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The Ancient Greek Architecture History Essay

The civilization of Ancient Greece was one that spanned many years, and in this time, many the Greeks excelled various fields, such as art, entertainment, music, government, economy, leadership, science, mathematics, astronomy, and more.  One particular application of science and mathematics is the ancient Greeks’ stunning and advanced architecture and engineering.  The ancient Greeks developed and innovated for hundreds of years; from the 8th century BCE until around 600 CE, this empire flourished in so many aspects has influenced a significant portion of our culture today.  Everywhere in one’s life can he see Greek influence on modern day, especially in architecture.

          The ancient Greeks were known for their many styles of architecture, from three different orders, ranging in complexity. Their most famous innovation was the column, as they did not invent it, but used it the most efficiently for their time.  Doric order was the first style of the three, and the simplest, with no extra design except for the grooves, called fluting, and the arrises, which are the sharp edges at which fluting meets.  Early Doric columns do not have bases, but at the top, there is a circular ring, the echinus, that leads to the abacus, the square top piece.  Often times, the echinus will have three horizontal grooves, called the hypotrachelion.  Ionic order was the next style, and possibly the more used of the three in modern day architecture.  Similar to Doric columns from bottom to middle, the only difference until the top of the Ionic column is the fillets, which are flatter arrises.  At the top, the echinus has carved designs, and there are scrolls, with spiral volutes.  Government buildings, such as the White House, and upscale banks, including the National Bank of Oamaru, in New Zealand, feature Ionic columns.  The last, and fanciest of the three orders, is the Corinthian order, with small scroll-shaped tendrils and carefully carved acanthus leaves; acantho- is a Latin prefix which means thorny. 

          Structural design was not the only goal of ancient Greek structures, as friezes, located on pediments, are purely decorative.  Pediments are flat, triangular spaces at the top of a building, supported by columns; it is situated between the roof and top of the square or rectangular shaped wall.  The friezes are designs, many of them, sculptures, which are found within the pediment.  Ancient Greek frieze schemes often depict mythology, including animals, gods, goddesses, and events.  Stoae are long, paved walkways in ancient Greece to promote a safe environment.  They are supported by columns, mainly those of Doric order, and reflect symmetry in their aligning.        

          The purpose of ancient Greek structures reflected their culture, which were heavily influenced by their religion and entertainment.  The most commonly found building is the temple, as ancient Greeks were polytheistic and prayed to a plethora of gods and goddesses.  The Parthenon in Athens in the most famous temple in Greece, and it displays the perfect example of classic Greek architectural elements, including geometry, columns, friezes, and pediments.  The architects Ictinos and Callicrates began their work on it in 447 BCE.  Construction for the Parthenon was finished in 438 BCE, and it was dedicated to the goddess of “wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill,” Athena.  It features perfect symmetry, with a rectangular base with evenly spaced columns for support.  The east pediment describes the birth of Athena, where, according to Greek Mythology, her father, Zeus, had an awful headache, and he ordered another god to strike his head.  Zeus’s head split open, and Athena appeared, dressed in full armor; this is where the term “splitting headache” came from.  The west pediment shows Athena and Poseidon in their rivalry to becoming the city’s patron (obviously, Athena won, and the city was named after her). 

          Most temples were smaller, ranging from thirty to one-hundred feet long, and rectangular in shape.  One design, called tholos, was round, but other examples, including anta, prostyle, and pseudodipteral, were quadrilaterals.  The Parthenon is an exception, although polygonal, it is 235 feet long by 109 feet wide, which is longer than the average Greek temple.  The base of the structure rests upon the top step of a stylobate (similar to a short staircase or stoop).  The inside of the temple consisted of two rooms:  a windowless, small area that contained a statue of the god or goddess to whom it was dedicated, and the other was sunlit.

          Especially in ancient Athens, entertainment and the arts played a significant role in daily life.  Therefore, buildings were constructed to satisfy these needs.  One popular type of structure was the open-air theater, which are huge, outdoor amphitheaters with a stage in the middle of the circle.  The stage was of significant size to fit the many performers, and the theaters could seat up to fourteen thousand viewers.  Athens was known for its satyrs, tragedies, and comedies. 

          The ancient Greeks developed a governmental system known as a direct democracy, where the people vote on all matters.  It started off as an experiment in Athens in 550 BCE, and grew to make Athens one of the most powerful and stable societies of the time.  In modern-day America, we have a form of direct democracy, but it is not direct, as we vote for the leaders who vote on bills.  Because we adapted our government model from that of the Greeks, many of our administrative buildings are of Greek styled architecture.  Our own city hall in New Rochelle is supported by large ionic columns and the roof is held up by a pediment.  The capital city of Washington DC contains buildings that are of many styles, ancient and modern alike, and some ancient styles include those from the Egyptians, Romans, and of course, Greeks.  From 2006 to 2007, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) conducted a study to list the 150 favorite buildings in America.  Of the top ten, four were of Neoclassical or Greek Revival styles, and they were located in the District of Columbia.  Neoclassical refers to a style influenced by ancient Greek and Roman architecture.  Number two on the list is the White House, which has a porch supported by the Roman adaptation of Ionic columns and a pediment.  It is relatively simple in design, rectangular and perfectly symmetric.  The fourth favorite on the list is the Jefferson Memorial, which is more Roman than Greek, but Roman architecture had a significant influence by the Greeks.  This memorial is circular, and has a dome for a roof, which is not Greek, but the columns, pediment, and frieze are.  Numbers six and seven are the Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial, respectively, and the Lincoln Memorial in particular is a Greek Revival styled building, looking similar to a Greek temple of Doric order. 

          The Romans based their architecture off that of the ancient Greeks because when the Greek Empire fell, many immigrated to Rome, and diffused their culture into Rome.  Roman columns are similar to the Greeks' in structure; they added bases to Doric columns but mainly used the fancier Corinthian columns.  Temples were different in structure, but the Romans used pediments and adopted the Greek word "basilica," meaning royal; Roman theaters were also modified Greek theaters.  While the Greeks are most famous for their column, the Romans are known for their use of the arch.

          Ancient Greek civilization was one of the most advanced societies in history.  They flourished in countless areas, including art, music, government, economics, and architecture.  Today, so much of our architecture is modeled after the Greeks, from government buildings to houses.  Their use of the column is one of the greatest structural achievements of the ancient world, and it is still very widely used.  Pediments, friezes, geometry, symmetry, and columns are some of the elements commonly found in Greek architecture, and examples of buildings would be temples and stoae.  Religion had a significant influence on the development and purpose of the architecture; the most famous Greek building being the Parthenon, an ancient temple.  The ancient Greeks' architecture contains some of the most useful and aesthetically pleasing elements, and many are still used today.          

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