Constructing the Temple


V arious kinds of stone were used in ancient temples, but the best was white marble. However, very few temples were built of marble. Common was the use of poros stone, limestone or sandstone and other conglomerate rocks of great durability. The Greek architects had no reservation about using different materials in the same building. Coloured marbles, so popular with the Romans, were not used by the Greeks.

Other materials used in temple building were wood, clay and metals.The roofs were made of large timbers of excellent quality wood - cypress, oak, cedar and others.

Although the timbers have not survived, the ways in which they were joined together in the roofs and the huge door leaves at the entrance to the cella can be deciphered from the mortises in the marble members and from descriptions in building inscriptions. Clay, sun-dried or fired, was widely used, not only during the Archaic period but also during Classical and Hellenistic times in secondary buildings. In the temples the roof tiles were of fired clay (terracotta), except in the few cases where they were carved entirely from marble. Metals were of relatively limited application in ancient Greek architecture. The clamps and dowels that increased the resistance of the walls of ashlar masonry and were protected by cast lead casings, were of metal. Also of metal were the hinge systems of the door panels as well as their fittings. Last, various accessories of bronze, in some cases gilded, embellished the sculpted decoration of the temple.


T he early Archaic temples were of rather makeshift construction. The walls were of mud bricks and only the lower sections (socle) were built of small stones. The first columns were wooden.The roof, always gabled, was also of timber. The tiles were of fired clay (terracotta), as were the various decorative elements that completed or protected the timber or mud-brick constructions.

From 620 BC, however, the use of ashlar blocks in Greek temple architecture began. During the sixth century BC this became generalized, with the resultant abandonment of timber and mud brick as building materials, at least for the most important monuments.

It has been ascertained that the architectural features established in the wooden temples of the previous period were transferred to stone, in both orders. Morphological analysis, particularly of the Doric order, shows that the entire building was close to its timber precursors and models. Even details were reproduced in stone, such as the nails used to join the wooden members together. Thus, in Greek temples we have, as it were, a ‘petrified timber structure’. This conservatism of the Greek architects is interpreted as confidence in forms that had acquired aesthetic value after many years of development.


T he temple constuction was starting from the Quarry. The selection of different stones depended mainly on the current character of the architecture, the finance but also the distance of the site from the quarry. The size of the stones depended principally on the nature of the quarry, the methods of cutting out, transporting and hoisting the stone. Transportation of the stones was very expensive. Special care was taken so that only the absolutely necessary weight is transported. Thus each piece of marble was cut to the dimensions needed to fashion them into any particular architectural member. Additional thickness was left around the marble and remained unworked (apergon) to protect the final surface from possible damage. A strict systematic programme ensured that the half-worked architectural members reached the workshops not only in the order in which they would be needed during construction but also in accordance with the time demanded for the preparation for insertion. If sea transportation was needed, small pieces of marble were loaded on luggers. Bigger ones were hanged off of a beam, immersed in the sea water, so that reduced weight due to upthrust would make transportation easier.


T he stones were transported and positioned by one or a combination of the following means; cranes, sledges wooden rollers, levers of wood or steel.
Stones were fastened for hoisting in several ways:
- with plain ropes carefully placed to protect the edges (1,4).
- with ropes which had been attached to special horizontal grooves (3,11,12) or grooves on two non visible sides (6,9) or even three sides (7).
- with ropes and hooks fastened to lifting bosses (small projections of excess marble to be removed after hoisting) (1,2).
- with steel chains and hooks fastened in special holes in the stone (6,7,9)
- with lewis and wooden anchors fixed in large vertical holes in the stone (8).


D uring construction of walls or of any structure consisting of horizontal courses of stones (e.g., foundation, frieze, cornice, etc.) each level was usually finished before the stones of the next were set in place. Thus it was possible to hoist the stones at one or two places along the wall, and then to place them on rollers and to transport them horizontally to their final positions; the stonemasons then with the use of levers positioned the stones. The stones were laid starting from the two ends of the level, gradually nearing each other until the final stone (kataphrage) was put in place, usually from above, with the use of levers. Certain architectural members such as column drums, capitals, and the sculptures on the pediments were naturally put in place directly with a crane or some other hoisting system.


T he construction of ancient temples consisted in their being assembled from the largest possible hewn blocks. These stones, the architectural members have a "simple geometric form and are joined together "dry" that is without the use of mortar. The architectural members of the ancient temples were joined together due to the combination of the perfect contact of the stones "dry", with the forces of friction which were very strong due to the great weight of the structural elements. The careful arrangement so that vertical joints of successive courses do not coincide, that is the interweaving of the blocks together with the forces of friction kept the construction coherent.


T he resistance of the structure during an earthquake was secured not only through the interweaving of the blocks but also with the fastenings, usually made of iron. For the horizontal connections different shapes of clamps were used, but most often those shaped like a double "T" and for the vertical joints small rectangular dowels called "gomphoi".


T he cuts to receive the clamps were made in the shape of the clamps but perceptibly larger so that molten lead could be poured around the connectors. The lead made for a more complete bond between the clamp and the stone, and because of its softness, absorbed part of the vibrations and energy of an earthquake, and at the same time protected the iron from the environment and oxydation.


T he columns of the temples consisted of several column drums of varied height. The drums were unconnected, and the stability of the column was ensured by their weight contact alone. The square holes we see in the centers of column drums would have received rectangular pieces of wood, not metal, called "empolia". In the empolia stood a round pin of harder wood, the "polos", which would have aided the centering of the drums, and possibly even their slight rotation for better contact. The lowest column drum simply stood on the stylobate without polos and empolion. Many archaic and smaller buildings, such as the Temple of Apollo in Corinth and of Athena Nike on the Athenian Acropolis had monolithic columns.