Greek and Roman Architecture
The Greeks thought of their Gods as having the same needs as human
beings, they believed that the Gods needed somewhere to live on Earth. Temples
were built as the gods’ earthly homes. The basic design of temples developed
from the royal halls of the Maycenaean Age. A Mycenaean palace consisted of a
number of buildings often more than one story high, grouped around a central
courtyard. It was brightly painted, both inside and out. In each palace there
was a large hall called a megaron, where the king held court and conducted state
business. Little remains of the megaron at Mycenae. This reconstruction is
based on the remains from other palaces, which would have been similar.
The Romans took and borrowed a lot of things from the Greek culture.
For example, the took the Greek Gods and renamed them. They also took the
styles of Greek temples, but they changed them some. The temple was rectangular,
with a gabled roof, with a frontal staircase giving access to its high platform.
They used mainly the Corinthian style, but they also made combinations, for
instance the Corinthian-Ionic style. The Romans also added a lot of details and
decorations to their temples. The Romans also made what became the very common
round, domed temple. The main temple of a Roman city was the capitolium. The
Pantheon, the famous temple in Rome, was a sample for some of the modern day
cathedrals and churches.
The Classical Period Temples became much larger and more elaborate.
Parthenon, one of the most famous structures ever, was created during that
period. The Greeks held many religious festivals in honour of their gods. The
purpose of festivals was to please the gods and convince them to grant the
people’s wishes. Such as making the crops grow or bringing victory in war. In
addition to religious events athletic competitions and theatrical performances
took place at festivals too..
The early Greek architecture, from about 3000 BC to 700 BC, used mainly
the post and lintel, or post and beam, system. Their main building material was
marble. Classic Greek architecture is made up of three different orders that
are most seen in their temples: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.All three had
the same components, but had different types of details. The orders are known
mostly by their column style. The Corinthian order was not as widely used as
Doric and Ionic. It was fancier than the others, and had a lot more detail. The
Greeks only used one order on one building, they never mixed. The basic temple
followed these same rules. It was very simple with a rectangular inner chamber
and a roof with shallow gables. The temple stood on a platform with three steps
leaving rows of columns, sometimes double rows, that helped support the roof.
The column which was used as either a part of the structure or as an
dornament, is the basic element in the Greek architecture. The oldest, dating
back to about 600 B.C. is the Doric. Perhaps the most basic temples were of the
Doric order.Doric architecture was known for being used by the Spartans.
Normally, standing right on the floor, the shaft is made of a series of drums
which are rounded, doweled together, tapered upward and fluted, usually twenty
times. On top of the shaft sits a two part capital carved in a single block.
The bottom is the cushion or echinus and the top is a flat square slab called
the abacus. There is a natural ring where the capital and shaft meet and this
is emphasized by the addition of several carved rings. The column height is
four to six and on half times the diameter at the base of the shaft. The oldest
Doric columns to survive intact, seven of them, are from the temple of Apollo at
Corinth. Each shaft, over twenty feet high, is cut from a solid limestone block
which was surfaced with a stucco made of marble dust. While the columns seem
simple and stumpy, the sharp ridged fluting is evidence of a high degree of the
mastery of stone carving. Further they are bellied slightly at the centre which
keeps them from seeming too dumpy.The vertical columns supported beans
called architraves. To form a ceiling, other beans were laid across the building
with their ends on the architraves. The ends of these beams would be channelled
to make triglyphs. On top of this, another beam would be placed for the
overhanging rafters. These beams are referred to as mutules. The roofs were
finished with flat gables called pediments. A gutter ran along the tops of the
pediments, ending at a lion’s mouth, which acted as a drain. Thatch, and then
tera-cotta and marble, was used to cover the roofs. What is not evident today
as a result of the action of wind, rain, and man made destruction, is that these
temple were generally brightly painted in white, gold, red and blues. These
temples were similar to ionic ones in their layout.
The Ionic column is distinguished by its volute or scroll capital.
Ionic columns were slenderer than Doric. They were eight or nine diameters high,
instead of four to five. Normally the Ionic column has twenty-four flutes which
are separated by fillets or soft edges, some examples have as many as forty-
eight flutes. The columns had a molded base under them and sculpted figures on
the lover part of the shaft. The shafts had channels in them, like folds in a
matron’s harment. At the top of the shaft. The shafts had channels in them.
At the top of the shaft there were rectangular blocks of stone, carved into the
shape of flowing hair or other wavy shapes and lines. The cornice was decorated
with great detail. Although there were differences in the construction of
temples, they were mostly all used for the same activities.
When talking about Greek temples, there are some things one must keep in
mind. First, that Greek religion is not like that of the Christian. The Greeks
thought their gods were of the same nature as man, except smarter and stronger.
Second, that the temple was the house of the god they worshipped, so it had to
be finer than that of man. Third, that congregations of people did not meet in
the temples to worship, as if it were a church. And last, that all gods
demanded they be satisfied by sacrifice, and so sacrifices were made at the
temples. For this there was a great altar outside the east porch of every
temple. Some temples only had a porch for the altar and a hall leading to it,
while others were much complicated.
The Parthenon is one temple that is very famous and beautiful, but also
very basic in its construction. Built between 447 and 438 BC, it was the first
building to be constructed on the widely know Acropolis. The Parthenon is
called octostyle peripteral because it has eight columns in the front and the
back of it and is surrounded by a colonnade or peristyle. Inside, it is
constructed as most temples were. The central chamber, or cella, faced east,
with a wood figure of Athene covered in gold and ivory in it. There was a
pornaos, or porch, at the east end and a opisthodomus, or porch, at the west end.
At the back of the temple is a chamber called the Parthenon, or chamber of the
Virgin, which was used as a treasury and held the sacrifices. This layout was
very common among temples of that period.
One rather famous temple that was very complicated, was The Great Palace
of Knossos, also known as just Knossos. It began a town with buildings in
blocks around a square, or court, and grew into an extremely large palace. The
process of becoming a palace was that of the gradual condensation of all the
buildings under one roof, except for the court. Even the streets were covered,
making them into corridors. The layout of Knossos had long, narrow chambers on
the west side, with the shrines and ceremonial rooms on that side of the court.
The luxurious living spaces were at the southeast side of the court and the
service rooms and some small industries were aligned with them in the northeast
side. This was truly a great palace.
As we have seen there were different styles and different layouts of
Greek temples, but they were used for the same thing. Also, we have seen that
the Greeks made amazing buildings, that were carefully planned and skillfully
created. Perhaps the architects of that day were the true geniuses of Greek
culture, not the philosophers.
Roman Temples were very similar to those of the Greeks. The architecture
of the Roman Empire, spanning the period from 4th century to B.C. 5 century A.D.
They were built in the sacred area called temenos and were surrounded by a
colonnaded walk way. There was a porch in front of the entrance where an alter
was placed and sacrifices were offered. Leading up to the alter, there was a
great staircase flanked with walls on both sides. Like the Greeks there were
columns surrounding the temple yet these columns were usually attached to the
outer walls of the temple instead of the interior being open.
Inside the temple there was a single room called the cella, decorated
with coloured marbles. Alcoves had been cut into the walls where statues could
be placed. In some cases, a statue of the god that the temple was dedicated to
was placed on a raised platform at the end of the cella.
In contrast to the linear emphasis of Greek architecture, Roman
architecture is noted for its development of the rounded form. The Romans’
mastery of concrete, used in combination with bricks, freed the orders from
rounded forms as the arch, vault, and dome. Arches and vaults were first
employed in utilitarian structures, for example, bridges and aqueducts. Later
they were used, together with the dome, in private and public buildings as a
means of extending and diversifying the interior space.
Roman building types include the basilica, an oblong meeting hall with
vaulted roof, often colonnaded, the thermae or bath houses with their complex
spatial layout, and the triumphal arch, a purely ornamental structure. Rome has
the richest collection of public building, especially the Pantheon, built
between 27 BC and A.D. 124, with its enormous concrete dome. It was originally
built by Marcus Agrippa but was later rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian. The name
“Pantheon” means all gods for this building was dedicated to seven different
dieties. The temple stands at on end of a large colonnaded courtyard and has a
normal portico (porch) in the front. Inside, the cella is round with a diameter
of 140 ft. the floor is laid with coloured marble and statues of all seven gods
line the walls. There are two specials places of honour for Venus and Mars, the
protecting dieties of Agripa’s family. At the top of the dome is a circular
opening called an oculus which provides the only light.
Other Roman buildings are the Colosseum A.D. 70-80, numerous temples,
and thermae such as those of Caracall, about A.D. 215 onwards. The ruins of
Pompeii at the foot of Mount Vesuvius provide the most complete view of a Roman
city, which was typically planned as a series of interlinked public spaces.
Dwellings tend to look inwards towards an open atrium (inner court) and
peristyle (colonnade surrounding the court).
Other important monuments outside Rome include the amphitheatre in
Verona, about A.D. 290, and Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, about A.D. 118-134.
The Hadrian’s villa shows examples of axial symmetry, its use of curved as well
as rectilinear interior spaces, and its numerous vistas. Other monuments in the
Roman Empire are the beautifully preserved temple known as the Maison Carree in
Nimes, France, 16 BC; the aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, near Nimes, about 14 BC;
the Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia, 300 BC.
Greek temples, with their simple style, had three different, refined
architectural styles which were best illustrated in the Parthenon. Rome then
took that style and expanded it for their own temples, adding details, arches
and domes. They then used those techniques to make churches later in their
history, many of which have survived to today. In fact, those styles are still