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Greek Architecture - The Early Period

( Originally Published 1921 )



The Minoan Period dates back to B.C. 3000 according to Sir Arthur Evans, whose excavations of the Minoan Palace at Knossos, Crete, together with those in other parts of the island, have revolutionised theories as to the original roots of Greek art, by revealing palaces of an earlier date than those known as Mycenaean. The Mycenlean style lasted on the mainland till after the Trojan war, while in the islands of Cyprus, Crete, and Delos it continued even till the eighth century B.C.

Minoan and Mycenaean examples include town walls, palaces, and tombs.

The Town Walls, Mycenae (p. 69 A), round the old citadel or acropolis about 900 ft. above sea level, are of massive masonry, both rectangular and polygonal, as referred to by Pausanias.

The Gate of Lions, Mycenae (c. B.C. 1200) (pp. 69 A, 70 H), the principal entrance to the citadel, also belongs to this period. The opening, 10 ft. high, is flanked by upright stone jambs which support a lintel 16 ft. long. This carries a thin triangular slab, 10 ft. high and 2 ins. thick, of brownish limestone, on which is a relief of two lions rampant on either side of a central half-column with moulded capital and square abacus carved with four discs (p. 70 H) . This is probably the most ancient sculpture in Europe.

The Palace of King Minos, Knossos (p. 69 B), has been proved to date from about B.C. 3000, although the upper part appears to have been added about B.C. 2000. It is a remarkable structure laid out on a plan which was afterwards used for Roman palaces and camps, but because a strong Minoan navy protected the shores of Crete this most ancient palace was not fortified. About five acres of palace buildings have been excavated, an. area more than two-thirds that of Westminster Palace. The apartments are grouped round a central courtyard, about 80 ft. by 90 ft., and were, moreover, in several storeys, reached by stairways (p. 69 F). Remarkable wall frescoes, coloured plaster ceilings, an olive press with huge oil jars (p. 69 E), and the remains of a system of drainage, with terra-cotta drain pipes, have been uncovered. This wonder-palace of the well-nigh mythical King Minos has revealed a civilisation and domestic customs at once mysteriously ancient and strikingly up-to-date ; while the archaic stone chair still stands in his audience chamber, as the most ancient throne in Europe (p. 69 )).

The Palace, Tiryns (p. 69 C), situated by the coast southwest of Athens, remains of which have been discovered by Drs. Schliemann and Dorpfeld, is of the greatest interest as showing the general arrangement of palaces, and the walls are of Cyclopean masonry.

The Palace Mycenae, is within the citadel and has flights of steps to an outer courtyard from which, by traversing a portico and vestibule, the "megaron " or men's principal apartment is reached. Besides this megaron, which was surrounded by a roof but open to the sky in the centre, there were other chambers, whose uses have not been defined. The women's chambers are considered by some authorities to be planned to afford seclusion, while others, notably Prof. Ernest Gardner, hold that little or no attempt was made to effect this, and they quote evidence from Homer and other authorities.

The Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae (c. B.C. 1185) (p. 70), is one of the "tholoi " or beehive tombs, originally modelled on the under-ground huts used as dwellings (Vitruvius, Bk. II, chap. i), such as have been found by Prof. Adler in Phrygia. At Mycenae " tholoi " are confined to the lower city as opposed to the shaft graves of the upper city. This " Tholos," sometimes known as the Tomb of Agamemnon, is the largest and best preserved of these subterranean chambers, and consists of a long passage or " dromos," 20 ft. broad by 115 ft. long, leading to an entrance doorway of which a reconstruction, showing the original columns tapering downwards, has been set up in the British Museum. This doorway opens into a large domed chamber, about 50 ft. in diameter by 50 ft. high, with an adjoining square tomb chamber. The principal chamber is formed from base to apex of successive rings of stone blocks laid horizontally, each layer of which projects inwards over the one below, and most probably the finished, curved form was produced by cutting away the projections after the stones were laid. The original profile of the inner surface of the dome represents a species of parabolic curve, and the irregular form of the side opposite the entrance has been produced merely by the pressure of the earth against it from outside. The whole surface of the chamber was probably faced with plates of bronze, and some of the holes and bronze pins, supposed to have been used for attaching these plates, are still visible in the stone.

A similar tomb exists at Amyclae, and one at Orchomenos, Boeotia, has a magnificently ornamented ceiling in its sepulchral chamber, while another at Menidi, Attica, has no fewer than five superimposed lintels to support the mass of earth above it. These tombs belong to the second stage in the evolution of the dwelling-house, the complete series being (a) natural cave ; (b) artificial cave below ground ; (c) artificial cave or hut above ground (p. 2).



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