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Ancient Greek Architecture

In its widest sense the term architecture includes any kind of building such as works of military and naval construction and civil engineering; but, strictly speaking, it is building raised by certain aesthetic qualities to the rank of art, as distinguished from purely utilitarian or mechanical building. Its name shows that it was regarded by the ancients as the chief art, comprising all others, the architect being director of works, and responsible for whatever sculpture and painting was used in connection with the building. This ancient tradition ruled throughout the Middle Ages, and it was not until the Renaissance in the fifteenth century that architecture lost its right to govern the other arts.

Because architecture had this character of the most universal art, using sculp-, ture and painting in subordination, the formation of what is called an architectural style—like the Greek or the Gothic style—was a complex and gradual process. For architecture, being one of the earliest and most constant expressions of civilization, is not the artificial product of the free conception of a few artists, but is fundamentally affected, on the one side by the religious and social elements of society, whose demands it must meet, and on the other by the material elements such as the influences of climate, of materials of construction and decoration, which limit or in certain directions stimulate artistic originality. So that in every age architecture is a faithful mirror of contemporary society, and at once the most material and the most ideal of the fine arts.

The works of the migrating Pelasgic tribes of Asia Minor, the Mediterranean islands, Greece and Italy, formed the first link between these early architectures of western Asia and that of the pre-Hellenic and Hellenic world, forming what is called the ^Egean style, which flourished mainly between c.2000 and 1000 BC. The cities of Crete, as Cnossus, and of other islands, of Troy and other cities in Asia Minor, Tiryns, Mycena:, Argos, and others in Greece, besides many early Italian cities, such as Norba and Lignia, show how impressive and rugged a style of construction was combined by these races with a delicate and varied decoration, especially in the bee-hive domical tombs (Mycenae, Thoricus, Vaphio, etc.) and in the royal palaces, which were as important in their way as those of the Assyrian kings.

The monuments of the period that preceded the First Olympiad (to 776 BC) are found chiefly in Crete, Mycenae, Tiryns and Troy, in Eubcea and at Orchomenos in Boeotia, and belong to the preHomeric and Homeric age, to a culture which was widely spread over the ^gean islands and shores, from 2000 BC to the Dorian migration of about 1100 BtC. The great palace of Minos at Cnossus in Crete, beehive-shaped tombs in Argolis, especially the. "Tholos of Atreus" or Tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae, the palaces and fortifications of Tiryns, Mycenae and Troy, and other like remains, reveal a somewhat primitive type of architecture, employing at times enormous stones, but also rubble, wood and crude brick, with occasional details of alabaster, bronze or terra-cotta and even glass. No remains of temples have been identified. Columns were used tapering downward, as in the Tholos Gate at Mycenae; roofs were of wood or stone, and the arch was unknown. This art, first made known by the researches of Schliemann, Dorpfeld and Evans, declined and disappeared with the advent of the Dorians about 1100 BC.

After 776 BC an entirely new architecture appears, the Doric, whose birthplace and origins are still uncertain. The earliest recorded temple, that of Hera at Argos, seems to have been of wood; the next oldest, also of Hera, at Olympia, may have been built as early as 1000 BC, but no part of its present remains can be dated so far back. At Selinus and at Corinth are ruins of temples of the 7th century BC; they show fully developed all the chief elements of the Doric style that persisted for 600 years: the massive Doric column without a base and with a simple capital, the frieze with its grooved triglyphs, the simple cornice with its mutules and guttae, the stepped base or crepidoma of the temple, its windowless enclosure, the cella, containing the chief hall or naos for the statue of the god, and often behind this a chamber, the opisthodomos; around the whole a colonnade, the peristyle, and above the whole a lowpitched roof of wood, covered with tiles of terra-cotta or marble — these elements remained unchanged, though greatly refined in proportions and execution as the style progressed.

This progress was already great by 479 BC, when Athens, become the leader of the Greek states in the defeat of the Persian invasion, began upon the Acropolis the erection of a group of buildings — the Parthenon, Erechrheum, Propylaea and temple of Wingless Victory — which exemplified the culmination of Greek art. Of the period immediately preceding this are a number of temples at Selinus, at Paestum in southern Italy, and at Agrigentum and Segesta in Sicily; while between 480 and 450, the fine temples of Zeus at Olympia, of Aphaea on the island of vEgina, and of Heracles (the so-called Theseum) at Athens were built; the last-named admirably preserved to our day.

Meanwhile another style, the Ionic, had been introduced from Asia Minor by the Ionian Greeks. It employed more slender columns and lighter proportions than the Doric; the columns stood on molded bases and bore capitals having large spiral volutes; the frieze was without triglyphs and the cornice without mutules. The moldings were carved with eggs-and-darts, beads, leaves or anthemions, and carved ornament generally took the place of the painted enrichments of the Doric style. The two styles were used side by side in Athens, and while the superb Parthenon (q.v.) cm the Acropolis was in the Doric style, majestic in its severe beauty, beside it stood the Ionic Erechtheum in chaste elegance, and a short distance to the southwest the tiny Ionic temple of the Wingless Victory. The imposing gateway -to the Acropolis, the Propylsea, presented Doric facades to the east and west, but was divided within into three aisles by two rows of Ionic columns. The temple of Apollo at Bassse (Phigalaea), by Ictinus the architect of the Parthenon, was in like manner externally of Doric, internally of Ionic design.

The Parthenon, with its superb Doric peristyle— 8 columns in the end facade, 17 in side elevation — and its two internal colonnades of the same order in two stories superposed, represents the culmination ofplastic art in this great age. Measuring over 200 by 100 feet on the ground, with massive columns 36 feet high, built of purest white marble and brilliant with red, blue and gold in its upoer parts (see PolyChromy), it was adorned with sculpture of consummate beauty by Phidias (q.v.) and sculptors under him, and even in ruins to-day offers a model of unsurpassed perfection of proportion and execution, while the Propylaea and the two Ionic temples near it were inferior, if at all, only to the Parthenon in beauty. They testify to the exaltation of the Hellenic spirit after the Persian wars.

From 400 BC to the Macedonian dominion of Alexander (in 330 BC) there was a lull in architectural activity. That dominion brought about a revival characterized by splendor and elaboration in place of the earlier reserve and refinement. The Corinthinian column began to be used, more slender and richer in ornament than the Ionic, of which, however, it was really a variant rather than a new style. Magnificent temples were erected, especially in Asia Minor, including two of colossal size — that of Apollo at Didyme near Miletus, and the famous temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus, measuring 342 by 163 feet, one of the "wonders of the world," with sculptured columns. The tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus (the Mausoleum) was another marvelous edifice; these were all three of the Ionic order. The Corinthian appeared in smaller structures, as in the tholos or well-house of .£sculapius at Epidaurus, Doric externally, Corinthian internally; and in the tiny choragic monument of Lysicrates at Athens. From the 3d century BC we have the Ionic Propylaea at Priene and two Corinthian gateways at Eleusis; and in the following century the great Ionic altar at Pergamon. Shortly after this the colossal temple of Zeus at Athens was begun in the Corinthian order by a Roman architect, Cossutius, but was not completed until 300 years later under Hadrian, who built also the first arched gateway in Athens and several colonnades. In Asia Minor and in Macedonia a number of temples, gates and theatres were built under the Roman dominion in a style rightly called Greco-Roman.

Secular buildings were few; the Greek theatre can hardly be called a work of architecture. A few colonnades, city gates and walls, the arsenal at the Piraeus, and remains of houses of great simplicity, and finally the "Tower of the Winds' — really a clepsydra or water clock — at Athens, make up the list, unless we class as secular the treasure-houses of the different cities at Delphi, Delos and Olympia, and a few tombs at Xanthus, Mylassa, Antiphellos, etc At Athens, however, are a number of modern buildings in the Doric and Ionic style, possessing much merit, e.g., the Academy, Museum, Zappeion, etc. The ruins of the Odeum of Herodes Atticus at Athens are Roman rather than Greek.

The succeeding Age of Praxiteles, and the Alexandrian Period brought slimmer Doric proportions, increased favor for the more decorative Ionic style (temples of Miletus and Ephesus), development of the still richer Corinthian order (see Column), and of colossal forms of public, civil, and sepulchral architecture (such as the propyltea, theatres, odeons, stoas, the altar at Pergamus, the mausoleum of Halicarnassus), in which Oriental splendor and love of the colossal overruled Hellenic restraint.

This prepared the way for Roman architecture. In the Royal and Early Republican Periods Rome had followed the Etruscan and Latin types: wooden temples with terra-cotta revetments in a guosi-doric style and civil structures of stone, vaulted and arched. These two types remained fundamental, except that before the close of the Republic stone had replaced wood and terra-cotta in the temples, the Ionic style had been introduced by Greek artists, and the Greek column and entablature had been added as a surface decoration and reenforcement to the constructive arcades in secular buildings. The Greek spirit informed the Roman in the sphere of art, without conquering it, for ordinarily it is not difficult to distinguish the two styles. The Roman temples are rarely peristyles, but prostyles, with a very deep portico or pronaos in front, and this alone would be sufficient to make their appearance differ fundamentally, even without the substitution of the richer and more slender Corinthian and Composite forms for the Doric and Ionic. But the true nature of Roman architecture appears in its civil structures: in theatres and amphitheatres, aqueducts, triumphal arches, palaces, villas, and, above all, in the baths or thermae.

The regular sequence of developing architectural styles ceased in an abrupt way with the wars of the French Revolution. Before that time no style of architecture had ever existed which was not in the main the result of natural evolution. Since the close of the eighteenth century, however, there has occurred a series of imitative fashions chasing one another rapidly across the background of equally mutable social conditions.

There came to Europe a long period of singular artistic sterility, due in part to the extraordinary changes, political, social, and above all industrial, of that period. In Great Britain and Germany and later in the United States, the study and imitation of Greek architecture were stimulated by the publication of several remarkable books, which for the first time made known to the world of culture the real form and aspect of the Greek monuments. Certain phases of imperial Roman art were also thus published to the world as models for imitation. Under these influences there were built Greek and Roman porticoes with square boxlike churches or commonplace public buildings behind them, such as the British Museum and St. Pancras's Church in London. Smaller churches of this sort are somewhat abundant in Great Britain and in America, where the Greek details were applied with considerable taste and ingenuity to secular buildings as well as to churches.

Unfortunately, both in England and the United States, the use of lath-and-plaster and of other cheap substitutes for fine materials became very generally prevalent. Architecture had, indeed, become to the general mind a mere matter of external dress and superficial aspect, not of fundamental structural design. In the absence of any true appreciation of the real problem of architecture, it was thought quite sufficient to dress a building, planned without taste and cheaply constructed, in the garb—so far as colonnades and decorative details were concerned—of the refined and perfect Greek architecture, or of the stately and impressive Roman style. But such a method of design could never produce really fine buildings nor remedy the essential incongruity between the structure and its dress. The Greek Revival of England, Germany, and the United States, and the Roman copyism of France and the rest of Europe, failed to rescue architecture from its banality and lifelessness.

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Page last modified: 29-09-2012 18:37:28 ZULU