The Western ideal of what a royal temple should look like (2023)

Greek temples are the Western ideal of sacred architecture: a pale, tall but simple building isolated on a hilltop, with a pointed tiled roof and tall fluted columns. But Greek temples were neither the first nor the only religious buildings in the palette of Greek architecture: and our ideal of grand isolation is based on current reality, not the Greek model.

Greek religion centered on three activities: prayer, sacrifice, and offering, and all of these were practiced in sanctuaries, a complex of structures often demarcated by a wall (we have). Shrines were the focus of religious practice and included outdoor altars on which burned animal sacrifices were offered. and (optionally) temples where the dedicatory god or goddess resided.


In the 7th century B.C. By CC, classical Greek society had changed the governmental structure from an all-powerful individual ruler to, of course, not democracy, but communal decisions being made by groups of wealthy men. Shrines reflected this shift, sacred spaces created and administered expressly for the community by groups of wealthy men socially and politically connected to the city-state ("Polis").

Shrines came in many different shapes, sizes, and locations. There were urban sanctuaries that served the population centers and were located nearbyMercado(Agora) or the fortress of the citadel (or Acropolis) of the cities. Rural shrines were established in the countryside and shared by several different cities; Out-of-town shrines were associated with a single polis, but were located in the countryside to accommodate larger gatherings.

The location of shrines has almost always been ancient: they were built near an ancient sacred natural feature such as a cave, spring, or grove.


Greek religion required sacrificing animals by burning them. Large numbers of people would gather for ceremonies, which usually began at dawn and included song and music throughout the day. The animal would be taken to the slaughterhouse, slaughtered and eaten in one goBanquetby the participants, although it is clear that some would be burned on the altar for consumption by the god.

Early altars were simply rock outcroppings or partially worked rings of stone. Later Greek outdoor altars were built as tables up to 30 meters high: the largest known was the Syracuse altar. an enormous length of 600 m (2,000 ft) to allow 100 bulls to be slaughtered in a single event. Not all offerings were animal sacrifices: coins, clothing, armour, furniture, jewellery, paintings, statues and weapons were among the things brought into the sanctuary complex as offerings to the gods.


Greek temples (naos in Greek) are the quintessential Greek sacred structures, but that is a conservation function, not Greek reality. Greek communities always had a shrine and an altar, with the temple being an optional (and often later) addition. The temple was the residence of the consecrating deity: the god or goddess was supposed to descend from Mount Olympus to visit it from time to time.

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Temples were a sanctuary for the worship of images of the deity, and at the back of some temples stood or sat a large statue of the god on a throne, facing the people. The first statues were small and made of wood; later forms were larger, some in hammered bronze andChriselephantino(Combination of gold and ivory on an internal structure of wood or stone). The truly colossal ones were made in the 5th century; One of Zeus seated on a throne was at least 10 m tall.

In some places, such as Crete, ritual festivals were held in temples, but this was a rare practice. Temples typically had an inner altar, a hearth/table on which animal sacrifices could be burned and offerings made. In many temples there was a separate room to keep the most expensive offerings, requiring a night watchman. Some temples actually became treasures, and some treasures were built to look like temples.

Greek temple architecture

Greek temples were additional structures in sacred complexes: all the functions they contained could only be performed through the sanctuary and the altar. They were also specific dedications to the god, financed in part by the wealthy and in part by military success; and as such they were the center of great pride in the church. Perhaps that is why its architecture was so magnificent, an investment in raw materials, statues and architectural planning.

The famous Greek temple architecture is typically classified into three genres: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Architectural historians have identified three minor orders (Tuscan, Aeolian, and Combinatorial), but they are not detailed here. These styles were identified by the Roman writerVitruvius, based on his knowledge of architecture and history, and existing examples at the time.

One thing is certain: the architecture of Greek temples had antecedents from the 11th century BC. C., as the temple ofTirinto, and architectural precursors (plans, roofs, columns, and capitals) are found in Minoan, Mycenaean, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian structures that predate and are contemporary with Classical Greece.

The Doric Order of Greek Architecture

The Western ideal of what a royal temple should look like (1)

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According to Vitruvius, the Doric order of Greek temple architecture was invented by a mythical ancestor named Doros, who probably lived in the northeastern Peloponnese, perhaps in Corinth or Argos. The Doric genre of architecture was invented in the third quarter of the 7th century, and the oldest surviving examples are the Temple of Hera at Monrepos, that of Apollo at Aegina and theTemple of Artemison Corfu

The Doric order was founded on the so-called "petrification theory", the realization of once wooden temples in stone. Like trees, Doric columns taper as they reach the top: they have guttae, small conical stumps that appear to represent wooden pegs or pegs; and they have concave grooves on the posts, which are said to be stylized substitutes for the grooves made by an adze when shaping the wood into circular posts.

The most striking feature of Greek architectural forms are the tops of the columns, called capitals. In Doric architecture, the capitals are simple and elongated, like the branching system of a tree.

ionic order

The Western ideal of what a royal temple should look like (2)

Vitruvius tells us that the Ionic order was later than the Doric, but not much later. Ionian styles were less rigid than Doric and were embellished in various ways, including many curved moldings, deeper ridges on the columns, and the bases were mostly truncated cones. The defining capitals are paired volutes, wavy and directed downwards.

The first experiments in the Ionian order took place on Samos in the mid-650s, but the oldest surviving example today is atYria, built around 500 BC on the island of Naxos. Over time, Ionic temples became much larger, with an emphasis on size and mass, symmetry and regularity, and construction in marble and bronze.

Order of Corinth

The Western ideal of what a royal temple should look like (3)

The Corinthian style emerged in the 5th century BC. C., although it did not come to maturity until Roman times. HeTemple of Olympian Zeus in Athensis a surviving example. In general, Corinthian columns were more slender than Doric or Ionic columns, and had smooth sides or exactly 24 grooves in a roughly crescent-shaped cross-section. Corinthian capitals contain elegant palm leaf designs, called palmettes, and a basket shape that is becoming iconic, referencing funerary baskets.

Vitruvius tells the story that the capital was invented by the Corinthian architect Callimachus (a historical person) because he saw a flower arrangement in a basket over a tomb that germinated and gave curly shoots. The story was probably a little silly because the first capital letters are a non-naturalistic nod to Ionian arabesques, like sweeping lyre-shaped ornaments.

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The primary source for this article is Mark Wilson Jones' highly recommended book, TheOrigins of classical architecture.

Bartlett BA. 2009.In defense of the Ionic frieze of the Parthenon.American Journal of Archaeology113(4):547-568.

Cahill NY und Greenewalt Jr., CH. 2016.The Sanctuary of Artemis at Sardis: Preliminary Report, 2002-2012.American Journal of Archaeology120(3):473-509.

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Zimmermann R. 1926.Vitruvius and the Ionic Order.American Journal of Archaeology30(3):259-269.

Coulton JJ. 1983. Greek Architects and the Transmission of Design.Publications of the French School of Rome66(1):453-470.

Jones MW. 1989.Draft of the Corinthian-Roman Order.Journal of Roman Archaeology2:35-69.500 500 500

Jones MW. 2000.Doric Measure and Architectural Project 1: The Evidence for the Salamis Relief.American Journal of Archaeology104(1):73-93.

Jones MW. 2002.Tripods, Triglyphs and the Origin of the Doric Frieze.American Journal of Archaeology106(3):353-390.

Jones MW. 2014.Origins of Classical Architecture: Temples, Orders and Offerings to the Gods in Ancient Greece. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McGowan EP. 1997.The origins of the Athenian Ionian capital.Hesperia: Das Journal der American School of Classical Studies in Athen66(2):209-233.

RF-Räder. 2003.Corinth's oldest Greek architecture and the 7th-century Temple on Temple Mount.Corinth20:85-94.

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