Greek Architectural History



Architecture (building executed to an aesthetically considered design) was extinct in Greece from the end of the Mycenaean period (about 1200 BC) until the 7th century, when urban life and prosperity recovered to a point where public building could be undertaken. But since most Greek buildings in the Archaic and Early Classical periods were made of wood or mud-brick, nothing remains of them except a few ground-plans, and there are almost no written sources on early architecture or descriptions of buildings.

Most of our knowledge of Greek architecture comes from the few surviving buildings of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods (since Roman architecture heavily copied Greek), and from late written sources such as Vitruvius (1st century AD). This means that there is a strong bias towards temples, the only buildings which survive in any number.

The standard format of Greek public buildings is well known from surviving examples such as the Parthenon, and even more so from Roman buildings built partly on the Greek model, such as the Pantheon in Rome. The building was usually either a cube or a rectangle made from limestone, of which Greece has an abundance, and which was cut into large blocks and dressed. Marble was an expensive building material in Greece: high quality marble came only from Mt Pentelus in Attica and from a few islands such as Paros, and its transportation in large blocks was difficult. It was used mainly for sculptural decoration, not structurally, except in the very grandest buildings of the Classical period such as the Parthenon.

There were two main styles (or "orders") of Greek architecture, the Doric and the Ionic. These names were used by the Greeks themselves, and reflected their belief that the styles descended from the Dorian and Ionian Greeks of the Dark Ages, but this is unlikely to be true. The Doric style was used in mainland Greece and spread from there to the Greek colonies in Italy. The Doric style was more formal and austere, the Ionic more relaxed and decorative.

The more ornate Corinthian style was a later development of the Ionic. These styles are best known through the three orders of column capitals, but there are differences in most points of design and decoration between the orders.

Most of the best known surviving Greek buildings, such as the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, are Doric.

The Erechtheum, next to the Parthenon, however, is Ionic. The Ionic order became dominant in the Hellenistic period, since its more decorative style suited the aesthetic of the period better than the more restrained Doric.

Some of the best surviving Hellenistic buildings, such as the Library of Celsus, can be seen in Turkey, at cities such as Ephesus and Pergamum. But in the greatest of Hellenistic cities, Alexandria in Egypt, almost nothing survives.

Until the age of Alexander the Great, the Greeks erected permanent stone buildings almost exclusively for religious monuments, like the Egyptians, Sumerians, and Hindus. Their temples were not large enclosures of space but statue chambers containing a god's sacred image. These chambers were accessible only to priests.

Yet the Greek temple has always been seen as fundamentally distinct from and superior to most other early religious types, partly because of the simplicity of its form, partly because of the exquisite refinement of the best examples, and partly because it is seen to reflect the emergence in Greece of a rational, philosophical approach to art that replaced earlier belief systems.


Three Styles of Greek Temples

Ionic, evolved in Ionia on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea

The Ionic style is thinner and more elegant. Its capital is decorated with a scroll-like design (a volute). This style was found in eastern Greece. The Ionic style was used in the cities of Ionia (now the west coast of Turkey) and some of the Aegean islands.

The Ionic order forms one of the three orders or organizational systems of classical architecture, the other two canonic orders being the Doric and the Corinthian. (There are two lesser orders, the stocky Tuscan order and the rich variant of Corinthian, the Composite order, added by 16th century Italian architectural theory and practice.)

The Ionic order originated in the mid-6th century BC in Ionia, the southwestern coastland and islands of Asia Minor settled by Ionian Greeks, where an Ionian dialect was spoken. The Ionic order was being practised in mainland Greece in the 5th century BC. The first of the great Ionic temples, though it stood for only a decade before an earthquake levelled it, was the Temple of Hera on Samos, built about 570 BC - 560 BC by the architect Rhoikos. It was in the great sanctuary of the goddess: it could scarcely have been in a more prominent location for its brief lifetime. A longer-lasting 6th century Ionic temple was the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Unlike the Greek Doric order, Ionic columns normally stand on a base which separates the shaft of the column from the stylobate or platform. The capital of the Ionic column has characteristic paired scrolling volutes that are laid on the molded cap ("echinus") of the column, or spring from within it.

The cap is usually enriched with egg-and-dart. Originally the volutes lay in a single plane (illustration at right); then it was seen that they could be angled out on the corners.

This feature of the Ionic order made it more pliant and satisfactory than the Doric to critical eyes in the 4th century BC: angling the volutes on the corner columns, ensured that they "read" equally when seen from either front or side facade.

The 16th-century Renaissance architect and theorist Vincenzo Scamozzi designed a version of such a perfectly four-sided Ionic capital, which became so much the standard, that when a Greek Ionic order was eventually reintroduced, in the later 18th century Greek Revival, it conveyed an air of archaic freshness and primitive, perhaps even republican, vitality.

Below the volutes, the Ionic column may have a wide collar or banding separating the capital from the fluted shaft. Or a swag of fruit and flowers may swing from the clefts of the volutes, or from their "eyes".

After a little early experimentation, the number of hollow flutes in the shaft settled at 24.

This standardization kept the fluting in a familiar proportion to the diameter of the column at any scale, even when the height of the column was exaggerated.

Roman fluting leaves a little of the column surface between each hollow; Greek fluting runs out to a knife edge that was easily scarred.

The Ionic column is always more slender than the Doric: Ionic columns are eight and nine column-diameters tall, and even more in the Antebellum colonnades of late American Greek revival plantation houses.

Ionic columns are most often fluted: Inigo Jones introduced a note of sobriety with plain Ionic columns on his Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, London, and when Beaux-Arts architect John Russell Pope wanted to convey the manly stamina combined with intellect of Theodore Roosevelt, he left colossal Ionic columns unfluted on the Roosevelt memorial at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, for an unusual impression of strength and stature.

The major feature of the Ionic order are the volutes of its capital, which have been the subject of much theoretical and practical discourse, based on a brief and obscure passage in Vitruvius. The only tools required were a straightedge, a right angle, string (to establish half-lengths) and a compass.

The entablature resting on the columns has three parts: a plain architrave divided into two, or more generally three, bands, with a frieze resting on it that may be richly sculptural, and a cornice bult up with dentils (like the closely-spaced ends of joists), with a corona ("crown") and cyma ("ogee") molding to support the projecting roof. Pictorial often narrative bas-relief frieze carving provides a characteristic feature of the Ionic order, in the area where the Doric order is articulated with triglyphs.

Roman and Renaissance practice condensed the height of the entablature by reducing the proportions of the architrave, which made the frieze more prominent.

Vitruvius, a practicing architect who worked in the time of Augustus, reports (De Architectura, iv) that the Doric has a basis of sturdy male body proportions while Ionic depends on "more graceful" female body proportions. Though he does not name his source for such a self-conscious and "literary" approach, it must be in traditions passed on from Hellenistic architects, such as Hermogenes of Priene, the architect of a famed temple of Artemis at Magnesia on the Meander in Lydia (now Turkey).

Renaissance architectural theorists took his hints, to interpret the Ionic Order as matronly in comparison to the Doric Order, though not as wholly feminine as the Corinthian order.

The Ionic is a natural order for post-Renaissance libraries and courts of justice, learned and civilized. Because no treatises on classical architecture survive earlier than that of Vitruvius, identification of such meaning in architectural elements in the 5th and 4th centuries BC remains tenuous, though in the Renaissance it became part of the conventional "speech' of classicism.

The Parthenon, although it conforms mainly to the Doric order, also has some Ionic elements. A more purely Ionic mode on the Athenian Acropolis is exemplified in the Erechtheum.

From the 17th century onwards, a much admired and copied version of Ionic was that which could be seen in the temple called that of "Fortuna Virilis" in Rome, first clearly presented in a detailed engraving in Antoine Desgodetz, Les edifices antiques de Rome (Paris 1682).



The Doric order was one of the three orders or organizational systems of Ancient Greek or classical architecture; the other two orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian. The Greek Doric order was the earliest of these, known from the 7th century BC and reaching its mature form in the 5th century BC.In their original Greek version, Doric columns stood directly on the flat pavement (the stylobate) of a temple without a base; their vertical shafts were fluted with parallel concave grooves; and they were topped by a smooth capital that flared from the column to meet a square abacus at the intersection with the horizontal beam ("entablature") that they carried.

A pronounced feature of both Greek and Roman versions of the Doric order are the triglyphs and metopes. The triglyphs are decoratively grooved and represent the original wooden end-beams, which rest on the plain frieze that occupies the lower half of the entablature. Under each triglyph are peglike guttae that appear as if they were hammered in from below to stabilize the post-and-beam ("trabeated") construction.

A triglyph is centered above every column, with another (or sometimes two) between columns, though the Greeks felt that the corner triglyph should form the corner of the entablature, creating an inharmonious mismatch with the supporting column. The spaces between the triglyphs are the metopes. They may be left plain, or they may be carved in low relief. Because the metopes are somewhat flexible in their proportions, the modular space between columns ("intercolumniation") can be adjusted by the architect. Often the last two columns were set slightly closer together, to give a subtle visual strengthening to the corners.

Early examples of the Doric order include the temples at Paestum, in southern Italy, a region called Magna Graecia, which was settled by Greek colonists and retained a strongly Hellenic culture.

The Temple of the Delians is a "peripteral" Doric temple, the largest of three dedicated to Apollo on the island of Delos. It was begun in 478 BC and never completely finished. During their period of independence from Athens, the Delians reassigned the temple to the island of Poros. It is "hexastyle", with six columns across the pedimented end and thirteen along each long face.

All the columns are centered under a triglyph in the frieze, except for the corner columns. The plain, unfluted shafts on the columns stand directly on the platform (the stylobate), without bases. The recessed "necking" at the top of the shafts and the wide cushionlike echinus are a slightly self-conscious archaizing features, for Delos is Apollo's ancient birthplace.

A classic statement of the Greek Doric order is the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, built about 449 BC. The contemporary Parthenon, the largest temple in classical Athens, is also in the Doric order, although the sculptural enrichment is more familiar in the Ionic order: the Greeks were never as doctrinaire in the use of the Classical vocabulary as Renaissance theorists or neoclassical architects. The detail (illustration, left), part of the basic vocabulary of trained architects from the later 18th century onwards, shows how the width of the metopes was flexible: here they bear the famous bas-relief sculptures of the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs.

In the Roman Doric version (illustration, right), the height of the entablature has been reduced. The endmost triglyph is centered over the column rather than occupying the corner of the architrave. The columns are slightly less robust in their proportions. Below their caps, an astragal molding encircles the column like a ring. Crown moldings soften transitions between frieze and cornice and emphasize the upper edge of the abacus. Roman Doric columns also have moldings at their bases and stand on low square pads or are even raised on plinths. In the Roman Doric mode, columns are not invariably fluted.

The Roman architect Vitruvius, following contemporary practice, outlined in his treatise the procedure for laying out constructions based on a module, which he took to be one half a column's diameter, taken at the base. An illustration of Andrea Palladio's Doric order, as it was laid out, with modules identified, by Isaac Ware, in The Four Books of Palladio's Architecture (London, 1738) is illustrated at Vitruvian module.When Greek Revival architecture was introduced at the beginning of the 19th century, the Greek Doric order had not previously been widely used. The first engraved illustrations of the Greek Doric order dated to the mid-18th century.

Its appearance in the new phase of Classicism brought with it new connotations of high-minded primitive simplicity, seriousness of purpose, noble sobriety, and - in the United States - Republican virtues. In a customs house, Greek Doric suggested incorruptibility; in a Protestant church a Greek Doric porch promised a return to an untainted early church; it was equally appropriate for a library, a bank or a trustworthy public utility.



The Corinthian order is one of the Classical orders of Greek and Roman architecture, although it was seldom used in Greek architecture. The other two orders were the Doric and the Ionic. (When classical architecture was revived, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order.)

The Corinthian order was said to have been invented by an architect, Callimachus, who was inspired by the sight of a votive basket that had been left on the grave of a young girl. A few of her toys were in it, and a square tile had been placed over the basket, to protect them from the weather. An acanthus plant had grown through the woven basket, mixing its spiny, deeply cut leaves with the weave of the basket. Or so Vitruvius said. Claude Perrault incorporated a vignette of the tale in his illustration of the Corinthian order for his translation of Vitruvius, published in Paris, 1684. Perrault demonstrates in his engraving how the proportions of the carved capital could be adjusted according to demands of the design, without offending. The texture and outline of Perrault's leaves is dry and tight compared to their 19th-century naturalism at the U.S. Capitol.

A Corinthian capital may be seen as an enriched development of the Ionic capital, though one may have to look closely at a Corinthian capital to see the Ionic volutes at the corners, perhaps reduced in size and importance, scrolling out above the two ranks of leaves, and the smaller volutes scrolling inwards to meet each other on each side. The leaves may be quite stiff, schematic and dry, or they may be extravagantly undercut, naturalistic and spiky.

In Late Antique and Byzantine practice, the leaves may be blown sideways, as if by the wind of Faith. Unlike the Doric and Ionic column capitals, a Corinthian capital has no neck beneath it, just a ring-like astragal molding or a banding that forms the base of the capital, recalling the base of the legendary basket.

The Corinthian column is almost always fluted. If it is not, it is often worth pausing to unravel the reason why (sometimes simply a tight budget). Even the flutes of a Corinthian column may be enriched. They may be filleted, with rods nestled within the hollow flutes, or stop-fluted, with the rods rising a third of the way, to where the entasis begins.

The French like to call these chandelles and sometimes they end them literally with carved wisps of flame, or with bellflowers. Alternately, beading or chains of husks may take the place of the fillets in the fluting, for Corinthian is the most playful and flexible of the orders. Its atmosphere is rich and festive, with more opportunities for variation than the other orders.

In its proportions, the Corinthian column is similar to the Ionic column, though it may be made more slender, but it stands apart by its distinctive carved capital. The abacus upon the capital has concave sides to conform to the outscrolling corners of the capital, and it may have a rosette at the center of each side.

The architrave is divided in two or three sections, which may be equal, or they may bear interesting proportional relationships, one with another. At the U.S. Capitol's extension, the proportions are exactly 1:1. Above the plain, unadorned architrave lies the frieze, which may be richly carved with a continuous design. Above that, the profiles of the cornice moldings are like those of the Ionic order. If the cornice is very deep, it may be supported by brackets or modillions, ornamental brackets used in a series under a cornice.

The oldest known example of a Corinthian column is in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae in Arcadia, ca 450­420 BCE. It is not part of the order of the temple itself, which has a Doric colonnade surrounding the termple and an Ionic order within the cella enclosure. A single Corinthian column stands free, centered within the cella. Quite mysterious, and the archaeologists debate what it is all about: perhaps a votive column? A few examples of Corinthian columns in Greece during the next century are all used inside temples. A more famous example, and the first documented use of the Corinthian order on the exterior of a structure, is the circular Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, erected ca 334 BCE.

The Corinthian order really came into its own in Roman practice, however, as at the Maison Carrée, Nimes.

Most buildings (and most clients) are satisfied with just two orders. When orders are superposed one above another, as they are at the Flavian Amphitheater - the Colosseum - the natural progression is from sturdiest and plainest (Doric) at the bottom, to slenderest and richest (Corinthian) at the top. The Colosseum's topmost tier has an unusual order that came to be known as the Composite order during the 16th century.

The mid-16th century Italians, especially Sebastiano Serlio and Vignola, who established a canonic version of the orders, thought they detected a "Composite order," combining the volutes of the Ionic with the foliage of the Corinthian, but in Roman practice volutes were almost always present.

During the 16th century, a sequence of engravings of the orders in architectural treatises helped standardize their details within rigid limits. Sebastiano Serlio; the Regola delli cinque ordini of Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573); the Quattro libri di Architettura of Andrea Palladio, and Vincenzo Scamozzi's Idea della Architettura Universale, were followed in the 17th century by French treatises with further refined engraved models, such as Perrault's.



Acropolis is a Greek word meaning 'high city'.

The Acropolis, a fortified citadel built atop a massive limestone hill, dominates the city of Athens, Greece. The Acropolis contains some of the world's most famous structures built in the classical architectural style. These buildings include the Parthenon (a Doric temple built for Athena, the goddess of wisdom), the Propylaea, and the Erechtheum. They were constructed during the Golden Age of Athens (5th century BC) under the rule of the famous Athenian statesman Pericles.

The Athenian Acropolis rises from the plain of Attica to 500 feet above sea level. In times of attack the Acropolis became the last fort of defense. The Acropolis hill, so called the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, is the most important site of the city.

During Perikles' Golden Age, ancient Greek civilization was represented in an ideal way on the hill and some of the architectural masterpieces of the period were erected on its ground.

The first habitation remains on the Acropolis date from the Neolithic period.

Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both.

The inscriptions on the numerous and precious offerings to the sanctuary of Athena (marble korai, bronze and clay statuettes and vases) indicate that the cult of the city's patron goddess was established as early as the Archaic period (650-480 B.C.).

During the Classical period (450-330 B.C.) three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike, dedicated to Athena Parthenos, Athena Polias, and Athena-Apteros Nike, respectively.

The Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the sacred area was also constructed in the same period.

The monuments on the Acropolis reflect the successive phases of the city's history. Some of them were converted into Christian churches, houses of the Franks and later on, of the Turks.

After the liberation of Athens from the Turks, the protection, restoration and conservation of the monuments was one of the first tasks of the newly-founded Greek state.

This major effort is continued until today, with the large-scale restoration and supporting of the monuments, which started in the 1970's and is still in progress.

The first excavations on the hill were conducted between 1835 and 1837. More systematic work was carried out in 1885-1890 by Panagiotis Kavvadias.


The Parthenon is the largest building on top of the Acropolis. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos. It was completely made out of pentelic marble and surrounded by free-standing columns.

The Parthenon was designed by Ictinus and Callcrates, with the sculpture by Phidias. It was uncommon in that it had two rooms within its cella, the enclosed space inside the colonnade.

The smaller room was dedicated to Parthenon. Eventually, the whole building was named after her.

The Parthenon is the most important and characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilization and still remains its international symbol. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of Athens.

It was built between 447 and 438 B.C. and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 B.C. The construction of the monument was initiated by Perikles, the supervisor of the whole work was Pheidias, the famous Athenian sculptor, while Iktinos and Kallikrates were the architects of the building.

The temple is built in the Doric order and almost exclusively of Pentelic marble. It is peripteral, with eight columns on each of the narrow sides and seventeen columns on each of the long ones.

The central part of the temple, called the cella, sheltered the famous chryselephantine cult statue of Athena, made by Pheidias.

The sculptural decoration of the Parthenon is a unique combination of the Doric metopes and triglyphs on the entablature, and the Ionic frieze on the walls of the cella.

The metopes depict the Gigantomachy on the east side, the Amazonomachy on the west, the Centauromachy on the south, and scenes from the Trojan War on the north.

The relief frieze depicts the Procession of the Panathenaea, the most formal religious festival of ancient Athens. The scene runs along all the four sides of the building and includes the figures of gods, beasts and of some 360 humans.

The two pediments of the temple are decorated with mythological scenes: the east, above the building's main entrance, shows the birth of Athena, and the west, the fight between Athena and Poseidon for the name of the city of Athens.

The Parthenon retained its religious character in the following centuries and was converted into a Byzantine church, a Latin church and a Muslim mosque.

The Turks used the Parthenon as a powder magazine when the Venetians, under Admiral Morosini, sieged the Acropolis in 1687.

One of the Venetian bombs fell on the Parthenon and caused a tremendous explosion that destroyed a great part of the monument which had been preserved in a good condition until then.

The disaster was completed in the beginning of the 19th century, when the British ambassador in Constantinople, Lord Elgin, stole the greatest part of the sculptural decoration of the monument (frieze, metopes, pediments), transferred them to England and sold them to the British Museum, where they are still exhibited, being one of the most significant collections of the museum.

The Propylaea, located at the west end of the hill, is the gateway to the Acropolis. Although this was never completed, the present structure was worked on in 437-432 B.C. by the architect Mnesicles.

The temple of Athena Nike, also known as Athena of Victory, sits southwest of the Propylaea. The Nike temple remained intact until 1686, when the Turks dismantled the building to us the blocks in fortifications.

It was resembled hastily in 1836 and then more carefully reerected by Balanos and A.K. Orlandos in 1935-1940.

The temple of Erechteus, or Erechtheum, was the last the most complex, and the most richly embellished of the Periclean buildings.

The Erechtheum is best known for it's caryatid porch.

The present caryatids are copies, the originals having been moved in order to preserve them.

The Peloponnesian War erupted as soon as the Parthenon and the Propylaea were completed. Not long after this, Pericles died in the epidemic which had raged in Athens, but the Athenians did not abandon his plans.

With the temporary cessation of hostilities brought about by the peace of Nicias in 421 BC, work began on the temple of Athena Polias, subsequently known as the Erechteum.

The architect who designed the building is unknown, but one finds it difficult not to recall Mnesicles when gazing upon this remarkably graceful lonic structure, unique in Greek architecture for its originality of conception and its functional adaptation to accommodate the needs of so many cults.

Who but Mnesicles could have given such a daring and original solution to the most difficult problems of an irregular terrain and especially the multiple religious needs of the numerous cults.

Lay-out of the building.

The Erechteum was completed in 406 BC. It has a prostasis on the east side, a monumental propylon on the north and the famous porch of the Caryatids on the south.

The main temple was divided into two sections, dedicated to the worship of the two principal gods of Attica, Athena and Poseidon Erechteus.

A relief frieze, bearing the representation possibly of the birth of Erechteus, decorated the exterior of the building.

The west side of building, with its own monumental entrance, held the altars of Poseidon Erechteus, Hephaistos and the hero Butes.

In this part were also the holes in the rock visible which were made by the trident of Poseidon during his disagreement with Athena, and the Erechteis sea which was the well of Poseidon which contained salt water and sounded like the wide sea when the wind came from the south.

The hall of the caryatids was situated above the grave of Cecrops, the first king of Athens.

The cella of Pallas Athena was located in the east part.

Here the old Archaic statue of the goddess was placed and lighted day and night by a very ingenious lamp which was invented by Callimachus who is traditionally credited for the invention of the Corinthic capitel.

Above the lamp, which was only filled once a year, hung a bronze palm branch which was supposed to remove the smoke from the temple.


Furthermore old pieces of art were kept in the cella like the ancient wooden statue of Hermes, the xoanon, which was blessed by Cecrops, a folding-chair made by the father of arts Daedalus, and several trophies from the Persian wars as the suit of armour of Masistius and the sword of Mardonius, both Persian generals during the battle of Plataea.

The altars of Zeus Hypatos, of Poseidon and Erechtheus, of Hephaistos, of the hero Boutes, of the Thyechoos, and the very ancient xoanon of Hermes, all had to be accommodated harmoniously. Lastly room would have to be found for the sacred olive and the sanctuary of Pandrosos which included the altar of Zeus Herkeios. The architect succeeded by subtle and ingenious use of the differences in level to produce an astonishing temple which satisfied the requirements of all these cults. He respected the traditions and at the same time introduced striking innovations.

The resulting building may appear complicated at first sight, but it bears the mark of true genius and contains more original feature than any other structure in the Greek world.

It consists of three almost independent sections (the main temple, the north extension and the porch of the caryatids) with three separate roofs, and is built at four different levels. Ionic columns of three different dimensions and proportions are used, and, following an old Ionian custom, use is also made of corai as supports for the entablature - the famous caryatids. The Erechteum is the finest expression of the Ionic order, yet the building loses none of the compact austerity of classical Attic architecture.

The frieze of Eleusinian stone is of a deep grey color, and relief figures were attached to it and secured by means of metal connecting pins set in the slabs. The Erechtheion was built in ca. 420 B.C. in the Ionic order. It has a prostasis on the east side, a monumental propylon on the north, and the famous porch of the Caryatids on the south.

The main temple was divided into two sections, dedicated to the worship of the two principal gods of Attica, Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus. A relief frieze, bearing a representation possibly of the birth of Erechtheus, decorated the exterior of the building.


The Athena Nike was the earliest Ionic building to be built on the Acropolis around 427 BC. The temple was completed during the unrest of the Peloponnesian war. Made completely of marble, its small size was compensated for in its position, resting on a rocky outcrop, purposely positioned so the Athenian people could worship the goddess of victory in hope of prosperous outcomes in the war's endeavours. The decision to build Athena Nike was an expression of Athens's ambitions to be a world power as opposed to Persia. The frieze on the temple displays the decisive victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataea and a meeting between the gods Athena, Zeus and Poseidon.

The battle helping Athenians reminisce the glory days of victory, hoping such previous outcomes will spur the Athenians on and raise morale. The meeting of the gods signifies Athenian religious beliefs and if the temple was to be worshipped their may have been hope of creating favour with the gods which would have been necessary to 5th Century Athenians during the current political climate. Once the temple was completed the Athenians added a protective parapet. The parapet displayed an expression of determination and hope for final victory. This was not the only piece of sculpture which depicts a sign the Athenians want to conclude the long battle with Sparta, in the cellar of the temple is a statue of Athena as Nike Apterus, the goddess without wings. Her wings may have been removed by the Athenians hoping she would remain in Athens for success over the Spartans.


The Propylaea, Propylea or Propylaia is the monumental gateway that serves as the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The word propylaia is the prefix pro (before or in front of) plus the plural of the Greek pylon or pylaion (gate), meaning literally that which is before the gates, but the word has come to mean simply gate building. It may have been topped with a statue or symbol, likely of Athena.

The Brandenburg Gate of Berlin is specifically copied from it.The Propylaea was built under the general direction of the Athenian leader Pericles, but Phidias was given the responsibility for planning the rebuilding the Acropolis as a whole at the conclusion of the Persian Wars.

The building was designed by the architect Mnesicles. Construction began in 437 BCE and was terminated in 431, when the building was still unfinished.The Propylaea was constructed of white Pentelic marble and gray Eleusinian marble or limestone, which was used only for accents. Structural iron was also used, though William Bell Dinsmoor - "Structural Iron in Greek Architecture," American Journal of Archaeology, XXVI, 1922 - analyzed the structure and concluded that the iron weakened the building.

The structure consists of a central building with two adjoining wings on the west (outer) side, one to the north and one to the south. The core is the central building, which presents a standard six-columned Doric facade both on the West to those entering the Acropolis and on the east to those departing. The columns echo the proportions (not the size) of the columns of the Parthenon.The central building contains the gate wall, about two-thirds of the way through it.

There are five gates in the wall, one for the central passageway, which was not paved and lay along the natural level of the ground, and two on either side at the level of the building. The central passageway was the culmination of the Sacred Way, which led to the Acropolis from Eleusis.Entrance into the Acropolis was controlled by the Propylaea.

Though it was not built as a fortified structure, it was important that people not ritually clean be denied access to the sanctuary. In addition, runaway slaves and other miscreants could not be permitted into the sanctuary where they could claim the protection of the gods. The state treasury was also kept on the Acropolis, making its security important.

The gate wall and the eastern (inner) portion of the building sit at a level five steps above the western portion, and the roof of the central building rose on the same line. The ceiling in the eastern part of the central building was famous in antiquity, having been called by Pausanias (about 600 years after the building was finished) " &down to the present day unrivalled."

It consisted of marble blocks carved in the shape of ceiling coffers and painted blue with gold stars.The wings to the right and left of the central building stood on the same platform as the central building but were much smaller, not only in plan but in scale. Like the central building, the wings use Doric colonnades and Doric entablatures. However, the central building also has an Ionic colonnade on either side of the central passageway between the western (outer) Doric colonnade and the gate wall.

This is therefore the first building known to us with Doric and Ionic colonnades visible at the same time. It is also the first monumental building in the classical period to be more complex than a simple rectangle or cylinder.The wing on the north (to the left as one enters the Acropolis) was famous in antiquity as the location of paintings of important Greek battles.

Pausanias reports their presence, but few scholars believe the room was planned to hold them. Recent scholarship, following the lead of John Travlos (Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, New York, 1971), has taken the northern wing to have been a room for ritual dining. The evidence for that is the off-center doorway and the position near the entrance to the Acropolis.

The wing on the south, though much smaller, was clearly designed to appear to be symmetrical. It seems only to have functioned as an access route to the Temple of Athena Nike.There were two wings planned for the east side of the Propylaea, facing in to the Acropolis. Preparations for both wings are apparent at the eastern end of the central building and along the side walls, but it seems that the plan for a southern wing was abandoned early in the construction process since the old fortification wall was not demolished, as required for that wing. The north wing was not built either.

To the right of the Propylaea and further west, on the raised bastion prepared for it, stood the Temple of Athena Nike. As a result of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in 431 BC, the Propylaea was never completed. Not only are the eastern wings missing, the wall surfaces were not trimmed to their finished shapes, and lifting bosses remain on many blocks.The Propylaea survived intact through the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. During the period of Latin Empire, it served as the palace of the de la Roche family, who held the title Duke of Athens from 1204 to 1311.

It was severely damaged by an explosion of a powder magazine in 1656. A tower of French or Ottoman date, erected on the south wing, was pulled down in 1874.

Today the Propylaea has been partly restored, since 1984 under the direction of Dr Tasos Tanoulas, and serves as the main entrance to the Acropolis for the many thousands of tourists who visit the area every year. In the period before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the Propylaia was shrouded in scaffolding as restoration work was undertaken.


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