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Greek Architecture Characteristics

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The architecture of Ancient Greece is the architecture produced by the Greek-speaking people (Hellenic people) whose culture flourished on the Greek mainland and Peloponnesus, the Aegean Islands, and in colonies in Asia Minor and Italy for a period from about 900 BC until the 1st century AD, with the earliest remaining architectural works dating from around 600 BC. Ancient Greek architecture is best known for its temples, many of which are found throughout the region, mostly as ruins but many are substantially intact. The second important type of building that survives all over the Hellenic world is the open-air theatre, with the earliest dating from around 350 BC. Other architectural forms that are still in evidence are the processional gateway (propylon), the public square(agora) surrounded by a storied colonnade (stoa), the town council building (bouleuterion), the public monument, the monumental tomb (mausoleum), and the stadium.). Greek architecture influenced Roman architecture and architects in profound ways, such that Roman Imperial architecture adopts and incorporates many Greek elements into its own practice. An overview of basic building typologies demonstrates the range and diversity of Greek architecture.

Historical background

1. Location:

  • Greek civilization occurred in the area around the Greek mainland, on a peninsula that extends into the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Greek civilization spread to other faraway places including Asia Minor and Northern Africa
  • Most of the Greek mainland was rocky and barren and therefore bad for agriculture.
  • Most Greeks, therefore, lived along the coastline or on islands where the soil was good for farming.
  • The Aegean and Mediterranean Seas provided a means of communication and trade with other places.

2. Period:

  • The period of ancient Greek history can be divided into four as follows:
  • 1100 B. C. – 750 B. C. Greek Dark Ages
  • 750 B. C. – 500 B. C. Archaic Period
  • 500 B. C. – 323 B. C. Classical Period
  • 323 B. C. – 147 B. C. Hellenistic Period

The classical and archaic periods are referred to as the Hellenic period.

Architectural Characteristics

I. Building Types:

  • The major architectural element of the Greek civilization is ordered, and their principal building type is the temple.
  • Greek buildings also feature civic buildings such as theater, council chamber, stop, etc.
  • Three orders of architecture were invented by Greeks:


Doric was the earliest and has a square capital and the stoutest proportion, resembling the power of a man.


Ionic was taller in its proportion, has a volute capital, and resembles the proportion of a maiden.


Corinthian has the same characteristics as the Ionic except that its capital is decorated with the Acanthus leaf.

Temples were the principal building types of the Greeks. Temples were considered houses of the Gods and efforts to beautify them pushed architectural development. The evolution of the orders led to standard temple forms based on them.

II. Materials:

Examination of Greek architecture points to three common materials of construction:

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Stone was the most common construction material for buildings. Greece had an abundant supply of stone, particularly marble. Stone was used for all types of the temple and civic construction. It was used for all types of building elements.


Timber was used mainly for roofing. It was a very scarce commodity and it also had limited length which limited its use. The limitation in length meant that the width of buildings was restricted and only very important buildings such as the Parthenon could go beyond a certain width.


Clay was used mostly in housing construction. Clay was made into sun-dried blocks for use in construction.

III. Construction and technology:

  • The principal Building Material of ancient Greece was stone, and the principal construction system was trabeated or column and beam construction. Combined, the two were used for temples and civic buildings.
  • Construction technology involves ordering stones in a semi-prepared state from quarries.
  • The Frieze and cornices of buildings were also decorated with appropriate relief carvings.
  • Pediments were also finished with relief carvings, which in temples depict stories of the gods.
  • Full statues of gods were also carved and placed in strategic places on the outside of the temple as the major element in the interior.
  • The Greeks essentially formalized architectural sculpture and decoration.
  • Ancient Greeks did not make significant contributions in the aspect of building technologies.

IV. Architectural Organizing principles

It is possible to understand the forces and principles shaping Greek architecture by examining the following issues:

– The role of religion in architectural development:

Religion played a significant role in the development of Greek architecture. Architecture started in the service of religion. Temples were the house of the Gods. The search for how to make the temple beautiful resulted in the establishment of Greek ideals of beauty. Greek ideals of beauty were rooted in mathematical proportions.

– Ideas about architectural aesthetics:

Greeks developed principles based on their beliefs about aesthetics. These principles were refined over time as they are applied in building. With time they developed into a standard that is widely applied. Builders exerted great effort in ensuring that buildings were created to meet the aesthetic ideals of society. The Greeks in essence became the first society to have well-established ideas about architectural aesthetics with principles for their translation into a physical design.

– Principles of architectural organization:

The Greek ideals of mathematical proportion were applied in architecture using orders. The orders provide a means to codify mathematical proportioning, by linking all the elements of the building with the diameter of the column. The orders were also viewed as anthropomorphic, representing the human body. The use of the orders also provided a means for the Greeks to design buildings to meet their ideals of harmony, balance, and symmetry.

– Principles of city planning and urban design:

The ancient Greek city-states developed a standard plan for the city. The city consisted of three defined elements: the town, acropolis, and Agora. Principles were developed for organizing each element of the city based on activities and its symbolism.

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Greek Architecture Characteristics. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Greek Architecture Characteristics.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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