Greek Art: Architecture

The most valuable buildings in ancient Greece are public buildings , because domestic ancient Greek structures have usually decayed or been destroyed. They offered basic functions of everyday life, there wasn’t much aesthetic value on it. So let’s start with temples, which is the most common type of ancient Greek public architectures.


Though they’re very huge[1], ancient Greek temples have elaborate proportions. Almost every part of them are in golden ratio. Temple of Poseidon at Paestum ( built in the end of the 7th century B.C.) is a pretty typical Greek temple that is well preserved.

Temple of Poseidon_golden ratio

Temple of Poseidon

Temple of Poseidon_plan (


Ancient Greek temples vary in the structures, but they have many things in common. They are all rectangular structures without a certain orientation.They welcome passengers to praise from any direction, as they are the symbol of civilization and dense population which attracts people to live in a polis. Instead of walls, it is columns standing in the side of temples to support the roofs. Columns are awesome, because they don’t block people’s view as the walls, and they look even more beautiful under the sunshine with light and shadow on it.

Different temples have different columns, and different other components as well. There are 3 main orders of the temples: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.


Temple of Parthenon 5

the Temple of Parthenon (447-438 B.C.)

Temple of Parthenon_color reconstruction on frieze

Temple of Parthenon’s color reconstruction on frieze

Temple of Hera I (Basilica) 550 B.C.

Temple of Hera I (Basilica) 550 B.C.

Temple of Hera I (Basilica) 550 B.C. plan

Plan of Temple of Hera I (Basilica) 550 B.C.

Temple of Artemis, Corfu_reconstruction drawing from the west

the Temple of  Artemis, Corfu (600-580 B.C.)reconstruction drawing from the west (

Temple of Artemis, Corfu_west pediment 600-580 B.C.

Temple of Artemis, Corfu_west pediment 600-580 B.C.


Temple of Artemis, Ephesus 2

Temple of Artemis, Ephesus 550 B.C. (

Southwest corner, Temple of Artemis_reconstruction drawing


Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis_plan

Temple of Athena Nike (427-424 B.C.)

Temple of Athena Nike_(427-424 B.C.)


Temple of Zeus, Olympia (about 470 B.C.)

Temple of Zeus, Athens Temple of Zeus, OlympiaTemple of Zeus, Olympia plan Temple of Zeus, Olympia_Plan


Aeolian capital from Larissa 600B.C.

Aeolian capital, an “strange” type of column. Built in Larissa, 600B.C.


Behind the columns, there are smaller rooms in which priests and nobilities have meeting with God. The columns inside the rooms are the same with outer ones, just smaller in scale. There are statues inside as well. For example, there used to be a huge statue of Athena in the Temple of Parthenon, and that was the room to place oblations.

Temple of Parthenon_interior reconstruction Temple of Parthenon_plan

Sometimes Greeks built “crazy” temples with very different plans from above.

Temple of Apollo_plan

Temple of Apollo in Turkey

Temple of Apollo,Didyma,Turkey

Temple of Apollo in Turkey


how temple plans change in ancient Greece

temple_typical Greek peripteral temple plan

typical Greek peripteral temple plan


Scientists found spots of fragments on the body of the temples, which means temples were once in color!  Greeks thought it’s more realistic in color. Also, they paint patterns on the pediments, friezes, and columns.


A detail from stone carvings found on the site of the Acropolis

Temple of Parthenon_colour reconstruction

Temple of Parthenon_color reconstruction drawing


Doric pattern example

Temple of Hera at Olimpia _reconstruction drawing

Temple of Hera at Olimpia _reconstruction drawing

Temple of Hera at Olympia akroterion

Temple of Hera at Olympia_akroterion


“Acro” means up, “polis” means city. Acropolis is a cluster of ancient Greek religious architectures. It’s on the hill located in the center of Athens. Here are some reconstruction pictures of Acropolis.

acropolis_reconstruction drawing acropolis_reconstruction modelAcropolis-diagram

Erechtheion 421-406 B.C. 

Composition: It’s a temple made of marble.

Shape: We can see that from the plan: it’s a combination of several rectangles, not usual peripteral temple.  And it has several goddess statues used as columns, which is unique. Goddesses have slender necks, so artists designed thick hair for them to support heavy rocks.

Pattern/Texture: let’s regard the small patterns as points, columns as lines, and the bricks and walls as faces. You’ll find that all these elements work well balanced with density and the sparsity. And here is a pattern example from the capital of a column.

Color: As what Greeks did on other temples, Erechtheion was also once in color! Here are the color pallete.

Erechtheion 1Erechtheion 2 Erechtheion 3 Erechtheion 4 Erechtheion reconstruction 1 Erechtheion reconstruction 2erechteion_pattern


My beloved <SAILOR MOON> has taken Greek temples as references! Look at the “ionic gown” she’s wearing!

水兵月1 水兵月2order_2ionic personification

[1] The Temple of Hera at Olympia is not as huge as the others. It was built in a very early age, about the end of 7th century B.C.

Vassilis DimitriadisTemple of Hera at Olimpia


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