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The Classical World
Robin Francis Rhodes
The story of classical Greek and Roman architecture begins in prehistory, in the 2nd millennium BC, with the magnificent palaces and tombs of the Mycenaeans on the Greek mainland. And although Mycenaean culture disintegrated around 1100 BC, the instinct for monumental construction and even some of the forms of their architecture survived the subsequent Dark Age and flowered again with the Greeks of historical times.
Monumental architecture was reborn in Greece in the 8th century BC for religious observances, and over the next 250 years distinct regional styles of temple architecture evolved. The coast of Asia Minor, east of the Aegean Sea (now Turkey), was as crucial to the development of Greek culture as the mainland, and as the Doric order evolved as the architectural canon of the latter, so Ionic became the architecture of the former (see glossary for an explanation of the development of ancient Greek architecture and the orders). Similarly, the colonies of western Greece, in Sicily and southern Italy, developed their own distinctive conception of monumental religious architecture. Each of these regional styles evolved not so much as a set of abstract, aesthetic rulesalthough these were a factorbut as the direct expression of the local religious character and cult practice.
In the mid-5th century BC, Athens attained unprecedented levels of political, cultural, and artistic magnificence and became the pivot of the Greek world; in the hands of the brilliant architects of the new Athenian Acropolis, the traditional regional styles were woven into a truly Pan-Hellenic architectural tapestry. Nor were the achievements of the 5th-century Athenians forgotten. Almost immediately, and especially in the Hellenistic kingdoms established by the conquests of Alexander the Great a century later, 5th-century Athenian art and architecture were copied and alluded to as a means of magnifying the grandeur of monumental structures.
With the annexation of Greece by Rome in the 2nd century BC, the foundations of empire were set, and the inspirational power of Greek and Athenian history and art found a new and fertile realm. Traditional forms of temple building handed down to the Romans by the Etruscans (who inhabited the Italian peninsula from the 8th century BC), and techniques and conceptions of construction dictated by their own invention of a miraculous concrete, were given a monumental facing of Greek decorative forms and materials. From then on, until Rome became a Christian empire in the 4th century AD, the meaning and intention of Roman architectural monuments lay not only in the massing of their elements and in their political, cultural, and geographical context within the empire, but also in their particular balance and juxtaposition of Greek and native Roman technique and form.
Because of their great antiquity, most of the buildings of the Greeks and Romans have been destroyed (which is true of many of the works included here). Certainly the original decorative surfaces have very often been badly damaged and their painted colors almost always lost (we would be surprised by the vibrancy of many of the original structures). Similarly, it is only in rare cases that we can associate the name of an architect with a specific building. One problem here is remoteness of time and preservation of written sources, another is the fact that, particularly in Greek times the architect was often not so much an individual "genius" responsible for the conception and creation of a building as an organizer of master craftsmen and workmen. Yet in spite of all this, the fragmentary remains of the Greeks and Romans are able to tell remarkable stories of remarkable people who laid the foundations for the history of Western architecture.
8th century BC
The history of Greek architecture as presented here is a history of monumental architecture, and the Greek monumental creation par excellence is the temple. Yet the earliest monumental form in Greece was not the temple, it was pottery: the vases that, toward the middle of the 8th century BC, were appearing in the Dipylon Cemetery in Athens (so called after the nearby double city gate).
The shapes of these vases were the same as those used for domestic purposes and their decoration was in the long line of Dark Age development following the collapse of the Mycenaean empire. What was altogether new, however, and what provides invaluable insight into the original nature of the monumental instinct in classical Greek art and architecture, was the scale and function of these vases. No longer were they intended to hold or mix or pour liquids. They marked graves, and in response to their new symbolic, spiritual function their scale ballooned almost insanely: some of these vases (which were fired in pieces) approach 6 ft (2 m) in height! Through their transformation in scale and function, the Dipylon Vases were blown right out of the realm of kitchen crockery and into the sphere of architecture. They became monuments to the dead, the drama of their own physical change reflecting the scale of the spiritual mutation of humankind in the move from life to death. This use of physical transformation as a metaphor for spiritual transformation is at the heart of Greek monumentality and explains why the grandest architecture was originally created in an exclusively religious context.
Greek temples were also emblems of spiritual transition, marking holy places that had been touched by divinity. And like the Dipylon Vases, it was through the metaphor of physical transformation that the temple, as it developed toward the Doric and Ionic orders, became a fitting monument for spiritual mediation between the ephemeral world of humans and the immortal realm of the gods. In its monumental form, the temple represented the metamorphosis of hut-sized, thatched, wood and mud-brick shelters for cult images into buildings larger than any created for practical purposes; the change of common, perishable materials and the undisguised details of their construction into permanent, godlike structures of neatly squared, regularly coursed, carefully joined stone masonry and tiled roofs.
The Dipylon Vases provide insight into the genesis of monumental Greek architecture as an architecture of transition and transformation. They also graphically illustrate the crucial role played by reverence for the heroic past in the development of the monumental arts. The chariot processions and figure-eight shields painted on many of the grave pots do not reflect everyday 8th-century Greece. Rather, they recall the heroism of Homer's epic, mythical poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, and gain monumentality by their association with this semidivine past. The subsequent incorporation into Doric architecture of rediscovered Mycenaean architectural forms, including details of the columns and entablature, should be seen in the same deferential light.
The island of Corfu, to the northwest of present-day Greece, off the coast of Albania, was an early colony of the city of Corinth and was under Corinthian control when its Temple of Artemis was constructed. A milestone in Greek architecture, this was the first building that was truly Doric. Many if not all of its Doric characteristics had appeared in earlier structures but here they were used for the first time as an ensemble.
The Temple of Artemis was built entirely of stone, covered with a terra-cotta roof, and was conceived on a grand scale at approximately 160 x 77 ft (49 x 23.5 m). The basic structural and decorative elements of standard Doric temples were present: in plan, the temple was a rectangular hall (cella), consisting of a front porch (pronaos), back porch (opisthodomos), and main chamber in which the cult image was housed (naos), all surrounded by a continuous colonnade (peristyle) of Doric columns, surmounted by a Doric entablature.
This was not the first monumental temple in Greece but a continuation of the earliest tradition of such architecture. Ancient literary sources and modern archaeology suggest that Corfu's mother city and overlord, Corinth, a city in the heart of Dorian Greece, in the Peloponnese, was the home of Greek monumental structures. In the mid-7th century BC the Corinthians constructed the first truly monumental temples in Greece, a pair of simple, uncolonnaded, rectangular buildings, but complete with grand-scale, neatly cut stone masonry, the earliest datable tiled roofs in the Greek world, and the embryonic form of many aspects of later Doric. It is, therefore, not surprising that the first Doric temple appears in a Corinthian dependency, or that another major element of Greek monumental architecture attributed by the ancients to Corinthian invention first appears on Corfu: the earliest known pediments (large triangular gables at each end of the building) belong to the architecture of Corfu.
The pediments of the Temple of Artemis carried relief sculpture. In the center of each, and dominating both it and the viewer's eye, was a pair of carved leopards flanking a huge Gorgon Medusa. Rather than telling a story, these figures were transformed into monstrous emblems, staring out frontally, in direct engagement with anyone who approached the temple. The Gorgon would have been particularly terrifying, for in mythology her horrible gaze always resulted in petrification and death for anyone who met it directly, as her frontal disposition on the pediments demands. Given the dominating nature of the sculpture, both formally and emotionally, it seems clear that there was an intended relationship between this intimidating effect and the concept of divinity as housed in the temple. To judge from the Corfu pediments and the series of similar pediments they introduced into 6th-century Greece, monumental Greek temple architecture was originally inspired not by the cool rationality of the human intellect, as embodied in human-shaped, Olympian gods, but by a concept of divinity more closely akin to representatives of the older, pre-Olympian, inhuman side of the universe: the awesome irrationality of nature, Mother Earth, and the underworld.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In its original incarnation it was also one of the first Ionic temples, made famous by a treatise written by its builders Chersiphron and Metagenes (a work known only from a reference to it by Vitruvius), and by its association with King Croesus (of "rich as Croesus" fame) of Lydia, who contributed many of the temple's columns.
The Ionic columns were lofty, some with figurative carvings on their shafts, and carried beautifully wrought capitals and elaborately sculpted friezes. But the overwhelming magnificence of the temple was due to a scale completely foreign to Doric architecture. The temple measured some 357 1/2 x 180 ft (109 x 55 m) and was four to five times larger than most contemporary Doric temples on the mainland. Doric temples were monumental but the first Ionic temples in Asia Minor were colossal.
In combination with a low stepped base and its siting in a flat coastal plain, the enormous width and length of the Artemis temple created an overwhelmingly horizontal effect. This and the ambiguous position of the peristyle columns, set well back from the edge of the top step, blurred the boundary between temple and landscape. The resulting sense of continuity between the temple and its surroundings, between constructed and natural, was enhanced by the sheer number of columns (two rows as opposed to a single row in Doric) which evoked the sacred grove in which the temple probably stood. The essentially unbroken procession from landscape to temple was then continued in the spacing of the columns, which widened from the back, along the sides, to the front, with the widest spacing of all on the axis (and so in the center) of the temple front. And the architectural procession did not end there: echoing the peristyle, pairs of carefully aligned columns extended into the heart of the cella itself, seamlessly integrating exterior and interior.
Unlike the standard Doric templewhich prevents continuity with the landscape and isolates itself from the individual through its higher base, the unambiguous positioning of its peristyle columns at the edge of the top step, its siting on an eminence, and the paralyzing effect of its pediment, which holds the worshipper at a distanceeverything about Ionic consciously blurs the borders between landscape and temple, exterior and interior, even prescribing the paths along which this mingling should occur. And, unlike the Doric temple, whose formal character is consonant with a ritual environment separated from the temple and focused exclusively on the altar in front of the building, the processional qualities of Ionic clearly suggest that rituals also occurred within the boundaries of the temple itself.
Contrasting ideas of humanity's relationship with divinity, as well as different ceremonial and aesthetic requirements, are eloquently expressed in the early temple architecture of ancient Greece. With the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Ionic architecture of Asia Minor is firmly established as an architecture of procession, a form distinct in conception and formal language from the temple architecture of the Doric mainland.