Greek architecture

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The Acropolis in Athens

Greek architecture of antiquity is in its early days, the architecture of the ancient Greek settlement area in Greece , on the Aegean islands , the Greek populated part of Asia Minor and southern Italy and Sicily . From the Hellenistic period at the latest , it is the architecture of the Greek-influenced cultural area from Nubia to the Crimea , from the Punjab to Sicily . The Greek element, which began in the early 9th century BC. Until the principate of Augustus is effective, but then loses influence, establishes the necessary connection.

The Dionysus Theater in Athens

Greek architecture reflects the historical processes of ancient Greece . Because of the community form typical of ancient Greece, the polis , it is - where it was built on behalf of the public - primarily an urban architecture - that is, an expression of a theoretically and factually limited political community. In this context, it is hardly surprising that the first buildings or large structures represented temples or temple complexes, since religion granted the unity of the community, the polis, and the connecting element beyond the polis to other poleis and thus to a unity of all Greeks.

The construction tasks were not limited to the construction of the temple , even if its evidence is now regarded as representative of Greek architecture. In addition, Greek architecture was private architecture, it was architecture of associations and cooperatives. There was a multitude of different building types and construction tasks: theaters , bouleuters , ecclesiasteries and buildings for synhedrals , memorial and small architecture, mausoleums and grave architecture, stoops and peristyle , palaces and grammar schools , wells, fortification buildings and city walls, defensive and watchtowers, but also lighthouses , Docks , ship halls and warehouse buildings , libraries, treasure houses , guest and club houses, gate buildings and propyla , residential buildings, wooden and other ephemeral, so-called ephemeral architectures.

Doric temple in Agrigento

All of this made up Greek architecture in the course of its development. Greek architecture was conservative here. Developed and well thought-out functional and closed aesthetic forms were retained, innovations were only slowly taking hold. Attention was paid to the individual link and its position in the overall context. Each individual structural element could stand for itself and be placed in a new context from its building context. A striking example of this is the Greek column , which was not only used in a wide variety of building types, but could also be formed freely and as an individual piece. In addition, the structural members were not only effective as symbols, they were also functional: The column is not only symbolic for "carrying", but it actually carries something; the entablature not only acts as a "burden", it usually weighed tons. The essence of Greek tectonics as the basis of Greek architecture is to bring the links together in their function and to make each individual recognizable as a functional element .


Architectural styles

Doric, Ionic and Corinthian column order

The architecture of the Greeks was based on certain rules, which were increasingly condensed into special rules without ever being set down in writing. The basis for this was the landscape styles that were initially linked to the Greek tribes and the areas populated by them, which developed in the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. With the Doric and Ionic order . The Doric order was mainly widespread on the Greek mainland and in Greater Greece , but was also found in the rest of the Doric settlement area, especially Rhodes . The designation Doric order goes back to the Dorians , one of the Greek tribes, in whose settlement area - large parts of the Peloponnese , Rhodes, Crete and parts of Asia Minor - the architectural style was mainly developed. In contrast, the Ionic order was particularly widespread in Ionia in Asia Minor , on the Ionian islands of the Aegean Sea and in Attica . The term Ionian order is derived from the Ionians , the older Greek tribe expelled from the original settlement area by the Dorians. In the course of development, this strict landscape connection was lost and both column orders were used throughout the whole of Greek architecture and culture.

The Corinthian order is the youngest of the three architectural styles of Greek architecture. Its development began in historical times towards the end of the 5th century BC. With the "invention" of the Corinthian capital. Its canonical apparatus of forms, which turned the originally pure column order into a self-contained building code, was not binding until the middle of the 1st century BC. BC before.

The Doric order

During the 6th century BC In BC the formal apparatus of the Doric order was developed to its completion. This was characterized by strict, clearly structured structural elements and shapes.

The initially unspecified number of fluting on a column , which could vary between 16 and 20, was limited to twenty. The swelling of the column shaft, the entasis , originally the dominant optical effect of Doric columns, completely disappeared in the course of development. The capital consists of the lower part, the Echinus , which in earlier times protruded into a bulge, from the 4th century BC onwards. Chr. Is increasingly shaped as a truncated cone, and the square cover plate, the abacus .

The entablature is essentially divided into two parts: the architrave made of smooth stone beams with a taenia and a frieze . This Doric frieze, also known as the triglyph frieze or triglyphone, consists of a regular sequence of triglyphs and metopes , which could either have been smooth and painted or served as a carrier for relief decoration. The arrangement of the triglyph frieze usually relates to the distance between the columns, so that a triglyph was arranged above each column and above each intercolumn , the clear distance between two columns.

The triglyphic frieze is followed by the roof, which with its horizontally running geison protrudes far beyond the structural members below. On the underside of the geison hang the mutuli, flat plates, each with three by six guttae. Here, too, the structure of the Doric order dominates: each triglyph and each metope is assigned a mutulus. The upwardly adjoining Sima , the eaves strip of the Greek roof, is arched outwards and sits on the geison of the long sides as well as on the sloping geisa of the gable sides. It can be decorated with tendril friezes, anthems or geometric ornaments .

Overall, the development pursued a stretching of the proportions. The once squat columns under mighty beams gave way to more and more slender, rising designs. The flattened, bulging capitals stretched. The ratio of the height of the column to the diameter of the column shifted just as drastically as the height of the column to the entablature.

The ionic order

The Ionic order never achieved the strict rigor of the generally applicable rules of its design, such as the Doric order. Their initial conditions in the fragmented settlement area were too different. Only in the 4th century BC A kind of Ionic canon was formed, operated primarily by architects from Asia Minor who deliberately dealt with the Doric order and delimitation.

The column does not rise directly on the stylobate as in the Doric order , but has a base . The ionic base usually consists of a square base plate, the plinth , and a sequence of bulges, called torus, and fillets, trochili . Compared to Doric columns, Ionic columns are much slimmer and taper only slightly. A narrow web remains between the grooves of the fluting. The number of fluting is usually between 20 and 24, with 24 fluting being the classic number. But it can be significantly higher. The capital has a poorly formed echinus, usually decorated with an egg stick, with a cushion with concave volutes rolled up to form snails . A flat abacus closes the capital.

The architrave is smooth or divided into up to three slightly protruding steps, called fascia. Above it either a simple cornice with a tooth cut follows as a variant from Asia Minor Ionic or an Attic-Ionic frieze, which can be smooth or sculpted. A simply curved geison completes the entablature. The eaves gutter, Sima , of the Ionic order could be lavishly decorated and carry figurative friezes as well as tendril friezes or anthems.

The Ionic order is much more decorative than the Doric. Intermediate wave profiles were used everywhere between the structural members, which were mostly decorated with pearl rods , egg rods , lesbian kyma or other ornamental shapes.

The Corinthian order

The ionic fluted column shaft with 24 flutes rises on a composite or Attic base with plinth. The shaft bears the Corinthian capital. The capital body, called Kalathos , is surrounded by two staggered wreaths of different heights, each made of eight stylized acanthus leaves . So-called caules develop from the corner leaves, each of which releases two plant stems of different strengths. The stronger stem, called the volute, grows towards the corner of the capitals , while the smaller stem, called the helix , turns towards the center of the respective face of the capital body. The volutes support the abacus, as it were, the side surfaces of which are concave. A rosette or abacus flower adorns the center of each of the four abacus sides.

A peculiarity of the Corinthian column in Greek architecture was that it could be combined with both an Ionic and a Doric entablature, depending on the landscape. Even for Vitruvius (IV, 1,1-3), the Corinthian order was still a pure column order, which could be combined with an Ionic or Doric entablature as desired.

Components and designs

Greek architecture, especially the representative form, was primarily articulated, that is, architecture composed of a more or less fixed repertoire of links. It always consists of a substructure, a support or wall system and an entablature. The foremost topic was the interplay of bearing and load; at the same time, each building element was valued so much that it could be isolated and moved out of its original context. The Doric triglyph frieze could be placed on a wall or in a facade architecture as a pure decorative form. Numerous columns stood as individual monuments and donors in the Greek sanctuaries.

Where support and loads by means of columns or pillars and exposed beams were not necessary, for example in buildings with closed walls, it could still be cited as a topic. Half-columns and pilasters can already be found in the 5th / 4th Century BC Their way into Greek architecture. Initially limited to interiors such as the temples of Bassai or Tegea , they then subdivide entire blend architectures such as the Bouleuterion of Miletus or the Gymnasion of Samothrace as well as numerous gate and grave structures. Pillars themselves can be combined with half-columns, the resulting half-columns and double-half-columns are popular in hall architecture, for example on the upper floor of the Attalosstoa , and with peristyles even in private surroundings, the palace of Vergina , and form preliminary stages to oval columns and coupled columns.

Since it is seldom associated with Greek architecture, the introduction of real arches and vaults should be mentioned here, which dates back to the 4th century BC. BC falls. Because of the shear forces involved, its use was restricted to gate openings in walls, to grave architecture and substructures such as bridges, since no independent abutments had to be built on the sides of the arches and vaults to dissipate forces. In addition to barrel vaults and groin vaults, the Greeks developed in the 2nd century BC The half-dome to cover exedra-like buildings.

The result of the repeated combination of known elements and the invention or development of new solutions where they were needed was a large number of different building types and structures. Standing in isolation or integrated into larger concepts and complexes, they shaped the image of Greek cities and sanctuaries, and provided an architectural solution for every need.


There are three types of clients: 1. Public clients who, depending on the political constellation, were able to award construction contracts through competent and legitimized bodies, through the administration of large sanctuaries or through rulers and their representatives. The financial resources were raised through current income from the cities or rulers, if necessary through special taxes. National shrines such as Olympia collected donations for their construction expenses. 2. Semi-public property developers, as they appeared in the form of associations or cooperatives. The buildings they erected often benefited all members of a community, even if their buildings were usually very purpose-built, such as club houses or sanctuaries for certain, not generally venerated deities. Such sponsorship could also be of interest for necropolises and the necessary outbuildings. The financial means were mostly provided by wealthy members in the form of donations. 3. Private individuals who not only acted as clients for their houses and graves, but also often as donors or donors who renewed or decorate public buildings or who could act for the maintenance and ongoing maintenance costs of a building. However, such a project had to be coordinated with the responsible public authorities and permission had to be obtained. Hellenistic monarchs were able to act as private donors in foreign cities and finance public building projects, as the example of Antiochus IV may prove, who commissioned the new Olympieion in Athens .


Although highly regarded in ancient Greece, we know very little about the Greek architects. The names of many fewer representatives of the profession have survived than those of painters or sculptors, for example. In Greek thought, the architect was on the one hand a practical building specialist, but on the other hand someone who raised this practical side of his profession to an almost scientific foundation through reflection. Architects often left books about the buildings they designed and built. Well-known architects were Chersiphron , Rhoikos, Theodoros, Iktinos and Mnesikles , Skopas, Hermogenes and Menesthes. The architect's influence, his possibilities for personal development, was restricted by the type and structure of the building, which was strongly determined by the client. It is not possible to identify the hand of an architect twice within the extensive architectural legacy. Every construction, every execution remains unique, only handcrafted things at the workshop level can sometimes be grasped.


There are three types of documents, which have been adequately preserved as inscribed sources: tenders, contracts between property developers and contractors, accounts, testify to the Greek construction industry, especially the public sector. Public construction contracts were put out to tender after a people's or council's assembly had passed a construction decision. The responsible committee decided on the submitted drafts and applications. Inferior architects submitted designs could sometimes appeal against the decision, as the awards were usually associated with high remuneration. After the final acceptance of a draft, a building commission began its work as the supervisory authority. The task of the commission was the tendering and contract award, construction supervision and acceptance of the work as well as wage payments. The building tender was based on the winning design and contained all the information that would enable a contractor to submit a realistic offer for the implementation of the project. As a rule, the contract was awarded to the lowest offer for the most comprehensive service. The building commission had the right to have construction plans changed at a later date and to select and determine all the details that were not specified in the draft. The executing architect had to follow all the specifications of the contract and all the instructions of the commission when threatened with punishment. The position of the developer, represented by the building commission, was therefore extraordinarily strong. In contrast, the building architect was in charge of the technical management; he was responsible for smaller construction phases and work. He could be assisted by several sub-architects in large building projects. The contractor who carried out the work had to provide guarantors who had to secure recourse claims and general requirements resulting from the obligation. In the case of public buildings, the building material was usually provided by the developer, exceptions were stipulated in the contract. Usually, however, entrepreneurs were only responsible for specific work in the overall context, as the size of the company was very modest. For example, 26 entrepreneurs were hired for 52 pteron plates from the Tholos of Epidaurus . Initially, payment was made per worker and day, from the 5th century BC onwards. BC, payment by piece or construction phase prevailed. Judging by the scanty evidence that has been preserved for civil law construction, it seems in principle to follow what has been set out above.

Building material

When thinking of Greek architecture, one first thinks of stone buildings. But until the end, it was mainly unfired clay and wood that played a decisive role. The abundant clay was increasingly used not only for residential buildings, but also for public or semi-public commercial buildings of secular purpose. The clay bricks were laid on stone plinth layers from the early days and, if necessary, fastened and secured with wooden supports. The clay was covered with strongly hardening lime plaster. The finest building material, however, was stone, which was used for most public and private representative buildings. The very smooth marble , which was quarried in numerous places on the Greek mainland, but above all on the Cyclades, was in great demand . In the absence of other building materials, the Cyclades were built almost exclusively with local marble. If high-quality marble quarries could not be achieved or only at high cost, dense limestone was mostly used, the surface of which was smoothed and upgraded by plastering marble chippings. From the Hellenism onwards , fired bricks appeared as new materials, also fired in shape in order to be able to build columns, mortar and stucco. Above all, the mortar in its various compositions turned out to be a trend-setting material. Initially used for hydraulic seals, then for screeds, it became an irreplaceable binder in rising masonry. In its further development and local refinement to the opus caementicium , it became the building material for Roman engineering structures.

Construction engineering

The usual stone material, the house stones, were always dry, i.e. laid between the stone layers without binding agents. Up until the Hellenistic era, the stones and blocks for the foundation areas were mostly only roughly cut and hardly smoothed, but later also for this area were mostly laid from "standard blocks" that were delivered semi-industrially manufactured from the quarries. Depending on the building context, different masonry techniques were used. For city and terrace walls , polygonal masonry was often built, which consisted of precisely laid, but irregularly shaped stones. For free-standing representative buildings, on the other hand, cuboids were mostly used. As an art form, the visible sides of the cuboid could only be embossed and surrounded by a finely smoothed mirror. As a rule, however, the visible surfaces were finely aligned. Butt joints and horizontal joints showed anathyrosis , especially in complex building projects - the stone surfaces were worked off except for the edges in order to achieve the most precise joint closure possible with the least possible effort. In the horizontal, cuboids were often clamped, and in the vertical sequence of layers, they were also pegged. Brackets and dowels were usually made of iron, rarely wood, and were encapsulated with lead. The constantly improving stonemasonry technique led in the 4th century BC. For the development of real stone arches and vaults made of wedge stones.

Unburned clay bricks were usually laid wet, that is, a thin layer of liquid clay was smeared between the bricks to ensure that they were held in place. After drying and applying the protective lime plaster, buildings constructed in this way could be more durable than buildings made of inferior soft limestone.

A peculiarity of Greek architecture is the use of optical refinements, which should, so to speak, solve the almost mathematically cool rigidity of their buildings. The Greek architects introduced an undetectable curvature of the entire structure, the so-called curvature , which could include stylobate and entablature. Here, horizontal lines were actually curved upwards by a few centimeters towards the center of the building. The avoidance of mathematically straight lines was also applied to columns, by not tapering them linearly upwards, but creating the impression of a more or less pronounced swelling of the column shaft, called entasis . In addition, when they were erected, the columns inclined slightly towards the center of the building, the so-called inclination . On the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, the curvature runs through all the horizontal structural elements up to the cornice, even the cella walls take up the curvature in full. The inclination of the entasis columns is continued in the architrave and triglyph frieze. The outside of the cella walls repeat the inclination of the columns. No stone of the building, no architrave, no part of the frieze could be cut as a simple rectangular cuboid. All structural members showed slight deviations from right angles that were individually determined for each member: An enormous increase in the effort made for each individual structural member, which could no longer be produced and prepared "on the assembly line".

Public buildings

Temples, altars and shrines

The most widespread and now the best researched building of Greek architecture was the Greek temple , which could accommodate cult image and votive gifts. All Greek cities had temples for various deities. Often they formed whole ensembles like in Paestum , Selinunt or Akragas . Within a relatively short period of time, the Greeks developed the temple from the small adobe buildings of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. To monumental buildings with double porticoed halls from the 6th century BC. BC, which reached a height of easily over 20 meters without a roof. For the design, they resorted to the landscaped structural elements of the Doric and Ionic order, to which from the late 3rd century BC onwards. The Corinthian order entered. A large number of different floor plan options were tried out, which were combined with the various orders of the rising architecture. From the 3rd century BC The construction of large temples slowed down after a brief last bloom in the 2nd century BC. To come to a complete standstill. The Greek temple was designed and built according to fixed rules, the important reference values ​​of which could be the lower diameter of the columns or the dimensions of the foundation. Optical refinements removed the rigidity of the almost mathematical design principles that resulted. Contrary to popular belief today, the Greek temples were painted, with rich reds and blues appearing alongside the dominant white. The figurative ornamentation in the form of reliefs and gable figures was extremely rich in elaborately designed temples.

Partial reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar in the Pergamon Museum

In front of the temple or at least assigned to it was the altar, the central place for cult activities and sacrifices. In contrast to the temple, which always had an altar, the altar could be erected without any further architectural reference. In addition to simple fire and ash altars or the simplest designs in the form of small round altars for liquid and flower offerings or cereals , it was able to take on considerable dimensions and richly decorated architectural forms, such as the altars of Artemis in Ephesus or the famous altar of Pergamon . There were quite large altar tables early on, which were built in the course of the 6th century BC. B.C. to form mighty platforms filling systems, as can be demonstrated on the Poseidon Altar in Monodendri or the horseshoe-shaped Altar VII in Heraion from Samos . The altar tables incorporated parts of common column arrangements in their structure, such as the triglyphic altars in Kerkyra , Perachora or Corinth . As at the altar of Hieron II in Syracuse, the dimensions of the associated step structures could reach 20 × 195 meters. There were also altar courts such as in Samothrace . Altar structures such as the Pergamon Altar or, in a smaller version, the altar in the Asklepieion in Kos from the 3rd century BC were finally developed from the combination of both ideas . Chr.

The Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi

The halls in Greek sanctuaries were often numerous . They were primarily used to set up Christmas gifts, but of course also offered visitors protection from the adverse weather or functioned as dining rooms. For members of cult associations or high-ranking personalities, there were purely banquet buildings. The so-called treasure houses, thesauroi , held a special position in some shrines and were used to store precious gifts. These were not foundations by private individuals, but entire cities represented their ties to a sanctuary. The best-known examples of these buildings, mostly in the form of small antenna temples , were found in Delphi and Olympia , where they were erected along paths and processional streets. Most of them are very elaborately designed jewels, adorned with precious reliefs or richly decorated terracottas , which testify to the economic power of their clients and the appreciation for the deity and the sanctuary.

Propylon from Pergamon

The development of the Greek gateway, the propylon , is directly linked to the history of Greek sanctuaries . Initially the wall opening, which allowed access to the sanctuary, was simply designed, the gate systems were designed more and more elaborately and followed complicated designs. At the Propylaea of the Athens Acropolis , the formal possibilities have already been exhausted to a considerable extent. The system combines numerous originally separate buildings and areas into a complex architectural solution with actual passageways and framing and protruding parts of the building. The temple-like character of this construction, which initially belonged to the sanctuary, is particularly evident in this example in the combination of column front and triangular gable, which has always been suitable for elaborate gate structures. As a building mediating between the outer secular and the inner sacred area, the propylon was of great importance, which led to an increase in the effort made on it. Corinthian columns often adorned the inside or the inside of a propylon, for example on the gate of Ptolemy II in Samothrace or the northern Propylaea in Epidaurus , both of which were built in the first quarter of the 3rd century BC. Were erected. All of this was enhanced by the two-storey structure, as encountered on the Propylon of the Athena district in Pergamon .

Public profane buildings

Reconstructed Stoa of Attalus, Agora, Athens

In addition to the sacred buildings, most cities had a repertoire of standard buildings, which first established their urban character. Worth mentioning are the purely functional well houses, where you simply got your drinking water that women could fill in jugs and vases. Hall constructions, Stoen , which mostly stood in an agora , the Greek market place, and housed a number of shops were widespread . Larger cities had palaces and high schools that formed the social center of the urban male population. Mostly surrounded inside by pillared halls, a peristyle , they served primarily for physical exercise and competition, but at the same time they were a meeting point and a debating club.

Different types of buildings were available for council meetings and committee meetings. An important building in this context was the Buleuterion , which served the council assembly . Often equipped with rising, horseshoe-shaped or koilon-like rows of seats, due to its large dimensions it usually had inner pillars or supports that had to support the enormous roof widths. They therefore mostly represented so-called hypostyle halls.

After all , every Greek city had its theater , which was used for larger gatherings as well as scenic performances and festivals and which actually had its origins in cult and religious ceremonies. Usually theaters nestled up against hills or were worked into gently rising rock walls. The slightly larger, rising rows of seats could consist of simple wooden benches, but were often made entirely of stone. The central venue, the circular orchestra , in which the choir performed, was located directly below the audience. Behind it rose the actual theater building, the Skene , which was background, fundus and changing room in one. Numerous Greek theaters with fantastic acoustics have survived, among which the theater of Epidaurus is one of the most famous.

Urban planning and apartment buildings

View of the grid of the northern city in Olynth

Beginning of the 5th century BC The Greeks began to lay out cities and new foundations according to regular rectangular grids. The once organically grown collections of houses, the random and disordered streets in their course have been replaced by right-angled streets. The introduction of this system is linked to the architect Hippodamos of Miletus, in whose hometown Miletus the new principle can be demonstrated. The Athenians asked Hippodamos to support in order for the Persian Wars to Piraeus off and rebuild. The northern city in Olynth , Priene and Alexandria followed the same scheme, often with building blocks of 3 × 2 parcels and typified buildings .

Pebble mosaic in a house in Olynth.

House building by the Greeks was varied and rich in forms. Nevertheless, spread in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Two plans of a standard house. The new buildings in Olynths from the 5th / 4th Century BC BC, but also those in the 2nd century BC. Houses on Delos built narrow, small rooms, which were grouped around a columned courtyard. The type of house in which the entrance is on a longitudinal wall, which is usually preceded by an open arbor, is referred to as a pasta house . In contrast, the second standard house, the Prostashaus , as can be seen in Priene , for example , also had an inner courtyard, but a much differentiated floor plan in which the central living area consisted of a large rectangular, almost hall-shaped room that opened up to a columned hall in front . Above all, one enters the house through a small - eponymous - vestibule on the narrow side. Opposite were the smaller rooms for servants, stores and kitchens. In addition, there were a large number of other floor plan options, which were implemented primarily with free space. In the narrowness of Hellenistic cities, however, there was hardly any space for such individual houses, so that the crowd had to live in the courtyard houses described.

The development, as far as it can be followed, led to an increasing differentiation and weighting of the individual parts of the room. The Oikos formed the main room, which was followed by smaller rooms and, above all, the Andron as the men's reception and dining room. Sleeping rooms and women's quarters, the gynaikonitis , were mostly located on the upper floor. From Hellenism onwards, it was popular to build apartment towers or add to existing houses. As a defensive variant, such residential towers were to be found in the open country near fortified homesteads.

In the Hellenistic period, the houses of wealthy private people could take on palatial dimensions, the colonnades and suites of rooms were furnished with marble and decorated with rich figural floor mosaics. This luxury of living was even surpassed by the palaces of Hellenistic rulers, as can be proven in Pergamon and Demetrias , but also in Pella and Vergina . The luxury of materials and space was wasteful, large peristyle staggered one behind the other, surrounded by numerous rooms, marble and mosaic floors were just as much a part of the furnishings as precious wood and gilding, of which Aelian (var. Hist. 14.17) reports.

The Greek settlement area after the end of the Roman Empire

The Byzantine architecture of Ostroms continued the building traditions of Roman architecture . Athens as the center of the ancient Greek motherland lost its importance in favor of Constantinople . New centers such as the city of Mystras emerged on the Greek peninsula . During the Ottoman period , the Greek cultural area lost much of its importance, and numerous scholars emigrated. New buildings were mostly mosques and public baths .

A sensitization for ancient architecture, especially the classical period, developed with the founding of the Greek state at the beginning of the 19th century. Ancient buildings have been uncovered or restored. European classicism since the 18th century was directly influenced by Greek antiquity.