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Greek Temples

Greek Temples

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore some of the main features of ancient Greek temples.

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Tutorial

Exploring the Greek temple.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell and today's lesson is about Greek temples. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify the three types of Greek orders, describe the proportions and building materials used in Greek temples, explain the use of the pediment as an area for sculptural programs, and explain the design challenges and solutions of building within a pediment. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is peristyle, an architectural space, such as a court, that is surrounded by columns. Second keyword, or key term, is peripteral temple, a type of ancient Greek or Roman temple surrounded by a row of columns. Shaft is the main body of a column. In ancient Greece it was usually fluted or marked with vertical ridges. And capital is the top of a column.

Continuing on. Entablature is the upper section of a classical Greek temple that rests on the columns. Doric order is the simplest and oldest style of Greek column marked by an undecorated capital. Entasis is a slight bulging usually associated with the Parthenon that is meant to offset the illusion of sagging of perfectly straight lines, particularly along the entablature. And pediment is a triangular element on the front and back of a Greek temple.

The big idea for today is that Greek temples evolved from simple altars with shelters to large, monumental forms of religious architecture. And just to let you know, there is required artwork which will be listed in purple. So the Greek temples that we'll be looking at today were constructed between 550 BC and 450 BC. And we'll zoom in to take a look at ancient Greece and the Italian peninsula where the site of Paestum, which is a Greek settlement, is located. We'll start with Greece here and we'll zoom in and look at Greece and the Italian peninsula and Paestum and Athens. We'll also be looking at a temple in the city of Olympia, Greece.

There are three architectural orders or design frameworks in ancient Greek architecture. They're more than just the column, but the column is the giveaway. And we'll look at the columns first. So the Doric order is highlighted by the Doric column, which is a large column that is typically about six times as tall as it is wide and it's capped by an unornamented capital, the top piece of the column. It's generally considered a more masculine order compared to the other two.

The ionic order is highlighted by the Ionic column which is a typically more slender column than the order-- than the Doric. It's usually about seven or eight times as high as it is wide and it's capped by a scroll-like capital. And finally, the Corinthian order is highlighted by the Corinthian column. Typically the most slender and feminine of the orders, it's generally used indoors and it's topped by an acanthus-leaved capital.

So we'll travel now to the site of Paestum, Italy, to look at the first few-- first few of our temples. Paestum, although, in Italy was originally a settlement of Hellenistic Greek people and early Greek temples were probably nothing more than mud and wood shelters to protect an altar or offering area. They evolved over time into forms of monumental architecture, typically built of limestone and marble using the Greek idea of symmetria, where the proportions of the building are harmoniously related to each other, much like the proportions of the body are harmoniously balanced. And we'll look at the typical layout of a temple in just a few moments.

Now, this particular temple is identified as a Temple of Hera, who was Zeus's wife. And it's called Hera the first to distinguish it from the other Temple of Hera named Hera the second. It was constructed between 550 and 540 BC and it's designed in the Doric manner. It's difficult to see from this picture all the elements that comprise the Doric order, but the use of the Doric column is the dead giveaway.

Here's the Temple of Hera the second, or Hera II. A much clearer example of the Doric order and its parts. The first is the Doric column. On top of the column is the entablature, the solid piece of masonry you see right above the columns. On top of this is the Doric frieze which is a band of sculpture or relief that runs horizontally around the building.

Now, as opposed to the continuous frieze of the Ionic order, the Doric frieze is broken up into alternative parts, or alternating parts. The triglyph, which are these three lines, and the metope, which is the squarish area here which would have been ornamented in some way with sculpture and or relief. On top of this is a triangular pediment which we'll examine more in just a moment.

Now, the way that the columns were assembled for the Doric order is that there would be a central rod, a metal rod, that ran up and down. And on top of that they would slide the drums. Just sort of stack them like so.

Now, this is a typical layout for a temple. They all vary in one way or another, but they also make use of the design elements, more or less. Now, this does-- diagram of the Temple of Hera II shows the typical peristyle outer colonnade. And this one is in the Doric style. Surrounding a solid walled center portion that houses smaller rooms such as the treasury and sanctuary.

The outer and inner ornamentation of the temples weren't simply decorative elements. The temples were a symbolic pieces of architecture and the friezes of pediments, or triangular areas in the front and back of the temple, were places to tell stories related to the temple. Now, this figure is a large sculpture called The Dying Warrior and taken from one of the pediments from the Temple of Aphaia from the tiny island of Aegina near mainland Greece. The pediments were important areas of the sculptural program in part due to the fact that they were some of the largest and most visible areas of the temple.

Their shape, however, created some design challenges that we'll address on the next page. Keep the image of this figure above in mind as we take a look here. Now, in order to make the best use of space while conforming to the restrictions of the space, artists sculpted figures in multiple positions, as in the diagram below. Now, it's worth mentioning that this seems to work best with human figures. Our Dying Warrior from the last page would have fit nicely in the corner of the triangle, while crouching figures would fit within the intermediate space and standing figures would be placed within the very middle.

The final drawing of the Temple of Zeus from Olympia provides a nice example of this technique. As you can see with the figures placed within it. This drawing also provides a very clear example of the elements comprising the Doric order, like the Doric column, triglyphs and metopes. And that triangle is highlighting the pediment. In fact, the Temple of Zeus from Olympia was thought to be the epitome of Doric design in its time.

That brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, can you identify the three types of Greek columns or orders, can you describe the proportions and building materials used in Greek temples, can you explain the use of the pediment as an area for sculptural programs, can you explain the design challenges and solutions of building within a pediment? And finally, the big idea, once again, is that Greek temples evolved from simple altars with shelters to large, monumental forms of religious architecture. There you go. Thank you for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations

Image of Temple of Hera I at Paestum, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_basilique_(temple_dHera).JPG Image of Plan of Temple of Poseidon at Paestum, Italy, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_of_the_Temple_of_Poseidon_at_Paestum.png Image of Temple of Hera II at Paestum, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Temple_of_Apollo28.jpg#.7B.7Bint:filedesc.7D.7D Image of Doric Column and Frieze, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DoricParthenon.jpg Image of Corinthian Column and Frieze, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CorinthianOrderPantheon.jpg Image of Warrior from East Pediment of Temple of Aphaia, Photo by J. M. Harrington, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ionic_order.svg Image of Warrior from West Pediment of Temple of Aphaia, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aphaia_pediment_warrior_W-VII_Glyptothek_Munich_79.jpg; Image of Reconstruction of Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Public Domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zeustempel_Olympia.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Capital

    The top of a column.

  • Doric Order

    The simplest and oldest style of Greek column, marked by an undecorated capital.

  • Entablature

    The upper section of a classical Greek temple that rests on the columns.

  • Shaft

    The main body of a column, in ancient Greece, it was usually fluted, or marked with vertical ridges.

  • Entasis

    A slight bulging, most commonly associated with the Parthenon, that is meant to offset the optical illusion of sagging of perfectly straight lines, particularly along the entablature.

  • Peripteral Temple

    A type of ancient Greek or Roman temple surrounded by a row of columns.

  • Peristyle

    An architectural space, such as a court, that is surrounded by columns.