Did All Greek Temples Have Columns?

In ancient Greek religion, Greek temples were constructions designed to contain deity statues within Greek sanctuaries. Due to the fact that deities’ sacrifices and rituals took place outside of the temples, the temple interiors were not used as assembly places, but rather as sanctuaries in their own right. It was common practice to store votive offerings in temples. They are the most common and most important type of building in Greece.

The First Greek Temple

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Mud, brick, and marble were commonly used in the construction of early temples, with stone foundations. The columns and superstructure (entablature) were made of wood, as were the entrance apertures and antae. The roofs were made of wood or bronze.

There were more and more options as time went on, and they were used instead. Stone has now replaced what were once simply dressed stones holding the Athens Temple’s walls together with their own weight. Wooden flooring would have been covered in gold leaf in the cella (inner room). The first thing visitors saw upon entering the temple was this. Stone steps leading up to it were not built inside until much later.

One thing is for sure: Greek temple architecture had predecessors as early as the 11th century BC, like the temple at Tiryns. Minoan, Mycenaean, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian structures built before and around the same time as classical Greece also had plans, tiled roofs, columns, and capitals.

What materials are Greek pillars made of?

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Most columns were made of limestone or tufa, two types of local stone. In many older temples, columns were made of wood. Pentelic marble and marble from the Cycladic island of Paros were used in the construction of many temples, including the Parthenon in Athens. Near Athens, the Erechtheion is thought to be the first metal-clad temple to be constructed.

The styles of Greek columns were extremely diverse. All of them had a square shaft that had flat surfaces at each corner, on which rested a slightly convex cap that fit snugly against the wall of the cella (the temple’s inner chamber). Others were chandeliers with multiple branches dangling from the center of the column.

When it came to architectural proportions, the Greeks used their columns as a starting point. As a result, the number and size of columns in a building would indicate the importance of its roles in the community. There were 88 columns in Olympia’s Zeus Temple, whereas there were only 56 in Athens’ Parthenon.

Columns were also used for their aesthetic value in addition to their practical one. Interiors benefited from their definition, and temples benefited from their improved appearance. Heavy roof structures could be supported without taking up valuable space inside the building thanks to columns.

Structure of Greek Temples

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The Parthenon in Athens is unquestionably the best example of the magnificent Doric and Ionic temples built by the ancient Greeks. It was built in the 5th century BCE to house the enormous statue of Athena and to advertise the glory of Athens to the rest of the world. For this reason, temples in prominent locations were built with elaborate geometrical “tricks,” such as thicker lower portions of columns, thicker corner columns, and slightly slanted column apexes, to give the building the appearance of being perfectly straight and in harmony from a distance. Even today, sophisticated measuring devices are required to detect the tiniest differences in angles and dimensions, which are invisible to the naked eye. 

As a result of these architectural refinements, Greek temples were more than just functional structures; they were also important symbols in the civic landscape. Nearly all Greek temples on the mainland had a remarkably similar design, being rectangular and peripheral, with rows of columns adorning the exterior sides and façades. The magnificently eccentric Erechtheion in Athens, with its innovative Caryatid columns, and the temples of the Cyclades, while still Doric, only had columns on the front façade which was frequently wider than the length of the building, were notable exceptions. Like temples from Ionia, they had double colonnades as opposed to the usual single-colonnade design (dipteral). It is worth noting, however, that the standard Greek temple layout had an 8-by-17-foot peristyle of columns encircling an inner chamber or cella, with the whole standing on stilobate and the interior paved in rectangular slabs. For centuries, the roof was constructed of wood beams and wooden beams and rafters covered with overlapping terracotta or marble tiles. At each of the pediment’s four corners, decorative acroteria (palms or statues) would stand. 

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Finally, the doors of temples were usually made of wood (elm or cypress) and often adorned with bronze medallions and bosses to further enhance their beauty. They were almost always located directly on top of the floor and tapered upwards towards the roof in Doric temples. With dowels made from wood or bronze, they were held together by a series of drums that were fluted (i.e., cut with concave grooves that ran the length of the column). The convex-bladed adze used to trim the original logs may have inspired the flutes’ design, but this type of ornamentation has a long history in Egypt. The lower diameter of the columns or the dimensions of the foundation levels were used to determine the proportions of Greek temples. Refinements to the basic designs lightened their nearly mathematical strictness. Greek temples were painted in bright reds and blues to contrast with the white of the building stones or of stucco, despite the widespread idealized image. Reliefs and sculptures on the pediment of the more elaborate temples featured an abundance of figural decoration. In most cases, cities or the administrations of religious sanctuaries funded the construction of temples. Hellenistic rulers, in particular, could sponsor such structures with the help of individuals like themselves.

Greece’s most enduring architectural legacy comes from its many orders of columns and architectural sculptures in temples. It is perhaps ironic that the architecture of Greek religious buildings, such as courthouses and government buildings, has been so widely adopted in the modern world.