Greek Sanctuaries and Temple Architecture: An Introduction
Mary Emerson
Bloomsbury
296pp, 115 black & white illustrations
Paperback, £18.99

With its neat columns and striking pediments, the temple is an icon of Greek civilisation and one that continues to influence buildings around the world. Drawing upon an ample body of evidence, including standing remains, museum collections and ancient accounts, as well as recent scholarship, Mary Emerson guides the reader through the various features that make up these ancient architectural gems and the broader sanctuaries in which they sit. We are introduced to the graceful curve of the columns (the entasis), and other refinements employed to avoid straight lines; to the different types of marble used; and – with an all-important eye on function as well as form – to the various activities that went on in these special spaces.

Now in its second edition, this book presents some of the most important Greek sanctuaries not merely as ruins, but as they were in their heyday. A new feature is Emerson's discussion of architectural sculpture, particularly as it relates to a building as a whole and not as a separate artefact. Although these works today appear to be made of unadulterated pale stone, it is important to remember they were once painted in vivid colour, enhancing their visibility at long range. Certain trends, such as the balanced but dramatic composition of a pediment that makes political allusions and has been designed to be seen from afar, are evident in early sites, such as the archaic temple of Artemis on Corfu.

Emerson goes through some of the most well-known sanctuaries in Greece, bringing them to life through explanations of their structures. At Olympia, home to the famous games, we tour the early archaic temple of Hera (outdated even when it was built), Oinomaos' pillar, the ash altar and the Classical temple of Zeus, with a sculptural programme covering the whole sanctuary and proclaiming the importance of the site. At Delphi, the seat of the celebrated oracle, the landscape plays an important part in the special, sacred nature of the place.

The lofty, striking setting of the acropolis in the centre of Athens similarly gives added prominence to the temples there. Much attention is, of course, given to the majestic Parthenon and its surroundings and, although there are a number of similarities between Greek temples, their differences are part of what make them so interesting, as Emerson's comparison of the Parthenon and the temple of Zeus in Olympia clearly illustrates. One altogether different building on the acropolis is the enigmatic Erechtheion with its unique caryatid porch and this, too, is well described.

Further sections in this edition examine temples at Poseidonia (Paestum, Italy) and Akragas (Agrigento, Sicily), which were constructed around the same time as the Greek mainland masterpieces. They offer a chance to see what local innovations took place on distant shores, as well as touching on an aspect important to understanding the Greek world: colonisation.

This book is a substantial and effective introduction for those wishing to study Greek temples for the first time; it leaves the reader well placed to pursue more in-depth scholarship and provides a cornerstone for understanding Neoclassical and subsequent architectural styles.
Lucia Marchini

 

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