Like all ancient people, the Greek thought of temples as houses for the gods. While in Greece the temple plan was derived from the megaron found in Mycenaean palaces, Roman temples were derived from Greek and Etruscan precedents. The Greek temples were decorated with an exterior colonnade, and the statue of the god was housed in the main room (the naos) facing the east where an outdoor altar for sacrifices was placed. The Roman temples borrowed the podium (base) and the frontality of the temple from Etruscan temples. From Greece came the columns, the cella (central room), the porch (pronaos), the Orders, and the pediment.
The best examples of Greek temples can be found on Acropolis (from the Greek words akros, meaning “high” or “upper,” and polis, meaning “city”) which is an “elevated rock supporting several temples, precincts, and other buildings” (). Perikles, a Greek general and statesman (c. 500 – 429 BC), initiated the architectural projects for the Acropolis. This included the Parthenon (448– 432 BC), the Nike Temple (427– 424 BC.), the Erechtheum (421– 405 BC), and the Propylaea (entranceway). That is why, the Classical period in Athens is also known as the Age of Perikles.
The Parthenon is constructed as a rectangle, which is divided into two smaller rectangular rooms. The structure was completed by a front and back porch and a peristyle, supported by the three steps of the Doric Order. The temple was made entirely of marble blocks cut and fitted without the use of mortar. The peristyle, aka colonnade, consists of eight columns on east and west sides and seventeen columns on north and south sides, counting corner columns twice. The inside wall of the Parthenon is supported by two steps and consists of six columns on a front and back porch.
The western entrance leads to the smaller room, which served as a treasury. The eastern entrance leads to the inner sanctuary. Originally, a monumental chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena was housing there which was surrounded by an inner rectangle of Doric columns on three sides. Even though the Parthenon was constructed in the Doric Order, it had two features that were Ionic: first, there were four Ionic columns inside the treasury; and second, a continuous Ionic frieze ran around the top of the outside of the inside wall. The presence of Ionic elements in the Parthenon stated that the Athenians wanted to harmonize the architectural and sculptural achievements of eastern and western Greece.
The small marble Ionic temple of Athena Nike was dedicated to Athena as the goddess of victory. It is situated on the southern side of the Acropolis. The temple was designed before the Parthenon, but constructed later. It has a square naos and a front porch, with four Ionic columns and four steps at the front and back. Once, the gold statue of Athena dominated the temple, but it disappeared. The best surviving sculpture from the Nike Temple is the relief titled Nike Adjusting Her Sandle.
The Erechtheum is on the northern side of the Acropolis, opposite the Parthenon. It replaced an old temple to Athena with an Archaic wooden statue of the goddess. It is a more complex Ionic building than the Nike temple and built on an uneven site. Athena Polias as patron of the city was honored in the eastern room. The small southern porch, aka the Porch of the Maidens, on the south side facing the Parthenon, is even more famous. It consists of six caryatids that support simple Doric capitals and an Ionic entablature. Each caryatid stands in a relax contrapposto pose. The perfect image is maintained by right and left set of three being a mirror image of each other. A smooth visual transition between front and side is created by the two corner caryatids since no matter from which side you are looking, they are perceived as being aligned with the front or side figures.
The Temple of Apollo was rebuilt in c. 530 BC on the site of an earlier temple at the Sanctuary at Delphi. The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina is a Doric temple part of a sanctuary dedicated to a local goddess named Aphaia that was built on the island of Aegina at the turn of the 5th century BC. Last but not least, the Corinthian Temple of the Olympian Zeus, located in the lower city of Athens at the foot of the Acropolis, was designed by the Roman architect Cossutius in the second century BC on the foundations of an earlier Doric temple, but it was not completed until three centuries later, under the patronage of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The temples great Corinthian columns, 55 feet 5 inches tall, may be the second-century BCE Greek originals or Roman replicas. Viewed through these columns, the Parthenon seems modest in comparison. But for all its height and luxurious decoration, the new temple followed long-established conventions. It was an enclosed rectangular building surrounded by a screen of columns standing on a three-stepped base. Its proportions and details followed traditional standards. It is, quite simply, a Greek temple grown very large.
The Temple of Portunus shows Greek influence in the entablature, which is supported on all four sides by slender Ionic columns. The corner columns, as in the Parthenon, serve both the long and the short sides. Etruscan influence is in the deeper porch, raised podium, and steps. One aspect in which the Roman temple differs from the Greek is in the relation of the columns to the wall. The Greek temples are peripteral whereas the Roman temples are pseudo-peripteral. In the Temple of Portunus, the columns are only freestanding on the porch, the rest are walls made of rubble-faced concrete as a supporting element and the engaged columns as a decorative element.
It consists of two main parts: a traditional rectangular portico, supported by massive granite Corinthian columns, and a huge concrete rotunda (round structure), faced on the exterior with brick. To the visitor approaching the building, the Pantheon resembled a Greek temple, whereas the enormous round interior space was a Roman conception.
The entire Pantheon stands on a podium with steps leading to the portico entrance. The building was originally approached through a colonnaded forecourt, which has since been destroyed. Once inside the rotunda, the visitor is confronted by a vast domed space illuminated only by the open oculus in the center of the dome. The marble floor consists of patterns of circles and squares, and the walls contain niches (each one for a different deity) with Corinthian columns supporting alternating triangular and rounded pediments (Adams, 2011). Between each niche is a recess with two huge columns flanked by two corner pilasters. The dome has five coffered bands (rows of recessed rectangles in the ceiling). These reduce the weight of the structure and also create an optical illusion of greater height. The coffers were originally painted blue, and each had a gold rosette in the middle, enhancing the dome’s role as a symbol of the sky, or the dome of heaven.
The design of the theater at Epidauros is famous for its acoustics. It had a slightly more than semicircular seating area, with radiating stairways and a walkway a little more than halfway up. The auditorium, a place where the action of the play unfolded, was built around the orchestra, a place for dancing. This theater was approximately 80 feet (24.5 m) in diameter and had an altar dedicated to Dionysos. The antecedent of the Greek outdoor theater, the Colosseum, (begun in 72 AD under Vespasian and completed in 80 AD by his son Titus) was primarily for public spectacles and is actually a massive amphitheater. The exterior consists of arcades with three stories of round arches framed by entablatures and engaged columns. The ground-floor columns are Tuscan; the second-floor columns are Ionic; and those on the third floor are Corinthian. On the fourth floor are small windows and engaged rectangular Corinthian pilasters. The Colosseum was built around a concrete core, with an extensive system of halls and stairways for easy access. The upper wall was fitted with holes for poles which were inserted as supports for canvas coverings to protect spectators from the hot sun and rain. Since it was located over a pond, a built-in drainage system as well as passages for animals were constructed. The Colosseum was built for gladiatorial contests and combats between men and animals, or between animals alone.
The Athenian Agora, at the foot of the Acropolis, began as a marketplace. But, by 400 BCE, the Agora contained several religious and administrative structures and even a small racetrack as well as the stoa, a distinctively Greek structure found nearly everywhere people gathered, which ranged from a simple roof held up by columns to a building with two stories and shops along one side. In Rome, this role was taken by the forum, a square or rectangular open space bounded on three sides by colonnades and on the fourth by a basilica. In Rome, the first known forum is the Forum Romanum (6th century BC). In the 1st century the Forum Julium, which was planned by Julius Caesar and completed by Augustus, became the prototype for all later imperial forums. As a commercial center, the forum was a regular feature of most Roman towns. Gradually, a focal point of the forum changed from a commercial center to a place for civic and social activity.
A basilica was used for commercial transactions and also served as a municipal hall and law court. Typically, basilicas were divided into three aisles – a large central and smaller ones on either side – that were separated from one another by one or two rows of columns. However, the extra height of the center aisle, or nave, allowed the construction of a second-story wall above the colonnades which separated the central aisle from the two other aisles. An example of such forums is Trajan’s Forum with the Basilica Ulpia, which is rectangular in plan with a curved section at each end (an apse) with statues of gods or emperors, or most commonly a throne and a statue of the emperor. At the southeast end of the basilica were Trajan’s markets. The original number of rooms is known, but probably it contained around 200. The rooms were places for offices and more than 150 shops linked by a complex system of stairways and arcades.
An example of Roman practicality and engineering ability was the development of the bridge and aqueduct. The most impressive example is the Pont du Gard (late 1st century) which is in modern Nimes in the south of France. It was built in three tiers, each with narrow barrel vaults. Those on the first two tiers are the same size, while the third-story vaults, which carried the channel containing the water, are smaller. Another innovation of the Romans is commemorate architecture, the best examples of which are the altar Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace), that celebrates the peace with the Gauls and return of Augustus to Rome, Trajan’s Column, a ribbonlike documentary narrative frieze of Trajan’s victories over the Dacians, and the triumph archs, such as the Arch of Titus and the Constantine’s Arch, which is the largest triumphal arch in Rome. The latter is an elaborate arch with three openings and decorated both with original reliefs and with spolia, which are reliefs removed from earlier monuments in honor of other emperors (Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius).
An upper-class Roman house even had running water and sewage pipes. However, middle and lower classes, especially in cities, lived in concrete apartment blocks or tenements, called insulae. These building could have up to five stories. On the ground floor, shops and other commercial premises were opened. A typical town was divided into quarters by two streets intersecting in the middle at right angles. Additionally, to escape from the hectic life of the city, the Romans invented the country villas which varied according to the tastes and means of their owners. A good example can be Hadrian’s Villa which was built from 118 to 138 AD near Tivoli, 15 miles (24 km) outside modern Rome, and consisted of so many buildings, such as libraries, baths, courtyards, temples, plazas, and a theater, and occupied more than half a square mile (1.3 km2).
Adams, L. S. (2011). A History of Western Art (5th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.Stokstad, M., and Cothren, M. W. (2011). Art History (Vol. 2, 4th ed). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.