed by numbers, which fit to the corresponding oscillations of the cord, and these numerical relations were put by Pythagor in the basis of his musical harmony. It is assigned to Pythagor knowledge of arithmetical, geometrical and harmonic proportions, and also the law of the "golden section". Pythagor gave a special, outstanding attention to the "golden section" by making the pentagon or pentagram as distinctive symbol of the "Pythagorean Union".

By borrowing the Pythagorean doctrine about harmony Plato used five regular polyhedrons ("Platonic solids") and emphasis their "ideal" beauty. Importance of proportions is emphasized by Plato in the following words:

" Two parts or values can not be satisfactorily connected among themselves without third part; the most beautiful link is that, which together with two initial values gives the perfect unit. It is reached in the best way by proportion (analogy), in which among three numbers, planes or bodies, the mean one so concerns to the second one, as the first one to the mean one, and also the second one to the mean one as the mean one to the first one. This implies, that the mean one can exchange the first one and the second one, the first one and the second one can exchange the mean one and all things together thus makes a indissoluble unit".

As the main requirements of beauty Aristotle puts forward an order, proportionality and limitation in the sizes. The order arises then, when between parts of the whole there are definite ratios and proportions. In music Aristotle recognizes the octave as the most beautiful consonance taking into consideration that a number of oscillations between the basic ton and the octave is expressed by the first numbers of a natural series: 1:2. In poetry, in his opinion, the rhythmic relations of a verse are based on small numerical ratio, thanks to this it is reached a beautiful impression. Except for a simplicity based on a commensurability of separate parts and the whole, Aristotle as well as Plato recognizes the highest beauty of the regular figures and proportions based on the "golden section".

Not only the philosophers of Ancient Greece, but also many Greek artists and architects gave considerable attention to achievement of proportionality. And it is confirmed by the analysis of architectural monuments of the Greek architects. The antique Parthenon, "Canon" by Policlet, and Afrodita by Praksitle, the perfect Greek theatre in Epidavre and the most ancient theatre of Dionis in Athens - all this are bright art examples executed by steep harmony on the basis of the golden section.

The theatre in Epidavre is constructed by Poliklet to the 40th Olympiad. It was counted on 15 thousand persons. Theatron (the place for the spectators) was divided into two tiers: the first one had 34 rows of places, the second one 21 (Fibonacci numbers)! The angle between theatron and scene divides a circumference of the basis of an amphitheater in ratio: 137,5 : 222,5 = 0.618 (the golden proportion). This ratio is realized practically in all ancient theatres.

Theatre of Dionis in Athens has three tiers. The first tier has 13 sectors, the second one 21 sectors (Fibonacci numbers)!. The ratio of angles dividing a circumference of the basis into two parts is the same, the golden proportion.

Three adjacent numbers from the initial fragment of Fibonacci series: 5, 8, 13 are values of differences between radiuses of circumferences lying in the basis of the schedule of construction of the majority of the Greek theatres. The Fibonacci series served as the scale, in which each number corresponds to integer units of Greek's foot, but at the same time these values are connected among themselves by unified mathematical regularity.

At construction of temples a man is considered as a "measure of all things: in temple he should enter with a "proud raised head ". His growth was divided into 6 units (Greek foots), which were sidetracked on the ruler, and on it the scale was put, the latter was connected hardly with sequence of the first six Fibonacci numbers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 (their sum is equal to 32=25). By adding or subtracting of these standard line segments necessary proportions of building reached. A six-fold increase of all sizes, laying aside of the ruler, saved a harmonic proportion. Pursuant to this scale also temples, theatres or stadiums are built.



Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Section

The Fibonacci has a number of beautiful mathematical properties in geometry and can be found in famous monuments like the angle of the egypthian pyramides, Stonehenge, churges and monasteries - although neither fractional nor irrational numbers were not known until the mid-ages.

Leonardo Fibonacci was born in Pisa in the 12th century. He was a merchant and customs officer of the time, travelling widely in North Africa. He was also one of the first Europeans to learn about the Arabic numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 and to persuade other people to use them; before then everybody counted in 12's. Leonardo was trying to find a way of modelling the population of rabbits.

Let us suppose that any new pair of rabbits produces one pair in the next breeding season and one in the season after that, and then they die. This means that the total number of new pairs in a given season is equal to the number of new pairs born in the previous season, plus the number born in the season before that. So to find the next number in the sequence you add together the last number and the one before it. Starting with one pair of rabbits, you can easily generate the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, ... - the population of rabbits grows very quickly - actually exponentially fast!

The surprising thing about Fibonacci's sequence is that it turns out to occur in many different places in nature. The way in which the spiral patterns of sunflower seeds and pine cones grow is described by the sequence, and it is common for the number of petals on a flower to be a Fibonacci number. Four-leaved clovers are rarer than five-leaved ones because five is in Fibonacci's sequence and four isn't!


What the Hell is the Fibonacci Series?

Animated explaination