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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

F. B. Tarbell, A History of Ancient Greek Art

Greek Architecture

The temple

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Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

The supreme achievement of Greek architecture was the temple. In imperial Rome, or in any typical city of the Roman Empire, the most extensive and imposing buildings were secular – basilicas, baths, amphitheaters, porticoes, aqueducts. In Athens, on the other hand, or in any typical Greek city, there was little or nothing to vie with the temples and the sacred edifices associated with them. Public secular buildings, of course, there were, but the little we know of them does not suggest that they often ranked among the architectural glories of the country. Private houses were in the best period of small pretensions. It was to the temple and its adjunct buildings that the architectural genius and the material resources of Greece were devoted. It is the temple, then, which we have above all to study.

Before beginning, however, to analyze the artistic features of the temple, it will be useful to consider the building materials which a Greek architect had at his disposal and his methods of putting them together. Greece is richly provided with good building stone. At many points there are inexhaustible stores of white marble. The island of Paros, one of the Cyclades, and Mount Pentelicus in Attica – to name only the two best and most famous quarries – are simply masses of white marble, suitable as well for the builder as the sculptor.

There are besides various beautiful colored marbles, but it was left to the Romans to bring these into use. Then there are many commoner sorts of stone ready to the builder's hand, especially the rather soft, brown limestones which the Greeks called by the general name of poros.[1] This material was not disdained, even for important buildings. Thus the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, one of the two most important religious centers in the Greek world, was built of local poros. The same was the case with the numerous temples of Acragas (Girgenti) and Selinus in Sicily. An even meaner material, sun-dried brick, was sometimes, perhaps often, employed for cella walls. Where poros or crude brick was used, it was coated over with a very fine, hard stucco, which gave a surface like that of marble.

[1] The word has no connection with porous.


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