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850 BC-476 AD: Classical

Beauty from Order

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The Classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome has shaped the way we build today.
The Parthenon sets on top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Parthenon sets on top of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Press photo © 2000-2006 NewOpenWorld Foundation
How Classical Architecture Began
From the rise of ancient Greece until the fall of the Roman empire, great buildings were constructed according to precise rules. The Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, who lived during first century BC, believed that builders should use mathematical principles when constructing temples. "For without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan," Vitruvius wrote in his famous treatise De Architectura, or Ten Books on Architecture (compare prices).

The Classical Orders
In his writings, Marcus Vitruvius introduced the Classical orders, which defined column styles and entablature designs used in Classical architecture. The earliest Classical orders were Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Classical Periods
700 BC-323 BC: Greek. The Doric column was first developed in Greece and it was used for great temples, including the famous Parthenon in Athens. Simple Ionic columns were used for smaller temples and building interiors.

323 BC-146 BC: Hellenistic. When Greece was at the height of its power in Europe and Asia, the empire built elaborate temples and secular buildings with Ionic and Corinthian columns. The Hellenistic period ended with conquests by the Roman Empire.

44 BC-476 AD: Roman. The Romans borrowed heavily from the earlier Greek and Hellenistic styles, but their buildings were more highly ornamented. They used Corinthian and composite style columns along with decorative brackets. The invention of concrete allowed the Romans to build arches, vaults, and domes. A famous example of Roman architecture is the Roman Colosseum. To learn more about architecture in Ancient Rome, see: Architecture of the Ancient Roman Empire. To view 3D images of Rome as it looked in 320 AD, visit romancolosseum.org or the Rome Reborn project at the University of Virginia.

From Classical to Neoclassical
More than 1,500 years after the Roman architect Vitruvius wrote his important book, the Renaissance architect Giacomo da Vignola outlined Vitruvius's ideas in a treatise titled The Five Orders of Architecture (compare prices). Published in 1563, The Five Orders of Architecture became a guide for builders throughout western Europe.

In 1570, another Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, used the new technology of movable type to publish I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura, or The Four Books of Architecture (compare prices). In this book, Palladio showed how Classical rules could be used not just for grand temples but also for private villas. Palladio's ideas spread across Europe and into the New World, giving rise to a variety of Neoclassical styles.

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