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Ancient Greek Columns and Capitals


Columns and their capitals were both functional and decorative. And a quick lesson on their features makes it easy to identify the three orders of ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Complete Video Script

[104] These columns, knocked over in an earthquake, illustrate how Greek columns were made not from a single piece but from stacks of stone drums held together with a peg in the center, and capped with a capital.

[105] Once the drums were stacked, the grooves were carved — that's called "fluting." And then a layer of plaster was added to make it look like marble. Finally, the temple's decorative features were painted with bold colors.

[106] By the way, the style of temples evolved over time — and can be identified by the capitals: The "capitals," or tops of the columns, were both functional — to minimize the distance the lintel needed to span — and decorative. While just the tip of the architectural iceberg, the capitals are handy indicators, helping us identify the three main architectural "orders," or styles. The earliest style, Doric, has flat, practical plates as capitals. In the next order, Ionic, the capitals are decorated with understated scrolls. The final order, Corinthian, features leafy capitals…boldly decorative with no apologies necessary. How to remember all these? As the orders evolve, they gain syllables: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.

[107] Whatever the order, Greek temples, with their ingenious engineering and perfect proportions, are stone symbols of how the rational Greeks were conquering chaos and ushering in a Golden Age led by Athens.