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An Architecture Tour: Athens

“Architecture is divided into two great families – the trabeated and the arcuated, beamed and arched; Greek architecture is trabeated.” (“A Concise History of Western Architecture,” R. Furneaux Jordan, p. 25.)

After examining the importance of the arch in the Gothic architecture of Paris and the architecture of Rome, it’s time to look at the beamed architecture of the Greeks in the city of Athens.

The support in beamed architecture comes from columns, and in the case of the Greeks, who considered themselves descendents of Dorians (hardy, practical) and Ionians (sensuous, colorful) (Ibid, p. 30), their masterpieces of architecture, their temples to the Gods, contain both of these styles to reflect both sides of their personalities. To put it simply, Doric columns are plain and sturdy while the Ionic columns are more ornate. A third kind of column, Corinthian, is the most ornate of the styles, though not nearly used as often as the other two in ancient Greek times.

Know your Athens architecture!

The place to see examples of these styles is the symbol in everyone’s mind of Athens, The Acropolis. (Most temples in Ancient Greek times were built on an acropolis, a higher place of ground that made it easier to defend.) Atop The Acropolis are the Parthenon, the Propylaea and the Erechtheum.

Looking at the floor plan of the Parthenon, it is easy to see how important the Doric columns are to the structure. Fortunately for snapping photos today, the columns were much more sturdy than the roof they supported. (To get a sense of how it looked with a roof, here is the replica built in Nashville, TN.)

Other examples of the Doric order include the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, 43 miles south and east of Athens in a scenic hilltop location looking out over the Aegean Sea, and the Temple of Hephaestus, near the Agora of Athens.

Also atop The Acropolis is the Erechtheum that has examples of the Ionic order of columns. Looking at an image from the southwest, you can see the linked volutes of the columns. Also visible are the Caryatids, figures of women that take the place of the column.

Southeast of the Acropolis is an example of the Corinthian column in Athens, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Looking closer, you can see it has volutes like the Ionic column, but adds in the additional decorative touch of acanthus leaves.

Other cool examples of buildings from the past in Athens are the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theater of Dionysus. All of these sites were originally built over 1800 years ago and are in various stages of restoration and preservation. If you want to see the start of the long history of modern western architecture, Athens and The Acropolis are definitely the places to start.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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