A day in the life of an ancient Greek architect - Mark Robinson
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The most famous ancient Greek city is Athens, and central to Athens is the ‘Acropolis’, a rocky outcrop which means ‘high city’. All of Athens’ religious buildings sited on the Acropolis had been destroyed by an invading Persian army in 480 BCE. The Athenians had then decided to leave these places empty as a memorial to their eventual victory over the Persians. But Pericles, leader of Athens between approximately 461 and 429 BCE, decided that Athens needed an image that befitted its status as the leader of an empire, and so he persuaded the Athenians to transform the site. The Acropolis buildings were completed in just over 40 years between 447 BCE and 406 BCE, using money that the Athenians had taken from their empire. The main temple, the Parthenon, was immediately praised for its harmony and perfection. It is still one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in the world. You can find out more about it here and details about some of its architectural mysteries here.
The Parthenon is a Doric temple with Ionic features, and this mix of styles can be seen throughout Greek architecture. For a really straightforward introduction, read here and here.
The Parthenon was only one of the collection of buildings that made up the sanctuary of the Acropolis. The temples built here by the Athenians are famous both for their beauty and their ingenuity. You should investigate the Propylaea gateway (which guarded the entrance to the Acropolis), the small temple of Athena Nike, and the Athenians’ most sacred building, the Erechtheion. To give you an idea of why the Acropolis is such a valued site, you can read the UNESCO listing for its World Heritage status and then explore its treasures.
Temples and sanctuaries were found all over the Greek world, and you can compare the work of Pheidias and his colleagues in Athens to other famous sites. Central to ancient Greek religion were panHellenic sanctuaries such as Delphi, where there was a famous oracle that was consulted about important decisions and Olympia, where the Olympic games began.
The best preserved Greek temples, however, are actually in Italy, at Paestum and on Sicily. Though it may seem surprising to find Greek temples in Italy, the Greeks had many colonies and Italy was known as ‘Magna Graecia’ (greater Greece) in ancient times. The reason why these temples are so well preserved is because earthquakes have affected the Greek mainland much more than Italy over the centuries since the Greeks first built temples.
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