In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Architecture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Greek Architecture
  • Early Greek Architecture
  • Origins of Classical Architecture
  • Rediscovery of Greek Architecture
  • Greek Architecture of the Black Sea

Classics Greek Architecture
Nancy Klein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0226


Greece occupies an important place in the history of architecture: as the birthplace of the classical orders in the ancient world and as a source of inspiration for the revival of classical forms in the 18th and 19th centuries. Our knowledge of Greek architecture comes from a variety of sources, both ancient and modern. Vitruvius, a Roman architect and author, was an avid student of Greek architecture. He read treatises written by the Greek architects and provided anecdotes about the achievements of many others. His explanation of the origins of classical architecture is the only surviving account from Antiquity and has enjoyed a unique status since the Renaissance. In recent centuries, however, the rediscovery of ancient monuments by travelers, architects, and archaeologists has provided a closer look at the original buildings and allowed modern scholars to form their own conclusions. Greek architecture can be defined by its form, material, and structure. Monumental stone architecture can be traced back to the 7th century BC, although the religious, social, and artistic practices that led to its development go back to the Early Iron Age. Masonry techniques can be documented in the 7th-century Corinthia, but the Ionian Greeks may also have learned from the Egyptians, whose mastery of stone construction goes back to the 3rd millennium BC. The familiar forms of classical architecture, especially the columns and entablature, may also owe a debt to Egyptian precursors; however, their appearance and use clearly reflect an equally important creative process in Greece. Early Greek temples dating from the 7th and 6th centuries show a gradual development of forms, beginning with stone foundations, walls, and columns. The gradual appearance of distinctively Greek elements, such as the Doric triglyph metope frieze or Ionic dentils, suggests that experimentation and innovation in architectural forms continued throughout the 6th century. Even when architects had developed a complete vocabulary and syntax of Ionic and Doric design, they continued to explore their potential for use in a variety of buildings. The most recognizable type of building, the Greek temple, is a complex expression of religious devotion, communal identity, and competition but one that also contained within it philosophical and aesthetic concepts. In addition to structures that served in Greek sanctuaries, such as temples and treasuries, other buildings were created to serve civic and social needs.

General Overviews of Greek Architecture

The general overviews of Greek architecture fall into three categories, older handbooks, recent books on temples and sanctuaries, and more scholarly works. Dinsmoor 1950 was originally conceived as a revision of The Architecture of Greece and Rome (1902) by William J. Anderson and R. Phene Spiers, which was a textbook based on Anderson’s lectures at the University of Glasgow. Both Dinsmoor 1950 and Lawrence 1996 (first edition 1957) follow Anderson and Spiers’s chronological organization and evolutionary approach. Berve, et al. 1963 presents essays on the nature of Greek architecture and sanctuaries; it was also one of the first books to provide extensive photographic illustrations to accompany the scholarly but readable text. Although out of date in many respects, the aforementioned books are still valuable for their observations, descriptions, and illustrations. Pedley 2005 and Spawforth 2006 provide excellent introductions to Greek architecture that are aimed at students; however, like Emerson 2007, these are appropriate for a general audience as well. Two more recent handbooks, Gruben 2001 and Lippolis, et al. 2007, are organized by geographical region and summarize early-21st-century knowledge about individual buildings, sanctuaries, and cities and will be of use to advanced students and scholars.

  • Berve, Helmut, Gottfried Gruben, and Max Hirmer. 1963. Greek temples, theaters, and shrines. 2 vols. London: Thames and Hudson.

    History of Greek sanctuaries written by Berve, descriptions of the most important examples of Greek architecture by Gruben, and high-quality color and black-and-white photography by Max Hirmer. Descriptions and bibliography are out of date, but the illustrations are still useful.

  • Dinsmoor, William Bell. 1950. The architecture of ancient Greece. 3d ed. New York: Norton.

    Chronological survey from Late Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period and organized to follow evolutionary development of architectural forms; this is one of the most widely read handbooks on Greek architecture in the last half-century. The book’s methodology, Athenocentric perspective, and bibliography are out of date, but Dinmoor’s observations and measurements are still useful.

  • Emerson, Mary. 2007. Greek Sanctuaries: An Introduction. London: Bristol Classical.

    This basic introduction intended for high school or undergraduate students includes identification of Greek architectural elements and description of panhellenic sanctuaries and the Acropolis of Athens.

  • Gruben, Gottfried. 2001. Griechische Tempel und Heiligtümern. Rev. ed. Munich: Hirmer.

    Latest edition of this authoritative handbook of Greek architecture. Features entries on archaeological sites in Greece, southern Italy, Sicily, Ionia, and the Cyclades, as well as Hellenistic centers of Kos, Rhodes, and Pergamon. Includes description of architectural remains and plans, elevations, and black-and-white photos of buildings.

  • Lawrence, Arnold W. 1996. Greek architecture. 5th ed. Revised by R. A. Tomlinson. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    In its first edition (1957), this was among the first textbooks to provide equal consideration of both prehistoric architecture as well as later historical periods in a chronological survey of Greek architecture. Still useful for description and illustrations, but the bibliography is out of date.

  • Lippolis, Enzo, Monica Livadiotti, and Giorgio Rocco. 2007. Architettura greca: Storia e monumenti del mondo della polis dalle origini al V secolo. Milan: Mondadori.

    Most recent and comprehensive handbook of Greek architecture. Chapters are arranged chronologically, and there is a brief discussion of prehistoric architecture followed by more thorough thematic discussion of architectural development from 10th to 5th centuries BC. Extensive site catalogue arranged by region presents summary of topography, architecture, and bibliographic references.

  • Pedley, John Griffiths. 2005. Sanctuaries and the sacred in the ancient Greek world. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Introduction to the origin, development, and function of sanctuaries in the ancient Greek world. Examines the role of architecture, ritual activities, and experiences at selected sanctuaries in Greece (Olympia, Delphi, Athens, and Samos) and southern Italy (Poseidonia). Useful for undergraduate students.

  • Spawforth, Tony. 2006. The complete Greek temples. London: Thames and Hudson.

    Engaging and generously illustrated introduction to the Greek temple with thematic exploration of its origins, construction, and function in ancient society. Catalogue of sites in Greece, Italy and Sicily, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Black Sea—with practical information for visitors. Intended for popular audiences and undergraduate students.

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