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Greek Architecture - The Hellenic Period

( Originally Published 1921 )

The Hellenic Period includes all the principal temples and monuments erected between B.C. 700 and B.C. 146, the year of the Roman occupation, but the masterpieces of Greek architecture belong to the short space of about 150 years, between the defeat of the Persians, B.C. 480, and the death of Alexander, B.C. 323. Many Greek cities were either upon or in the immediate vicinity of a hill, known as the Acropolis or upper city, and this formed the citadel, where, for safety, the principal temples and treasure houses were erected.

The Acropolis, Athens (pp. iv, 75), stands foremost among world-famous building sites, and on it rose the temples which are the pride and crown of Athens. A general idea of the appearance of this Classic eminence in the days of its glory can be obtained from the restoration (p. iv), while a model in the British Museum shows also the rising and uneven character of the rock on which the temples stand (p. 75 A, B).

Other great centres of architectural activity outside Greece were in South Italy, Sicily, and Asia Minor.


Temples formed the most important class of buildings of the Hellenic Period (p. 76), and we now describe their purpose and the different types in use. They were built with special regard to external effect and were ornamented with the finest sculpture in order to form fitting shrines for the deities to whom they were dedicated. They generally stood in a " temenos " or sacred enclosure (p. 97 x) and were raised on a stylobate of three steps. The " naos," containing the statue of the god or goddess, was the kernel of the plan, and there was sometimes a treasury chamber, besides front and rear porticoes and flanking colonnades. It will thus be seen that Greek temples differ materially in purpose and design from the large temples of Egypt, but they resemble the small " Mammisi " temples of the Egyptians.

In some larger Greek temples there were internal colonnades placed over each other to support the roof (p. 81 B). On the two end facades over the columns a triangular-shaped pediment, usually but not always filled with sculpture, terminated the simple span roof (pp. 81 A, 87 B). These roofs were constructed of timber framing covered with marble slabs overlapping one another and finished off with antefixae at the eaves (p. 79 H). The entrance door was generally in the centre of the east wall, behind the portico of columns, and was frequently planned so that the sun might light up the statue in the naos. With the exception of the Temple at Agrigentum (p. 84) these buildings are characterised by a general absence of windows, and this has given rise to several theories as to the method of admitting light ; though this was really no difficult matter in the brilliant sunlight and bright skies of Greece, and indeed many authorities hold that light entered solely through the doorways. A clear-story concealed in the roof is the system favoured by Mr. Fergusson (p. 87 7) ; while Botticher suggested that the lighting was effected by means of skylights (p. 87 K), and others contend with greater reason that light from the temple door was supplemented by that from transparent Parian marble or alabaster roofing slabs, as well as by artificial illumination by oil lamps. Temples were occasionally " hypaethral," or partly open to the sky, but this system appears to have been reserved for the larger temples such as the Olympieion, Athens (p. III) (see Vitruvius), and the Temple of Apollo Didymaeus, near Miletus, as mentioned in Strabo (lib. xiv). The temple was the home or sacred dwelling of the local god, and so some authorities hold that the hypaethral opening in the centre of an ordinary Greek house was the prototype of that in the house of the divinity, and both alike were doubtless developed out of the smoke-hole of the primitive hut.

The comparative plans (p. 76) show the additions made to the simple statue chamber or naos, in order to form the larger and more imposing colonnaded temples. The various methods of arranging the columns give the special names to the forms of temples, and the nomenclature which follows is that of the great Roman architect, Vitruvius.

(I) Distyle in antis, i.e. with two columns between the antae at one end, is the simplest form of temple. Ex.: Temple of Themis, Rhamnus

(p. 76 A).

(II) Distyle in antis at both ends, i.e. as (i) but at both ends of the building. Ex.: Doric Temple at Eleusis (p. 76 B).

(III) Prostyle tetrastyle, i.e. with a front portico of four columns. Ex.: Ionic Temple at Selinus, Sicily (p. 76 C).

(IV) Amphi-prostyle tetrastyle, i.e. with both front and rear porticoes of four columns. Exs.: Ionic Temple on the Ilissus (pp. 76 D, 97 A) ; Temple of Nike Apteros (p. LIO H). _

(V) Peripteral circular, i.e. with a ring of columns surrounding a circular naos. Exs.: Philippeion, Olympia (p. 76 F) ; the Tholos, Epidauros (p. 76 E).

(VI) Peripteral hexastyle, i.e. a rectangular temple surrounded by columns, six of which form porticoes at each end. Exs.: Theseion, Athens (pp. 76 J, 85 L) ; Temple of Poseidon, Pstum (p. 82 G) ; Temple of Apollo, Basses (p. 91 E).

(VII) Peripteral octastyle, i.e. similar to the last-named but with eight columns to each portico. Ex.: Parthenon, Athens (pp. 76 ICI, 87 G).

(VIII) Peripteral nonastyle (enneastyle), i.e. with nine columns to each portico—an unusual arrangement. Ex.: " Basilica," Pstum (pp. 76 K, 82 H).

(IX) Pseudo-peripteral, a temple with half-columns attached to the naos walls, a favourite form adopted by the Romans (p. 141). Ex.: Temple of Zeus, Agrigentum (pp. 76 G, 82 K).

(X) Dipteral octastyle, i.e. a temple surrounded by double rows of columns and with two ranges of eight at either end. Exs.: Olympieion, Athens (p. 76 H) ; Temple of Artemis, Ephesus (p. 103 B).

(XI) Pseudo-dipteral octastyle, i.e. a similar plan with the inner range of columns omitted. Ex.: Great Doric Temple of Selinus, Sicily (p. 76 L).

(XII) Dipteral decastyle, similar to No. (ix) but with ranges of ten columns at each end. Ex.: Temple of Apollo Didymaeus, Miletus (p. 76 N). The Great Temple at Baalbek (p. 151 F) is a Roman example of this type.

(XIII) Irregular planning. Ex.: Erechtheion, Athens (p. 18 F).

All these temples were in one or other of the three " Orders " of Greek architecture—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—which are now described in detail with their principal examples.

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