The Development of Ancient Greek Temples

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A temple is defined as an edifice or place dedicated to the service or worship of a deity or deities. Temples in Ancient Greece date back to as far as the late 9th century B.C. Each temple serves to worship a god or goddess, but the architectural structure of these temples has changed over time. This is because of changing religious practices in Greece as well as functions of individual temples. “Within a few centuries, the Greeks developed the temple from the small mud-brick structures of the 9th century BC and the 8th century BC into the monumental double porticos of the 6th century, often reaching more than 20 m in height.” Ancient Greek temples have developed and changed over time because of where, when, and why they were created.

The palace-based civilization of the Mycenaean Greeks collapsed around 1200 B.C., which in turn led to about 400 years of poverty. During this time, sometimes call the Dark Age, few traces of art were found. Not until the late 9th or early 8th century did Greece become more prosperous again. With this prosperity brought about the construction of religious temples. These communal temples differed from the Mycenaean palaces, most likely because of influence from the Near East (Spawforth). As Greece grew in prosperity, temples became bigger and more elaborate. The Ancient Greeks considered everything to be full of gods, and wherever they sensed an active deity, they dedicated the site to him and his adoration (Berve). However, they were dedicated mainly to the Olympic gods. Greek temples were essentially simple buildings comprised of a central structure surrounded by a colonnade. The plan of the interior changes, but the typical plan consists of a pronaos, cella, and opisthodomos. The plan at right is a common plan of a Greek temple. They were houses for the gods rather than places for congregational worship. The actual practice of religion was focused on the altar, which was usually separate from the temple. The art and architecture of Ancient Greece can be categorized into several time periods based on style and other visual characteristics. The Archaic time period can be broken down into Early Archaic (c. 600 - 570 B.C.), Middle Archaic (c. 570 - 530 B.C.), and Late Archaic (c. 530 - 480 B.C. Following the Archaic time period is the Classical era, which is broken down into Early Classical (c. 480 – 450 B.C.), High Classical (c. 450 – 400 B.C.), and Late Classical (c. 400 – 323 B.C.). By identifying and analyzing temples from each of the time periods, the chronological development of the Greek temples is apparent. Temples that were created earlier are simpler than later temples and have less architectural sculpture and decoration. Before the colonnaded stone temples were the simpler naoi of the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. These were created out of local materials such as perishable wood and mud-bricks. Although art historians are not sure whether they are temples or houses, their plans resemble a simplified form of the later common megaron plan. A terracotta temple model from Perachora shows the building with a pronaos, or front porch, with two columns on the front. There is an interior cella, and the back end is curved in apse form. Another terracotta temple model which probably dates to about 50 years later very closely resembles the model from Perachora. However, this model has a straight back, and the surface of the model is painted. The differences between the two models exemplify the progression of architectural form in early Greek temples. Temple models such as these also give us a clue to the early architecture of temples in Greece. The Temple of Apollo at Dreros (Crete) is an actual temple rather than a model, but still dates to the second half of the 8th century B.C. Similar to the temple models, in the plan of this temple is a porch with a main cella behind it. There is a hearth in the middle of the cella for sacrifices and offerings to gods. This...
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