Why Did Greek Architects Go to So Much Trouble to Make the Temple "Look" Perfect
An architectural order describes a style of building. In Classical architecture, each order is readily identifiable by means of its proportions and profiles as well as by various aesthetic details. The style of column employed serves as a useful index of the style itself, so identifying the order of the column will then, in turn, situate the order employed in the structure as a whole. The classical orders—described by the labels Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—do not merely serve as descriptors for the remains of ancient buildings but as an index to the architectural and aesthetic development of Greek architecture itself.
It is impossible not to be awed when one stands in the shadow of the great Parthenon and looks up at its elegantly carved Doric columns towering overhead. The quality of the craftsmanship, the stunning white Pentelic marble, the sheer size of this 2,500-year-old temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos – the virgin goddess and patron deity of ancient Athens – are all features of a unique, world-class monument that strike us immediately. However, there is much more to the Parthenon than first meets the eye. As viewers, we welcome and accept the temple’s outward beauty and seeming perfection, but we don’t often stop to ask ourselves why the building so affects us. The answer is that the Parthenon’s architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, and its chief sculptural artist, Phidias, have incorporated numerous “hidden” devices within its marble construction and carved decorations that were designed to trick the viewers’ eye, to make us believe we are witnessing something perfectly regular, sensible and balanced in all its aspects. These almost imperceptible optical refinements and other little adjustments or design tricks allow us to unwittingly take in the details of the Parthenon more easily, to appreciate them more fully and to not be disturbed by unpleasant optical illusions that otherwise could have been caused by the building’s massive scale and the basic nature of ancient post-and-lintel architecture. Looks certainly can be deceiving! Who would believe that, in fact, there are virtually no straight lines or right angles in the Parthenon? This enormous temple appears at first glance to be a giant rectilinear construction, all of whose lines are straight! And does it seem sensible to the rational mind that the base of the temple – its stepped pedestal or stylobate – is actually domed, not flat? The four corners of the pedestal droop gracefully downward, such that if one were to stand on the top step and look lengthwise along the building at someone else also standing on the same step at the opposite end, these two observers would only see each other from about the knees up. This doming of the temple base was reputedly done to avoid an optical “sagging” of the building’s middle that would have been perceived along its east and west ends and especially along its long north and south sides, if its lines were actually designed and built to be perfectly straight. Additional refinements in the Parthenon include the slight inward leaning of all the columns in the Doric colonnade surrounding the building. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter than the others and lean inward in two directions; that is, diagonally to the corner. They also are set in such a way that there exists a smaller space, or intercolumniation, between them and the next column.
Discovery of the untouched Knossos frescoes by the scientists has led to the conclusion that this palace was destroyed by the powerful volcanic eruptions, which took place around 1450BC in Santorini (Greece Architecture). Archeologists have discovered scenery full of palaces, tombs, towns, roads, and villas; all these structures severed various purposes such as commerce, administration, and religion. During this civilization, palaces began constructing back in 1900 BC, and they were used for diverse functions such as; meetings, celebrations, workshops, and stores for crops. Strategic places on the Island, such as; low hills, were chosen to build these palaces. The complexity of these palaces made them look like labyrinths, especially for new members in the region. Some of the palaces were high buildings corded with very beautiful staircases both in the inside and outside. In the exterior meeting, apartments were common, and they acted as theaters and enormous columns. The technology used for their construction was very advanced because of the various services that were available. Some of these technologies included; deep wells as a source of water for use by the occupants, irrigation systems, advanced drainage systems, and bridges. Besides, Rough stones, ceramic bricks, and mortar were major construction materials for inside walls, while hefty rectangular slabs were used for the construction of the corners of the palace (Hawes and Harriet 57). During Minoan civilization, Tholos Tombs, sacred caves, Pithoi, and larnakes were used for burial purposes. The ancient Tholos Tombs had a round shape, with a few of them taking a rectangular shape. These tombs had a single entrance. Although most of them have been destroyed, the few surviving ones have only the lower side of the wall, making it difficult to measure their heights or determine their shape from an aerial angle (Minoan Architecture. Believe sexists that many of these tombs had a flat roof that was made of wood. The largest Tomb is 13 meters wide, and it is found in Plato’s (Phoenician Architecture). It is during the prepalatai and protopalatai time (2600-1700 BC) that the Tholos tombs were greatly in use.
Given these points, for most of us, architecture is easy to take for granted. Its everywhere in our daily lives—sometimes elegant, other times shabby, but generally ubiquitous. How often do we stop to examine and contemplate its form and style? Stopping for that contemplation offers not only the opportunity to understand one’s daily surroundings, but also to appreciate the connection that exists between architectural forms in our own time and those from the past. Architectural tradition and design has the ability to link disparate cultures together over time and space—and this is certainly true of the legacy of architectural forms created by the ancient Greeks.
Cline, Eric H. The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.
Greece Architecture. A Guide to the Architecture of Greece and the Greek Island. 2011. Web.
Greek Architecture. Ancient Civilization. 2009. Web.
Hawes, Charles Henry, and Harriet Boyd Hawes. Crete, the Forerunner of Greek. London: Harper & Bros., 1922.