Ancient Greek Architecture Characteristics and History

Learn about the building blocks of Western architecture and its roots in Greece’s Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders.

Defining Greek Architecture

Classical Greek architecture, also referred to as Ancient Greek architecture, is a style and form that originated with Greek-speaking people, not only from mainland Greece but also from the Peloponnese and the Aegean Islands, and later Greek colonies in Italy and Anatolia. 

Classical Greek architecture existed for nearly 1000 years, dating from approximately 900 BCE to 100 CE. The oldest remaining example of Classical Greek architecture is from roughly 700 BCE and is the South Stoa, a part of the Sanctuary of Hera on the island of Samos. 

What Buildings did the Ancient Greeks Build?

Today, Ancient Greek architecture is known best for its temples and public buildings, often built on high ground with careful considerations as  to light, elegance, and the surrounding landscape. There are 3 distinct orders of Greek architecture: the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

History & Overview of Greek Architecture

Today, most examples of Ancient Greek buildings are in complete ruins: while some buildings are partially intact, others are now little more than errant stones and toppled columns.  Pieces of Ancient Greek edifices have also been removed from their original locations and are displayed in museums around the world.  Sculptural elements have been particularly prized, and the Elgin Marbles, otherwise known as the Parthenon Marbles, are a particularly famous example. 

These marbles, which include a number of panels carved in bas-relief, a sculptural style in which the elements are carved into a flat surface that bonds the pieces to a solid background, are now – somewhat controversially – housed in the British Museum in London. Most remaining Ancient Greek structures were buildings of significance, including temples, theaters, and public squares or ‘agoras.’ This is because only the most important buildings were made of stone.  Homes, markets, and other day-to-day buildings were made of wood; none of these buildings now remain.

What is the oldest Greek building? 

The oldest building from Ancient Greece is the Pantheon. It is the oldest Greek building that you can still visit. For more information on the Pantheon, continue reading.

Feature: Post & Lintel

A key feature of Classical Greek architecture is the post-and-lintel form, sometimes also called a ‘trabeated’ form, which is composed of upright beams with a supporting horizontal beam across the top. Post-and-lintel is one of the oldest forms of construction and can be found in structures from Britain’s Stonehenge to ancient Egyptian temples. The post-and lintel system is also used in all types of construction from simple wooden homes to awe-inspiring marble temples. 

In Grecian architecture, many of the ancient temples, including the Parthenon, utilize a post-and-lintel system that consists of massive stone columns and cross-beam lintels, also called architraves, that support other architectural elements. When the posts and lintels are constructed in a repeated form, as is common in Greek architecture, they create a ‘colonnade,’ or a row of columns set at regular intervals usually designed to support the base of a roof structure.

Feature: Entablature & Tympanum

In much Greek architecture, posts and lintels are used to support the entablature: a horizontal structural element that encircles the entire building. This has a number of important design features and is where most of the sculptural elements of a building would have been located. 

Above the architrave, or lintel, which serves as

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