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Greek Architecture

( Originally Published 1915 )



We have spoken of how the Egyptians worked as slaves. The Greeks, on the contrary, were free people and they had gained their freedom by working and fighting for it. From such people we should expect a different style of building than that of the Egyptians. The Greeks loved both freedom and beauty, and their temples were true and noble expressions of themselves and their aspirations. Their religion, though different from the religions of today, was a pure and lofty one, and entered largely into their architecture. Their temples were built to do honor to their gods, and were set upon their beautiful hills.

They lived near the sea, and so became sailors and traders in the distant countries. Through their travels in other lands, they received, and then changed to suit their own ways of thought and of expression, the ideas they got from others. And whatever the Greeks adopted from others they were likely to improve.

The architecture that we know as Greek is the most perfect of all architecture, and the Parthenon, a temple at Athens, is its best example.

There is a very early period of Greek architecture, from say 1500 B.C. to 1100 B.C., the remains of which are chiefly tombs and gateways. These remains are not numerous. The Lion Gate-Way of Mycenx is the most often cited. Several centuries intervened between the period of these remains and the great period called the Hellenic. The ending of the war between the Greeks and the Persians delivered the country from the fear of invasion, and left it free to exercise the arts of peace. Under Pericles, from 460 B.C. to 429 B.C., the old temples were rebuilt with greater splendor.

This was the Golden Age of Greek Art, both in architecture and in the sister art of sculpture. Pericles was the great figure, in Athenian public affairs for forty years; the " one man power " of his time. His fleets overcame the neighboring countries, and the wealth and prosperity of Greece was the greatest in the world. He was a believer in art, and under him flourished the great sculptor Phidias, who superintended the construction of Pericles' buildings.

If you had walked about the streets of Athens in those days, you would have seen many walls going up ; temples and other buildings being erected; and great loads of stone, cypress-wood, brass, and even ivory and gold being put into them. Carpenters, masons, goldsmiths, and workmen of all kinds were as busy as could be. Sculptures made by Phidias, or under him, with which to adorn the temples, were the best the world has seen to this day. Sculpture was then as much a part of a fine building as the stone itself, and Pericles had such an idea of the importance and value- of beautiful things, that he kept the best artists busily at work. He thought so highly of them as men, that he was much in their company and lived with them on terms of equality. The result was that he made Athens the most beautiful city in the world.

All Greek temples resemble each other in so many respects that, having seen one, we should never be at a loss to recognize another. There were three different orders, named Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These will be fully described later on, but let us begin by learning that the Doric, named by the shortest word of the fewest syllables, was the earliest and most simple, while the Corinthian, named by the longest word with the greatest number of syllables, was the latest and most complex. If we learn to know the Doric order, and the names of its parts, we shall be able to understand a description of the Parthenon or any Doric building.

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