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Architecture of Greece

Greek Architecture - Knossos
Knossos

Greek architecture is one of the most influential and oldest architectural styles still standing in the world today. However the Greeks built structures prior to the famed Acropolis and these early styles helped influence the growth of later Classical architecture.

The first significant structures of ancient Greece were built by the Minoans on the island of Crete. The most impressive and still standing of these structures was the palace at Knossos (1800-1500 BC). This structure is both architecturally and artistically unique as the mosaics and paintings are as well-known as the buildings itself.

The next significant movement was done by the Mycenae, although little remains of their architecture today, much of it was famed and immortalized by Homer through his writings. Most of these remaining structures are fortifications, such as the walls and nearly all the remains can be found in the cities of Mycenae or Tiryns (1400-1100 BC).

Over the next thousand years architecture was continuously build, but few great monuments remain today from these early years. Olympia (900s BC) contains some ruins including the ancient Olympic venues, but no full structures. Then, in the 800s and 700s BC these styles from the Hellenistic islands to the mainland and surrounding areas began to merge into a single style (Archaic) and the birth of what is now known as Classical Greek architecture.

Greek Architecture - Parthenon in the Acropolis
Parthenon in the Acropolis

Through the 600s BC Doric and Ionic styles were fully defined. The Doric order came first, followed by the Ionic, although both were similar and developed at nearly the same time, although in different regions. These two styles remained for centuries and directly led to the High Classical Period from about 450-400 BC.

The crowning achievement during the High Classical period is Athens's Acropolis, which includes the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, and more. More than the structures, this established both religious and civic architecture as a mainstay in Greece and nearly all stone buildings from this time and centuries later were either civic or religious in nature. Other examples of High Classical architecture in Greece include numerous structures in the ancient city of Delphi, and the Temple of Apollo Epicurius in the ancient city of Bassae.

Greek Classical architecture continued to dominate the international stage through the 300s BC, during which time many more structures were built that remain in good condition today (both inside and outside of modern-day Greece). The ancient city of Epidaurus (300s BC) contains some of the best architecture from this time period, including the incredible theater along with the Temple of Asklepios. However, after this point, the Romans began to dominate the Mediterranean Sea region and Greece fell into decline for a number of years, leaving few architectural monuments.

Of the few monuments remaining from this time period in Greece today, the city of Thessalonica provides some examples of ancient Greek buildings, along with some of Greece's earliest churches from the 300s and later.

Greek Architecture - Meteora Monastery
Meteora Monastery

The revival of Greek architecture emerged in the 900s with Byzantium architecture, again most of which were religious monuments, but now generally Christian churches as opposed to earlier temples. The Monastery of Saint John (1000s) on the island of Patmos, Hosios Loukas (900s), and many of the monasteries on Mount Athos (from this same time period) are among the finest examples of Byzantium architecture anywhere in the world.

Greek Architecture - Church on Santorini
Church on Santorini

Through the 1200s to the 1500s Greece maintained an architectural style different from much of Europe. The Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles didn't greatly influence Greece (although the Renaissance style, in many ways evolved out of the Byzantium style with the fall of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and the movement of scholars from there to Rome). The style in Greece during this time is best represented by the cities of Mystras and Rhodes along with the monastic complex of Mereora. These two cities were also home to many Venetians and Turks, both of whom influenced the architecture further and helped establish Greek architecture today.

Since the fall of the Byzantium Empire the Greeks were controlled by the Ottoman Turks for a long time, adding buildings in this style, but never truly altering the landscape in terms of architecture. Since this time, Greek architecture has made few original advances. In the 1900s and today modern movements have been embraced, which resulted in dotting nearly every major city, including Athens with modern buildings, some original, while many others just built for functional use.

This page was last updated: March, 2013