Ancient Greek temples – symbol of the Classical architecture

Today many religious buildings are places where people gather on regular basis to praise their God and to receive spiritual tranquillity. However, ancient Greek temples were rarely used for this purpose. These ancient Greek sanctuaries were meant to serve as homes for the individual god or goddess who protected the region.

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The community did everything they could to please the gods since their lives were in god’s hands. Most of the time they were benevolent, but then again, there were times when the gods were quite capricious and could turn against the community. As they were controlling the forces of nature, it was in people’s interest to make them feel relaxed and at home.

Temple of Apollo at Paestum. Photo Credit

In the center of the temple, a statue of the god or goddesses was placed. First, they were made of wood, later more lasting and expensive material were preferred, such as stone or cast bronze. The statues of Zeus at Olympia and Athena were made of chryselephantine, a combination of gold and ivory. The statue of Zeus was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

The ancient Greek temples followed a similar plan and were almost all rectangular, with exterior columns. The most recognizable elements of the Greek stone temples are the massive columns which were divided into three types: the Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian order.

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The Doric order was applied to temples built in the beginning of the 7th century B.C. So, it is the oldest and simplest order, characteristic for the Greek mainland and the Western Greeks of Sicily and southern Italy.

Illustration of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia as it might have looked


Temple of Zeus, Olympia. Photo Credit

Doric columns are placed close together, have 18 to 20 flutings, and no bases. The concave curves sculpted on their shafts are called flutes. The capitals also called echinus. They are simple with a rounded section at the bottom and a square top, called the abacus.

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The entablature has a particular frieze adorned with vertical channels-triglyphsThe spaces between the triglyphs are called metopes and they were sculpted with different designs.

The Temple of Hephaistos in Athens, the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece. Photo Credit

The Ionic order was developed in the Ionian islands in the 6th century B.C. and It was used for smaller buildings and interiors. Its capital has a very narrow echinus, a small abacus, and two scrolls called volutes. These elements were decorated with carvings of palmettes, pendant leaves, and rosettes. Ionic columns have 24 more detailed flutings. The Roman historian Vitruvius compared Ionic order to a female, while the Doric order to a male form.

The Corinthian order got its name from the city of Corinth and dates back to the end of the 5th century. It is very similar to the Ionic order in its column, entablature, and base. The difference is in its more ornamental capital, which is carved with stylised acanthus leaves.

Illustration of Doric (first three), Ionic (next three) and Corinthian (final two) columns.


Parthenon, Athens Greece. Photo taken in 1978. Photo Credit

The Pantheon in Athens is well preserved and still stands today as a symbol of the city. This ancient Greek temple was built in 5th century B.C. to honor the goddess Athena, protector of the ancient city of Athens. The Pantheon is a masterpiece of Greek Classical art and architecture is probably the most famous and visited monument from antic times.

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, from the East. Photo Credit

Among the other temples that are worth mentioning are the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the temple of Poseidon at Sounion. These religious buildings are widely adopted in the modern world. The structure of the temple was a role model for the revival of the Classical architecture in the 18th century.