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    Greek Architecture and the Parthenon Essay

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    Architecture according to Encarta 99 is the art or science of designing and constructing buildings. There are many different types of architecture, but they all eventually trace back to the Greeks and Romans. The Greek s roots lie in the Aegean civilization; nevertheless its particular characteristics have made it one of the most established influences in Western architecture. One of the most important and famous examples of Greek architecture is the Parthenon located on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

    Greek architecture is usually broken up into four different periods: the Geometric and Orientalizing periods (c. 1100 BC to 650 BC), the Archaic period (c. 660 BC to 475 BC), the Classical period (c. 475 BC to 323 BC) and the Hellenistic period (c. 323 BC to 31 BC).

    Architecture of the Geometric and Orientalizing periods had more of a simple structure customarily made of mud brick and rubble. The plan of temples during this period was similar to that of the houses which evolved from circular to horseshoe like shapes and eventually rectangular. They were generally built on an east-west axis with an entrance and a columned porch at one end. In rectangular temples, the two side walls projected beyond the front wall to form a porch. In the rooms, a single row of wooden columns along the main axis supported the wooden beams of the gable roof. This style was later replaced with two rows of columns because it shadowed the image of divinity.

    During the Archaic period Greek society grew not only geographically, but also economically. This expansion led to the development of formal architecture and the use of marble and limestone. In the 7th century the Greeks started to build stone temples after the Egyptians, but in their own distinctive style. The temples were rectangular and stood on a low, stepped terrace in an enclosure, which was where their rituals took place. The smaller temples had a two-columned front porch occasionally with a portico in front of it. The large temples had front and back porches and sometimes it wold have a six-columned portico in front of each porch or else it would be surrounded by a colonnade. This colonnade was supported by a lintel under the roof.

    At this period architects developed two orders or styles of columns called Doric and Ionic. The Doric type columns are shorter and thicker. They had no bases and their capitals were made up of a square slab over a round cushion shape. These capitals were extremely heavy and spaced quite close in order to support the masonry. Their weight was distributed by the tapered and fluted shaft. Over every column vertical triglyphs were carved and between them were the metopes, which were painted at first, but later they were filled with painted reliefs. The Doric order predominated on mainland Greece and later spread to Western colonies.

    Columns in the Ionic style were derived from the cities on the islands and the coasts of Asia Minor. However, Asia Minor was exposed more to Egyptian and Asian influences rather than Greek. Therefore it featured capitals with spiral volutes, a more narrow shaft with fairly dissimilar fluting and an intricate and curvilinear base.

    The Classical period consists of three parts, the earlier period, the middle period and the late period.

    The Early Classical period began after the Persian invasion and Greek victory, which stimulated much activity in architecture due to the large amount of destruction. Athens, the dominant political and economic power was especially effected. Most of the temples were in the Doric style, but drifting away from the heavy proportions of the Archaic Doric style.

    The Middle Classical period emerged during the 5th century BC. Architects began refining their work in order to counteract the obvious distortions of perspective. The temple terrace was now curved upwards in the center, the taper of the columns were made convex, the axes of columns were inclined inward and vertical lines were tilted either inward or outward. The Parthenon, one of the most important temples, was built during this period.

    The Parthenon was constructed between 447 BC and 432 BC by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates on the site of two earlier temples, the old Temple of Athena and the older Parthenon which was started in 488 BC and burned by the Persians in 480 BC. The Parthenon was meant to symbolize the power of the Athenian Empire and in particular that of Perikles, a politician who promoted its construction. It functioned as a place of worship for almost 2000 years until 1687 AD when the temple was exploded during the Turk and Venetian war. The Greek temples were thought to have an economic function as a bank which guarded to treasures for the gods. It was also used as a place for sacrificial purposes, which on the whole took place outside of the temples. The outside of Greek temples was generally considered to be more important than the inside therefore the exterior of the structure consisted of many sculptures. The temples had a large amount of space and were made of colonnades, which are rows of columns. The colonnades, located around the inner chamber had a strong contrast of light and dark color. The temple could be approached from all sides due to this structure.

    The architectural design of the Parthenon is known as Doric Peripteral, suggesting that it has a rectangular shaped floor with a sequence of low steps and a colonnade of Doric columns. The structure consists of almost entirely Pentelic marble from the renowned quarries on Mount Pentelikon, following the design of a typical Greek temple. It is encompassed by an abnormally large colonnade with eight narrow columns in the front and back and seventeen on each side. The ceiling of the colonnade was made of coffered marble. The sanctuary had two sections, which were entered through a shallow porch. The cella, which is the central part of the temple, contains two interior rooms called the naos and opisthodomos. The eastern cella is the largest; measuring approximately 100 feet contained the huge chryselephantine (gold-and-ivory) statue of Athena, protector of the city, and was supported by a two-story Doric colonnade on three sides. The smaller western cella was supported by four tall Ionic columns and the exterior of the Parthenon has Doric style columns, which consists of a simple design.

    During the Late Classical period the architectural stimulation decreased when the Greeks were defeated in the Peloponnesian War. The temples continued in the Doric style but the porch in the back was left out. The third and final order was that of the Corinthian order which was developed at this time.

    The Corinthian order consists of Ionic capitals, which were decorated with acanthus leaves. This style was much more fitting for use at corners with its four identical faces which giving it an advantage over the Ionic order.

    When the Greek city-states were conquered by Alexander the Great his armies brought the Greek culture and architecture to the Middle East, which was the beginning of the Hellenistic period. For small temples the Doric style continued to be used, however, for the larger temples the Ionic style became more popular. By this time the Corinthian style had spread causing the Corinthian columns to be more widely adopted by architects.

    The art of designing and constructing something, which is both practical and aesthetically pleasing, is not an easy task. However, the Greeks managed to overcome all of the problems which they faced to produce an example which is admired and followed by not only the Greeks themselves but by architects and people all over the world.

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