A temple acted as a cosmic generator. It was regarded as a dwelling designed for the gods and was also seen as a reception area for prayer, magical petition and divination. It also became a political symbol that emphasized the might and power of the state through ancient architectural achievement. The temple, now the most famous symbol of ancient Greece, was also functional – it housed important official offices and acted as a storage centre and a treasury.
Building the temple
The temple was viewed not only as an edifice of marble, wood and stone, but a magical structure that was designed on astronomical principles. With this in mind, early construction of the temple began with the foundation ceremony, creating a base that is known as a stereobate. This consisted of several layers of stone blocks, their tips protruding above ground.
The workers employed simple tools of bronze and copper. During construction they also used mallets, chisels and ropes to create a further foundation block called a crepidoma, which acted as a base for the columns and walls. The columns, which were made of several drums of fluted stone, supported the entablature, which consisted of the architrave and the frieze which lay below the cornice.
Temple construction could take over a decade, the building often covered 115m x 55m of land and boasted columns that reached 15m to 20m in height. On completion, the temple was decorated by craftsmen.
The temple was entered from a ceremonial ramp, allowing the individual to approach the portico. Once inside, you faced a narrow corridor decorated with pillars. Although the temple was annexed by official offices and storerooms, it was designed so that the individual had a sense that he or she was entering a holy space – with the narrowing of the corridor you were gradually drawn inwards as if about to experience the sacred presence of the gods. At the heart of the temple there was the cella, the home of the cult statue.