We have a lot to thank ancient Greece for—the Olympics, Western medicine, democracy, and, of course, Greek architecture. The ancient civilization, which encompassed the mainland, the Greek islands, and other areas along the Mediterranean (from modern-day Slovenia to western Turkey), produced precise and monumental buildings that have influenced thousands of years of architecture. These designs emphasized perfection over innovation, creating simple yet beautiful structures that are still referenced in modern designs. In this guide from AD, learn about the architectural style developed in ancient Greece, study classical orders, and discover some of the most important examples of Greek architecture, from the Acropolis of Athens to a collection of temples in Italy.
What is Greek architecture?
Generally speaking, Greek architecture refers to the ancient buildings designed and developed by the ancient Greek cities and civilizations that existed throughout the Greek mainland, Peloponnese, Aegean Islands, and Greek colonies in Anatolia and Italy. These buildings were constructed as early as 900 BCE all the way until the first century CE, though most of the earliest remaining works from the period date to around 600 BCE. “Ancient Greek architecture is a broad field of study that encompasses everything from monumental stone temples to domestic houses built of timber and mud brick,” says Jessica Paga, PhD, a professor at William & Mary College specializing in Greek archaeology and history.
History of Greek architecture
The legacy of ancient Greece is profound—it was a period of achievement for countless disciplines, including philosophy, politics, art, science, and of course architecture for thousands of years. Because of its notable length, scholars typically divide the era into multiple periods, including the Mycenaean Age (1600 to 1100 BCE), the Greek Dark Age (1200 to 800 BCE), the Greek Archaic period (800 to 479 BCE), the Greek Classical Age (500-336 BCE), and the Hellenistic period (336 to 146 BCE).
Each period brought certain changes and advancements to Greek architecture. During the Greek Dark Ages, collections of farming villages—eventually city-states—started to form, which brought forth the existence of the agora (a marketplace) and central meeting place. The archaic period encompassed some of the more significant architectural contributions, including settlements organized around Greek temples, city centers, and open-air markets. It was also during this time that the Greeks started developing columns, sloped roofs, and porticoes. The Classical Period represented the maturation of Greek design, and welcomed some of the most notable structures of the era including the Parthenon.