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Ancient Greek Architecture. The Golden Age of Athens.

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the golden age of athens
The Golden Age of Athens
  • At the start of the 5th century Greece was going through a period which Aristotle would later refer to as the Golden Age. What he called the “the good or flourishing of life” led to a development of a theatre, architecture, philosophical thought and politics.
  • Athenians had such advancements in so many areas of the world, and it was said to be because of their strive to seek excellence through the conscientious pursuit of the good.
  • Pericles, says that greatness of the state is a function of its individuals, and the link between individual freedom and civic responsibility. We would later recognize this as the foundation of our own political realism. Athenians displayed this in the love for beauty and the cultivation of intellect.
  • Architecture in Ancient Greece was sophisticated and highly mathematical. Athenians expressed their creativity and intellect by creating structurally perfect and beautiful buildings. These designs and influences would later be used in buildings all around the world.
  • In this presentation we will discuss the expansion in architecture throughout Greece, which still has a great impact on the designs of buildings today.

The Athenians achieved a high level of distinction because of the :

  • Clarity of designs, the balance of the structures, the beautiful proportions and simplicity.
  • These traits are imitated to the present day in architecture we find all around the world.
  • This style of architecture is known as Classical. This typically refers to anything of the highest class. For scholars it specifically refers to the art and architecture of the Greeks in the 5th century B.C.E
how the parthenon was built
How the Parthenon was built

After the Persian invasion in 480 BCE, Athenians wanted to keep the Acropolis in ruin to show the steep price of war.

However, Pericles convinced them to rebuild it. He said they would decorate it with elaborate architecture and sculpture to become a fitting memorial for not just the war but specifically to the goddess Athena and her role in protecting the Athenian people.

It took 15 years to build the Parthenon, it was completed in 432 BCE. Within the Parthenon there is a incredible monumental entry way, called Propylaia. It is monumental in its design and beauty. Two temples were also completed later, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.

Phidias was in charge of the sculptural portion of the new buildings on the Acropolis, and he may have been responsible for influencing the architectural project as well.

The Parthenon would be the centerpiece of the Acropolis, with the architects being Ictinus, Callicrates and Mnesicles.


The Propylaia was the monumental entry way leading up to the Acropolis from below. When one of the architects, Mnesicles was given the project of designing the Propylaia he decided to create five gates, which was a architectural tour of porches and colonnades of Doric columns.

  • It was designed my Mnesicles, and it was an asymmetrical and multi level structure which was very unique because of its location. The building surrounds a sacred spring, dedicated to the first Legendary King of Athens, Erectheus. It took 25 years, and it has a famous porch, facing the Parthenon with unique female figurines being used as columns.

A key area of the Parthenon was the Agora; which was an open place used as a market and place to congregate. It was the place where they practiced their politics. It was here that the the love for beauty and arts was really cultivated as well as the strive for intellectual greatness.

  • The main architectural feature of the agora was the Stoa.The stoa was a long open arcade supported by colonnades. (columns) shown here.
the hidden geometry
The hidden geometry
  • The beauty that is the Parthenon is manifested by the artists use of Golden Section.
  • Golden Section is believed by the Greeks to be the most beautiful of all proportions. It represents the ratio of approximately 8:5. Or more precisely, 1.618:1.
  • Given a line of a certain length, the whole length (a + b) is to the longer section a as 8 is to 5.
  • The Greeks quickly realized that a rectangle based on these proportions could easily be divided and subdivided into sections, or Golden Rectangles.
  • The east and west facades of the Parthenon are such rectangles. The width of the building is 1.618 times the height: a ratio of 8:5. The ground plan of the structure is also laid out in similar proportions-the mathematical regularity was a tribute to Athena, who was not only a goddess of war, but a goddess of wisdom and rationality.
doric order
Doric Order
  • While designing the Parthenon Ictinus and Callicrates intended to represent the Doric order in it’s most perfect form.
  • There are 8 columns at the ends and 17 columns on the sides. Each column swells about 1/3 of the way up which is known as Entasis. This was intended to give the columns a sense of narrowing as they rise and to give ‘liveliness’ to the stone. The columns also slant slighty inward to appear to rise straight up to the eye.
  • There are no true verticals or horizontal lines in the building, which gives the rigid geometry a sense of animation. This was very sophisticated detailing they were using to create masterpiece buildings.

Sculptures were in the three areas of the Parthenon, in pediments at each end of the building, on the metopes (square panels between the beam ends under the roof) and on the frieze which runs across the outer wall.

  • Athenians built a new theatre in the 5th century B.C.E into the hillside of the acropolis away from the Agora and below the Parthenon. Every viewer is equally well situated and the acoustics of the space are unparalleled. A spectator sitting in the very last row can hear a pin drop on the orchestra floor.
critical thinking
Critical Thinking
  • Can you give some examples of where Greek Architecture is seen today?
  • What influences in particular have become part of architecture all around the world? I.E is Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns still used ?
  • What specifically makes Greek architecture stand out from other architecture before it?