Athens, with its strong Aegean orientation, had shown
itself hospitable to the eastern Greek style of building
from the mid-fifth century on, and the finest surviving
examples of the Ionic order are to be found among the
structures of the Acropolis. The previous development of the
order is known only in very fragmentary fashion. Of the huge
Ionic temples that were erected in Archaic times on Samos
and at Ephesus, little has survived except the plans. The
Ionic vocabulary, however, seems to have remained fairly
fluid, with strong affinities to the Near East (see figs.
113), and it did not
really become an order in the strict sense until the
Classical period. Even then it continued to be rather more
flexible than the Doric order. Its most striking feature is
the Ionic column, which differs from the Doric not only in
body but also in spirit (see fig.
It rests on an ornately profiled base of its own. The shaft
is more slender, and there is less tapering and entasis. The
capital shows a large double scroll, or volute, between the
echinus and abacus, which projects strongly beyond the width
of the shaft.
That these details add up to an entity very distinct from
the Doric column becomes clear as soon as we turn from the
diagram to an actual building (fig.
180). How shall we define it? The
Ionic column is lighter and more graceful than its mainland
cousin. It lacks the latter's muscular quality. Instead, it
evokes a growing plant, something like a formalized palm
tree. This vegetal analogy is not sheer fancy, for we have
early ancestors, or relatives, of the Ionic capital that
bear it out (fig. 178).
If we were to pursue these plantlike columns
all the way back to their point of origin, we would
eventually find ourselves at Saqqara, where we encounter not
only "proto-Doric" supports but also the wonderfully
graceful papyrus half-columns of figure
60. with their
curved, flaring capitals. It may well be, then, that the
form of the Ionic column, too, had its ultimate source in
Egypt, but instead of reaching Greece by sea, as we suppose
the proto-Doric column did, it traveled a slow and tortuous
path by land through Syria and Asia Minor.
capital, from Larissa.
B.C. Archaeological Museum, Istanbul
Aeolic Capitol, Smyrna, 570
In pre-Classical times, the only Ionic structures on the
Greek mainland had been the small treasuries built by
eastern Greek states at Delphi in the regional styles (see
Hence the Athenian architects who took up the Ionic order
about 450 B.C.
at first thought of it as suitable only for small temples of
simple plan. Such a building is the little Temple of Athena
Nike on the southern flank of the Propylaea (fig.
177), probably built
and 424 B.C.
from a design prepared twenty years earlier by Callicrates.
plan, fig. 174)
on the northern edge of the Acropolis
opposite the Parthenon. It was erected between
405 B.C., perhaps by
Mnesicles. Like the Propylaea, it is masterfully adapted to
an irregular, sloping site. The area had various
associations with the mythical founding of Athens, so that
the Erechtheum was actually a "portmanteau" sanctuary with
several religious functions. Its name derives from
Erechtheus, a legendary king of Athens. It may have covered
the spot where a contest between Athena and Poseidon was
believed to have taken place. The eastern room was dedicated
to Athena Polias (Athena the city goddess). Apparently there
were four rooms, in addition to a basement on the western
side, but their exact purpose is under dispute.
180. The Erechtheum (view from the
south), Acropolis, Athens. 421-405
Larger and more complex is the Erechtheum
181. Porch of the Maidens, the
Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens.
Instead of a west facade, the Erechtheum has two porches
attached to its flanks, a very large one facing north and a
small one toward the Parthenon. The latter is the famous
Porch of the Maidens (fig.
so named because its roof is
supported by six female figures (caryatids) on a high
parapet, instead of regular columns (compare fig.
160). Here the
exquisite refinement of the Ionic order conveys what
Vitruvius might have called a "feminine" quality, compared
with the "masculinity" of the Parthenon across the way. Apart from the caryatids, sculptural
decoration on the Erechtheum was confined to the frieze, of
which very little survives. The pediments remained bare,
perhaps for lack of funds at the end of the Peloponnesian
War. However, the ornamental carving on the bases and
capitals of the columns, and on the frames of doorways and windows, is extraordinarily
delicate and rich. Its cost, according to the accounts
inscribed on the building, was higher than that of figure
capital, from the Tholos at Epidaurus.
ñ 350 B.C. Museum,
capital, from the Tholos, Epidauros, Greece,
ca. 350 BCE. Archaeological Museum, Epidauros
Such emphasis on ornament seems
characteristic of the late fifth century. It was at this
time that the Corinthian capital was invented as an
elaborate substitute for the Ionic. (For a comparison of
Doric, Ionic, and (Corinthian capitals, see fig.
165.) Its shape is
that of an inverted bell covered with the curly shoots and
leaves of the acanthus plant, which seem to sprout from the
top of the column shaft (fig.
At first, Corinthian capitals were
used only for interiors. Not until a century later do we
find them replacing Ionic capitals on the exterior.
earliest known instance is the Monument of Lysicrates in
Athens (fig. 182),
built soon after 334
B.C. It is not really a building in
the full sense of the term—the
interior, though hollow, has no entrance—but
an elaborate support for a tripod won by Lysicrates in a
contest. The round structure, resting on a tall base, is a
miniature version of a tholos, a type of circular building
of which several earlier examples are known to have existed.
The columns here are engaged rather than free-standing, to
make the monument more compact. Soon after, the (Corinthian
capital came to be employed on the exteriors of large
buildings as well, and in Roman times it was the standard
capital for almost any purpose.
182. The Monument of Lvsicrates,
Athens, ñ. 334
TOWN PLANNING AND THEATERS.
During the three centuries
between the end of the Peloponnesian War and the Roman
conquest, Greek architecture shows little further
development. Even before the time of Alexander the Great,
the largest volume of building activity was to be found in
the Greek cities of Asia Minor. There we encounter some
structures of a new kind, often under Oriental influence,
such as the huge Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus (see
and the Great Pergamum Altar (see figs.
planning on a rectangular grid pattern, first introduced at
Miletus in the mid-fifth century, assumed new importance, as
did the municipal halls (stoas) lining the marketplaces
where the civic and commercial life of Greek towns was
centered. Private houses, too, became larger and more ornate
than before. Yet the architectural vocabulary, aesthetically
as well as technically, remained essentially that of the
temples of the late fifth century.
The basic repertory of Greek architecture increased in
one respect only: the open-air theater achieved a regular,
defined shape. Before the fourth century, the auditorium had
simply-been a natural slope, preferably curved, equipped
with stone benches. Now the hillside was provided with
concentric rows of seats and with staircase-aisles at regular intervals,
as at Epidaurus (figs. 183
In the center is the orchestra, where most
of the action took place.
183. The Theater, Epidaurus.
ñ 350 B.C.
184. Plan of the Theater,
Epidaurus (after Picard-Cambridge)
Contribution of Greek Architecture
In the end, the greatest achievement of Greek
architecture was much more than just beautiful buildings.
Greek temples are governed by a structural logic that makes
them look stable because of the precise arrangement of their
parts. The Greeks tried to regulate their temples in
accordance with nature's harmony by constructing them of
measured units which were so proportioned that they would
all be in perfect agreement. ("Perfect" was as signilicant
an idea to the Greeks as "forever" was to the Egyptians.)
Now architects could create organic
unities, not by copying nature, not by divine inspiration,
but by design. Thus their temples seem to be almost alive.
They achieved this triumph chiefly by expressing the
structural forces active in buildings, known as
architectonics. In the Classical period, expressions of
force and counterforce in both Doric and Ionic temples were
proportioned so exactly that their opposition produced the
effect of a perfect balancing of forces and harmonizing of
sizes and shapes. This, then, is the real reason why, for so
many centuries, the orders have been considered the only
true basis for beautiful architecture. They are so perfect
that they could not be surpassed, only equaled.
Limitations of Greek Architecture
How are we to account tor the fact that Greek
architecture did not grow significantly beyond the stage it
had reached at the time of the Peloponnesian War? After all,
neither intellectual life nor the work of sculptors and
painters show any tendency toward staleness during the last
years of Greek civilization. Are we
perhaps misjudging her architectural achievements after
400 B.C.? Or
were there inherent limitations that prevented Greek
architecture from continuing the pace of development it had
maintained in Archaic and Classical times? A number of such
limitations come to mind: the concern with monumental
exteriors at the expense of interior space, the
concentration of effort on temples of one particular type,
and the lack of interest in any structural system more
advanced than the post-and-lintel (uprights supporting
horizontal beams). Until the late fifth century, these had
all been positive advantages. Without them, the great
masterpieces of the Periclean age would have been
unthinkable. But the possibilities of the traditional Doric
temple were nearly exhausted by then, as indicated by the
attention lavished on expensive refinements.
What Greek architecture needed after the Peloponnesian
War was a breakthrough, a revival of the experimental spirit
of the seventh century, that would create an interest in new
building materials, vaulting, and interior space. What
prevented the breakthrough? Could it have been the
architectural orders, or rather the cast of mind that
produced them? The suspicion will not go away that it was
the very coherence and rigidity of these orders which made
it impossible for Greek architects to break from the
established pattern. What had been their great strength in
earlier days became a tyranny. It remained for later ages to
adapt the Greek orders to brick and concrete, to arched and vaulted construction. Such adaptation necessitated
doing a certain amount of violence to the original character
of the orders, something the Greeks, it seems, were
Temple of Poseidon, Paestum