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Greek Architecture - The Orders

( Originally Published 1915 )

An order, in classical architecture, consists of a column entire, including base, shaft, and capital, together with the superincumbent entablature, these forming an architectural whole, and the characteristic elements of a style. Every order consists of two essential parts, a column and its entablature. The column is divided into three parts; base, shaft, and capital. The entablature or upper part of the building, which is supported by the column, consists of architrave, frieze, and cornice. These are well shown in the illustration, and are better understood by referring to it. A description in words will help to fix it in our minds, besides teaching us how to describe it to others. The architrave is the horizontal beam resting immediately upon the columns; it was left plain. Above it runs the frieze, divided into square panels called metopes. The metopes were filled with sculptured reliefs, and were separated from each other by projecting blocks called triglyphs. The upper part above the frieze is called the cornice. It seems quite unnecessary at first to tax the mind with these little details, but we find these words coming again and again before us, and it is surprising, after all, how few of them are required to know what we need to know of the subject, or to understand nearly all that is written about it.

The character of an order is displayed not only in its column, but in its ornaments, its general style, and its detail.


The column of the Doric order has no base, that is, it rests directly on the stone platform, and is thicker at the bottom than at the top, swelling outward in a subtle curve called entasis, whichwe shall describe later. The Doric column was fluted, that channels or grooves ran up and down its whole length, sometimes sixteen, sometimes twenty in number, with a sharp edge between them. The fluted part is called the shaft and the top of the column is the capital. The capital of the Doric column is very plain.

The Doric order is the oldest and strongest as well as the most simple of the three Greek orders, combining with solidity and force, the most subtle and delicate refinement of outline.


The Ionic order is named from the Ionic race, by whom it is supposed to have been developed and perfected. The distinguishing characteristic of the column of this order is the volute, or spiral ornament of its capital. In the true Ionic, the volutes have the same form on the front and rear of the column, and are connected on the flanks by an ornamented roll or scroll, except in the case of corner capitals, which have three volutes on the two outer faces. The best examples of Ionic are the Erechtheum, illustrated by Figure 16, on page 47, and the Temple of the Wingless Victory, given on this page. Both Acropolis or rocky hill overlooking the city of Athens.


This is the most ornate of the classical orders, and the most slender in its proportions. The capital is shaped somewhat like a bell inverted, and is adorned with rows of acanthus leaves. See the illustrations on pages 56 and 57 and note the characteristics of the capitals. It is important to be able to recognize the capitals of these orders and to name them.


The columns of the Parthenon, in fact the whole building, afford an example of entasis or subtle curving. Careful measurements show that many of the lines of Greek buildings, which appear straight, are really slightly curved. The columns themselves are made to lean inward a little because it was found that, if they were perfectly upright, they would seem to lean outward. The columns at the corner lean inward a little more than the others. The front base of the Parthenon is one hundred and three feet three and one-half inches long, and is made to swell outwards a little more than two inches, being higher in the center than at the two ends. The effect of this upward swelling is to make the line appear less rigid. If perfectly level it would have seemed rigid, or perhaps to sag. It was all a matter of appearance, but it was figured out with the greatest nicety. In the case of a column the variation was less than an inch in thirty feet of height. This curve was called entasis. Figure 13 shows entasis as exhibited in a column, but the proportions are exaggerated. It all reminds us of the saying that beauty loves a curve.

Straight is the line of duty,

Curved is the line of beauty;

Follow the one and it shall be The other shall always follow thee.

For such reasons, Greek architecture was called intellectual.


One of the chief differences between an ordinary country hay-barn and a Greek temple is that the barn has no ornament. Its structure is not dissimilar; the sill, the post, the plates, the roof, the lintels, and the gables, all being put together much like the temple. One was of stone and the other is of wood, so, while pro-portion may be the chief beauty of Greek architecture, we see that it would look somewhat bare without ornamentation.

Molding is one of the principal elements of ornamentation. It may be defined as a means of modeling the surface of stone, or other materials, in curves or sinkings of the surface; all worked in a parallel direction so as to produce, to the eye, lines of shadow, light, and half-light., To architects, these are the most important details of a building, or even a style. Moldings are the most fundamental ornaments. Some one has said that they are the architects' way of drawing lines. These lines emphasize the lines of structure in a building, and should be suited to its structural character. Thus the Greek moldings are simple, while the moldings and ornaments of a Gothic cathedral are far richer. This is appropriate, for the structure of the Gothic is far more complex. It gives one of the best known classic moldings called the egg-and-dart molding. The sample given in the picture is from the Erechtheum at Athens.

The crowning ornament of Greek buildings was the sculpture with which they were adorned. We cannot, in this place, describe the sculptures as they are reserved for a separate book, but, if we could do so, it would help us to understand, and properly to admire architecture. In those days, and for many centuries afterwards, every architect was capable of carving a statue, and the two arts walked hand in hand. They are many ways to admire buildings: the great mass of a cathedral or temple, its dim interior, or its mere size and showiness will impress some beholders ; others, perhaps, will be most impressed by the fineness and perfection of the workmanship; but the truest pleasure comes from an understanding of the meanings of the sculptures, the paintings, the decoration, and of the structure itself: In other words, the more we know about the subject the better we will enjoy it, and the higher and truer will be the admiration we are able to feel for it.

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