Greek Architectural Orders

Architectural order describes the style of building. In Classical architecture, each order is 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 Parthenon of Athens

The Parthenon, 447-432 BC, Athens

There are three distinct orders in Ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These three were later adopted by the Romans, who modified their capitals. The Roman adoption of the Greek orders took place in the 1st century BC. The three Ancient Greek orders have since been consistently used in neo-classical European architecture.

Sometimes the Doric order is considered the earliest order, but there is no evidence to support this. Rather, the Doric and Ionic orders seem to have appeared at around the same time, the Ionic in eastern Greece and the Doric in the west and mainland. Both the Doric and the Ionic order appear to have originated in wood. The Temple of Hera in Olympia is the oldest well-preserved temple of Doric architecture. It was built just after 600 BC. The Doric order later spread across Greece and into Sicily where it was the chief order for monumental architecture for 800 years.

Anatomy of a Column

Doric order

The Doric order originated on the mainland and western Greece. It is the simplest of the orders, characterized by short, faceted, heavy columns with plain, round capitals and no base. With a height that is only four to eight times its diameter, the columns are the most squat of all orders. The shaft of the Doric order is channeled with 20 flutes. The capital consists of a necking which is of a simple form. The echinus is convex and the abacus is square.

Above the capital is a square abacus connecting the capital to the entablature. The entablature is divided into three horizontal registers, the lower part of which is either smooth or divided by horizontal lines. The upper half is distinctive for the Doric order. The frieze of the Doric entablature is divided into triglyphs and metopes. A triglyph is a unit consisting of three vertical bands which are separated by grooves. Metopes are the plain or carved reliefs between two triglyphs.

The Greek forms of the Doric order come without an individual base. They instead are placed directly on the stylobate. Later forms, however, came with the conventional base consisting of a plinth and a torus. The Roman versions of the Doric order have smaller proportions. As a result, they appear lighter than the Greek orders.

Ionic order

The Ionic order came from eastern Greece, where its origins are entwined with the similar but little known Aeolic order. It is distinguished by slender, fluted pillars with a large base and two opposed volutes (also called scrolls) in the echinus of the capital. The echinus itself is decorated with an egg-and-dart motif. The Ionic shaft comes with four more flutes than the Doric counterpart (totalling 24). The Ionic base has two convex moldings called tori which are separated by a scotia.

The Ionic order is also marked by an entasis, a curved tapering in the column shaft. A column of the ionic order is nine times its lower diameter. The shaft itself is eight diameters high. The architrave of the entablature commonly consists of three stepped bands (fasciae). The frieze comes without the Doric triglyph and metope. The frieze sometimes comes with a continuous ornament such as carved figures instead.

Corinthian order

The Corinthian order is the most ornate of the Greek orders, characterized by a slender fluted column having an ornate capital decorated with two rows of acanthus leaves and four scrolls. It is commonly regarded as the most elegant of the three orders. The shaft of the Corinthian order has 24 flutes. The column is commonly ten diameters high.

The Roman writer Vitruvius credited the invention of the Corinthian order to Callimachus, a Greek sculptor of the 5th century BC. The oldest known building built according to this order is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, constructed from 335 to 334 BC. The Corinthian order was raised to rank by the writings of Vitruvius in the 1st century BC.


Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, Athens (335-334 BC)

Celestial and Chthonic

Rectilinear and Curvilinear architecture

Let us see the logic through which the clergy separated the rectilinear from the curvilinear shapes, to create the architectural systems we mention in the 1st part of the book “Holy Sacramental Journey to Greece” (by author G. Baltoyannis); a logic which had to do with the psychology of the individual. Even to this day we follow the same logic and express ourselves with designs and volumes in the same way. Today however it is difficult to say if our own perception of space is a spontaneous expression or if it comes from the processing of the past.
Nowadays when an artist wants to express “joy” or “sorrow”, he will use the same logic on the canvas, otherwise he will not be understood. Therefore through education we learn to distinguish the things, in order to understand the artist. Of course art nowadays is not bound by rules, based on which the art critic gave his opinion on the work of the artist and which started to be created during the Renaissance. These rules came from the interpretation of the works of art of antiquity. Therefore our opinion is very deeply rooted. Let us now observe the logic of the Ancients.
There was a clear distinction between a straight line and a curved part. When someone wants to express a powerful emotion, like passion, love or anger and has to choose between a straight line and a curved part, he will not choose the rectilinear but the curvilinear; on the contrary, if he wants to express thought, justice, conviction, he will use the rectilinear part.
The reason he would choose the curvilinear would not be because that was forced upon him, ergo it would have been a matter of habit, but because man lives and belongs to the natural environment, where everything is based on curvilinear shapes; he instinctively and spontaneously understands those, without being able to see the process within him, it is namely cthonic.

Necromanteion of Acheron is one of the first examples of Curvilinear architecture

The straight line occurred from cerebral activity, when man used tools and created structures, which are easier to solve in time. The outcome of said process is also visible outside of man, in the light of day, it is namely celestial.
Therefore, the rectilinear surface is a result of thought and is identified with reason, while the curvilinear always existed in the nature of man. The more a person evolves, the more the straight line dominates in his structures, because, it not only spares him time, it is also more economic.

Parthenon is the pinnacle of Rectilinear architecture

When then, in a given time, man, reaching some level of intellectual maturity, thinks of structurally expressing his religious needs, he chooses the curve for his passions and the straight line for his thoughts. But because man thought of his own origin, he came to the conclusion that he himself was also the creation of some rational thought, the same way he thinks and creates. Therefore he places this God, his Creator, based on the rectilinear logic, outside of man and above him, to watch and protect him. That is why the ancients sacrificed a white lamb, on a high altar, for the celestial gods.
On the contrary, as far as his passions are concerned, which make him clash with his fellow man, there is also some god responsible. And because it all starts within man, therefore the god of passion lies within man and bellow the earth, since he is not seen. They sacrificed then, to the chthonic gods, digging in the earth, the black lamb.

The STRAIGHT represents: above, thought, civilization, (and by a similar logic as the East) represents: light, truth, power.

The CURVE represents: bellow, the chthonic, the devious, the primitive, (and consequently) North which represents: darkness, lies, fear.

Acropolis of Athens

Route in Spacetime

The Acropolis of Athens is a privileged archeological site for a variety of reasons. It is Located in the middle of a plain 22 km long and 10 km wide, with an altitude of 156.20 meters. So the Acropolis is towering over the surrounding hills and becomes peripherally visible from long distances, without the head of the visitor assuming a discomforting position while observing it. This way, especially in ancient times, the space functioned symbolically and defensively for the residents of Athens. When we climb the Acropolis we observe that there is a comfortable visual image around the area in every direction with great clarity for at least 50 km. Athens emerged victorious creating two battles – symbols: the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) and the Battle of Salamis (480 BC) the first is connected with the oligarchic Athens and the second with the democratic Athens. The building complex of the Acropolis that the visitor observes nowadays, was constructed after the Persian Wars and after the victorious battles.
Then the Athenian League began to develop, under the pretext of addressing a future Persian threat, under the auspices of the Athens and consisted of more than 236 city-states (some even raise them to 400).
And its political and economic sphere of influence extended to a radius of 1,200 km.

Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens, by Leo von Klenze (1846)

All these are important in relation to the logic of the Acropolis building projects and this is because the projects we see on the Sacred Rock do not concern Athens as a city-state but Athens as a superpower, City-Patroness of the alliance.
Climbing the stairs of the Acropolis let us remember for a little while the myths about Athena the goddess who protects the city of Athens.
Crossing the threshold of the Propylaea we observe the separation of the columns in Triads. We enter a timeless space that is the Past, Present and Future.
The Propylaea, which we pause for a moment to marvel at their art, cost the Athenian State 290 talents that in todays rates would sum up to 71.3 million euro (for materials and labor).
The believer reaching at the end of the passage, admired the colossal bronze statue of Athena, perhaps a project by Phidias. At the same time he could admire the Athenian Ionic Erechtheum and the Doric Parthenon. These are two structures with a completely different aesthetic.

The Greek word propylaeon (προπύλαιον) is the union of the prefix pro- (before) plus the plural of gate, meaning literally “that which is before the gates”

On the one hand in the Erechtheion Athena Polias protector of the earth’s forces and fertility is a tender mother full of femininity, on the other hand in the Parthenon Athena Pallas, the warlike patron of the city is presented virile and terrifying. The Parthenon was built to commemorate the victory at Salamis because the sea was the advantage of Athens.
It is of course reasonable to assume that Pericles could not have decided to build the brilliant temple of the Virgin which cost 500 talents, that would be 132.000.000 euros today (as much as a modern day 44 km long national highway of European standards), without politically taking advantage of the construction in the area.
From this point, when the Attic sky is clear, we can relive the terrible battle between the Persians and Greeks.
So when the Panathenaic procession entered the Acropolis area, every Athenian entered into another dimension like when passing through an Arch of Triumph.
Here the gods were close and next to him, perhaps they even touched him (something similar happens today with the Christian procession of Tinos). So the relationship God – Man was immediate. And the pillars, the geometric shapes, the sculptures etc. were playing the role of a symbolic reminder to man (just like the hexapteryga and the icons of the Christian world today).
The believer who followed the Panathenaic procession was leaving optimistic. And as he timelessly entered the area of the Sacred Rock (Past – Present – Future), he also timelessly left (Future – Present – Past). He saw the Past before him towards Salamis, since the Propylaea have this visual direction.
In the Sacred Site (Acropolis), man participates actively, seeing visions and creating performances (like in the various sacred sites of the monotheistic cults).