Grecian Architecture

Grecian Architecture Grecian architecture differs from other styles of ancient architecture in this, that it was devoted almost solely to religious uses. Its chief aim was to supply permanent and worthy temples as residences of the deities, as, during the early history of Greece, the images and statues of the deities were placed in the hollow trunks of trees and under canopies for protection.

Most of the elements from which the Ionic order of architecture was developed are easily traced to an Assyrian origin, as is seen in the ornamentation of the columns and walls of the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae. On the other hand, the elements of the Doric order were mostly adopted from the more severe and stately temple architecture of Egypt. Under the extraordinary asthetic feeling and culture of the Greeks, these elements, though of foreign origin, were developed and modified until, with the addition of certain native elements, there was produced a degree of perfection of architectural form, and of symmetrical and harmonious combination of parts into a unique whole, that has never been surpassed in the whole history of architecture. The tendency to Oriental luxury and individual power that characterized the treasure-houses of the τύραννοι was checked by the overthrow of their chiefs and the establishment of democracy. From the time of the τύραννοι till the accession of Alexander the Great, Grecian architecture (as well as sculpture and painting) was devoted almost solely to the service of religion.

In addition to the Ionic and Doric orders, a third order, the Corinthian, was developed in Greece. It was, however, but little used until after the time of Alexander, when true religious feeling and patriotic sentiment had given way, throughout Greece and its colonies, to Oriental sensuous enjoyment and luxury.

The greatest variety and artistic freedom pervaded the Grecian architecture, both in the development of the individual members and in the general planning of the temples. All of the moldings and the ornamentation were drawn with a free hand, and not by mathematical instruments, as was the case in Roman and Gothic architecture. With all of this variety and freedom, the typical character of the Grecian architecture was well preserved. The Doric order was the favorite, as the best adapted to the spirit of temple architecture. More than one order was frequently introduced, however, into the same edifice. From the erection of the earliest Doric temple, that of Neptune at Corinth, there was a gradual progress in the development of elegance of form in the single members of the edifice, and in the development of symmetry and harmony in the entire structure. During the earlier history of Grecian architecture, polychromy was used to a great extent. Later, the ornamentation became more sculpturesque. But color, was used to develop the relief of the architectural forms of the capitals, the cornices, and the panels of the ceilings, until the period of decadence of the Grecian architecture.

Great care was taken to select the best sites for these: temples. Oracles were consulted for their location. The temples of tutelary deities were usually placed on the highest ground in the city. They thus commanded, in many cases, most magnificent prospects. They were also thus seen at a great distance. The temples were sometimes surrounded by sacred groves, or by groves of olive and orange trees. The temples were often surrounded also by sacred inclosures, within which were frequently erected altars, and even temples to other deities. The temples of Mercury wereusually placed on lower grounds; those of Mars, Venus, Vulcan, and Esculapius outside of and near the gates of the city. The front was always adorned with an equal number of columns of four, six, eight, or ten. On the sides the number of columns was usually unequal. As the length of the temple was usually double the breadth, the number of columns at the side was thirteen for six on the front; seventeen for eight on the front. The proportion between the diameter and the height of the columns and of the space between the columns varied in different temples and in different periods. Some temples had a portico on the front only; others on the front and rear, and others still on all four sides. Some had two rows of columns on the front and rear, and one on the side; and others had four rows on the front and rear end two rows on the side. In some temples the cellla required no pillars for the support of the roof; in others the cella was so large as to require a row, and sometimes two rows of pillars. Sometimes a gallery ran around the cella. The entire cella of some temples was covered with a roof; the central part being, open to the sky. By this means only could the paintings of the celebrated artists which adorned the walls of the cella be distinctly seen.

Windows were occasionally introduced, as in the Erechtheum at Athens. It is. supposed that these were closed by very thin slabs of alabastar or gypsum, thus giving a tranquil and mysterious light to the interior.

The base of the temple was raised several steps above the ground upon which it rested. The interior usually consisted of a room (cella) to contain the statue of the deity. This cella opened to the east, that the first light of the morning might fall upon the image of the deity. Sometimes there was another room in the rear of the cella (as the treasury in the Parthenoa at Athens). The gables contained groups of sculpture illustrative of some event connected with the mythology, of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated. The metopes of the friezes frequently contained also smaller groups of sculpture. Upon the walls of the portico were frequently long series of sculptures.

The entire temple was erected primarily as a residence for the deity. It could contain but few persons at a time. Sacrifices, ceremonies, and processions were performed without the temple. Beside the statue of the deity, to whose service the temple was erected, were often placed smaller statues of friendly deities. Statues of priests were sometimes placed in the vestibule of the cella. Thank-offerings, sometimes of great value, were often placed upon the walls both of the cella and of the portico. An altar upon which offerisings were placed often. stood before the deity. But sacrifices were performed upon an altar placed before the entrance, but within the view of the image of the deity.

The other edifices of Grecian architecture were, like the temples, for the benefit and use of the entire population. They consisted mostly of fortifications, fortified entrances (propylmea), and halls of justice (basilica). These partook of the general style of architecture in which the temples were built.

So different in principles of construction, and in the object for whitch they were designed, were the edifices of ancient Greece, that only with the greatest modification of detail can their style, and much less their plan, be adapted to the wants of modern life. Least of all is the Grecian temple adapted to the purposes of a Christian church.

The history of Grecian architecture extends from the 7th century B.C. till the conquest of the Orient by Rome. The greater part of the earlier monuments of this architecture are found in the western colonies of Sicily and Grecia Magna. Most of the ancient temples in Greece itself were destroyed by the Persians. Most of the temples in Ionia and the further Orient were built during, or after the reign of Alexander the great. The Doric style prevailed mostly in Sicily, Grecia Magna, the Peloponnesus, and the northern part of Greece. The Ionic and Corinthian styles prevailed mostly in Asia Minor, while all three styles were found in Attica, and especially in Athens.

In Sicily there were over twenty temples that were famous for their size and splendor. They were mostly built in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. The largest of these was the temple of Jupiter at Selinus, which was 350 feet long and 170 feet wide. The temple of Diana at Syracuse is remarkable for the indications of the influence of Egyptian architecture in its style and construction. The temple of Minerva at Syracuse was famous for its costly ornamentation. Hiero II built also at Syracuse a colossal altar, which rested on a lofty base 625 feet long and 73 feet wide, and was remarkable for the elegance of its architectural proportions. In Agrigentum were three imposing temples, the largest of them, that of Jupiter Olympus, being 344 feet long and 176 wide. At Paestum, in Italy, are the remains of two temples and of a basilica, that rank among the finest ruins of Grecian architecture. They show still the heavy influence of Egyptian architecture upon the Doric style, but yet they are marked by great freedom of treatment and harmony of proportion.

One of the most remarkable temples in the Peloponnesus was that of Neptune at Corinth, of which but seven columns and the architrave above them remain. As the earliest ruins of Greek architecture extant, these are characterized by a heaviness of proportion that is not found in any later edifices. This temple dates from 650 B.C. The temple of Minerva, on the island of Egina, is remarkable for the traces of coloring yet remaining in the architectural ornamentation, and for the archaic character of the sculpture of the pediments now in the Glyptothek at Munich. Among the most famous temples in Greece itself was that of Jupiter Olympius at Olympia. It was 205 feet long .and 93 feet wide, and was adorned with most choice works of Grecian sculpture.

The glory of Grecian architecture is, however, to be seen in Athens. This city, with all of its temples, was utterly destroyed by the Persians 480 B.C. First among the temples of the newly rebuilt city was that of Theseus. This is today the best preserved of all ancient Grecian temples. In symmetry of proportion it surpassed all other temples that were built before it. The second temple in the new city was that of Victoria Aptera. This temple was taken down by the Turks in the 17th century to build a battery with. All of its parts were found in 1835, and the temple was completely restored. It is one of the most graceful monuments of Grecian architecture. The Parthenon at Athens is, however, the crowning glory of Grecian architecture. It was erected 448 B.C. Its length was 230 feet, and its breadth 102 feet. In the perfection of proportion of all the parts, and in the harmony of their union in an entire edifice, the Parthenon equals or surpasses all other edifices ever erected by the hand of man. It was also adorned with statues and other works of sculpture by the best sculptors that Greece or the world has ever produced. The Erechtheum and the Propylaeum also showed the freedom with which the Greek architects varied the plans and construction of their edifices, without losing the character. of the architecture, or grace of proportion and unity of effect. Nearly equal to the Parthenon was the temple of Diana at Eleusis, in which the mysteries were performed. There are but few ruins of the famous temple of Apollo at Delphi, which was burnt in the 6th century B.C., and the rebuilding of which was hardly completed at the time of the Roman conquest.

In size and costly magnificence, the temple of Diana at Ephesus exceeded all other temples of Grecian art. This magnificent edifice was completed in B.C. 400. It was 425 feet long and 220 feet wide. Erostratus set fire to it in B.C. 355; but it was rebuilt with renewed magnificence by Alexander the Great. It was plundered by the Goths, and later overthrown by an earthquake. It furnished much of the material for building the church of Santa Sophia (q.v.), and still its colossal ruins are the wonder of the antiquarian. The temple of Apollo at Didymus, near Miletus, destroyed by the Persians B.C. 496, and rebuilt B.C. 390, was one of the edifices in which the Oriental origin of the Ionic order is most plainly seen. It was also one of the largest and most elegant temples of antiquity. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was so large and costly as to be reckoned among the wonders of the world. It was 410 feet long, had nearly the shape of an are of a circle, and was 140 feet high. Though built in a period when noble inspiration had left Grecian art, it was marked by an elegance of execution that was not surpassed in any edifice erected during the history of Greek architecture. The chief works of Greek architecture in Africa were in Cvrene, and especially in Alexandria. In this city all the resources of a luxuriant architecture were called into requisition in the erection of every class of edifices that should adorn a new and gorgeous capital city.

(For the literature upon Grecian architecture, SEE ARCHITECTURE.) G.P.C.

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