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Greek and Roman Cultures

Greek and Roman temple architecture

The temple, conceived as a dwelling place for the deity, evolved from the Mycenean megaron, a rectangular hall with a circular hearth in the center that characterized the first type of Mycenean houses. Inside the Mycenean palace, the megaron was a large hall with portico formed by the projecting side-walls of the hall and ornamented in front with two columns. It functioned as audience chamber, reception hall, council chamber, feasting place and religous centre for the ruler.

The temple housed the statue of the god or goddess to whom it was dedicated. Some temples were dedicated to more than one divinity.
As a rule a Greek temple faced east.

Temple in antis or distyle in antis ( "di" = two, "stylos" = column, "anta" = pilaster, which means "with two columns in between the antae at the end of the cella walls") is the simplest form of Greek temple in which the naos (cella) is preceded by a pronaos (antechamber) with two columns flanked by forward projections (antea) of its side walls.
Prostyle temple where the facade forms a colonnade made up of four or six columns. The temple is tetrastyle if it comprises four columns or hexastyle if it comprises six columns (Temple of Zeus Olympios in Priene, Temples of Dionysos, Hera, Asclepios in Pergamum).
Amphiprostyle temple has a similar row of columns on the rear end. The opisthodome (opposite of the pronaos), found for the first time in the Temple of Athena in Priene and reproduced at the beginning of the 3C BC in the Temple of Artemis in Sardis, became thereafter a characteristic element of the Anatolian sanctuaries.
Peripteral temple became the classical form most commonly used in large-scale temple architecture in which the cella was surrounded on all four sides by a colonnade or peristyle (Temple of Athena in Priene, Temple of Dionysos in Teos, Temple of Zeus in Euromos, Temple of Athena in Assos)
Dipteral temple has a double row of columns on all four sites (Artemision in Ephesus, Didymeion in Didyma).
Pseudodipteral temple: the inner colonnade of the dipteros has been suppressed. Instead a promenade gallery runs around the naos. The outer colonnade comprises less columns. This type became the model temple and prevailed during the Hellenistic and Roman period (Temple of Artemis in Sardis, Temple of Zeus in Aizanoi).

The Greeks developed three architectural systems called Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The column is the most significant element because it defines the general proportions (module = ratio between the height and the width, defined by the semi-diameter of the shaft of the column in its lowest part). One recognizes the order by the shape of the capitals.

In the Doric order, the shaft of the column, which tapers towards the top and has between 16 and 20 flutings, stands without a base on the Stylobate, which is the uppermost step (of 3 or more steps) of a platform called Crepidoma. The capital consists of the Echinus and the quadrangular Abacus and carries the architrave with its Frieze. In Doric order the frieze is made up of metopes, plain, smooth stone sections (sometimes filled with sculpture) between the triglyphs carved with a pattern of three plane vertical arrises, survival of the wooden structure of primitive temples. The triangular pediment is ornemented with acroteriums.
The Ionic order has slenderer and gentler forms than the Doric male order. The crepidoma has more steps (8, 10 or 12) and the column now stands on a base. The flutings of the columns are separated by narrow ridges. The Ionic capital, which is a Greek transformation of the Aeolic capital (Aeolia), has typical volutes on either side. The architrave is made up of three superposed flat sections. The frieze is continuous, without triglyphs to divide it up. This order appeared for the first time in the 6C BC in the Greek centers of Ionia (western Asia Minor).

Aeolic capital

Greek theatre

Greek theatre has its origins in the festivals given in honor of Dionysos, the god of wine, vegetation, pleasure and festivity. The first festivals were held (in Athens) in the 6C BC in the form of ritual ceremonies and dithyrambs (hymns sang by a chorus) which later developed into tragedy. These festivals gave rive to competitions rewarded by prizes.
The first theatres consisted of a large circle known as orchestra (the dancing circle) in the middle of which stood the altar of Dionysos. All elements of the theatre were made of wood, and dismantled at the end of the festival. For the spectators, the “viewing area”, or theatron (theatre is derived from theatron) was carved in tiers out of the slope of a hill, thus forming a natural hemicycle extending round more than half the orchestra and providing remarkable acoustics. The spectators entered the theatre through the two lateral paradoi (plural of parados) which also provided access to the chorus and some actors to the orchestra. The first row of seats was reserved for the priests, judges and dignitaries. A walkway called diazoma ran round between the upper and lower tiers of seats. Radial stairways divided the theatron into kerkides. Tragedy was performed by a chorus of 12 or 15 members and comedy by a chorus of 24 members all wearing an appropriate mask. All of the roles were played by men.
In the 5C BC, the prominence of the individual actors (2 to 3 in tragedy, unlimited in comedy) increased and the chorus was now engaged in dialogue. The Greek playwrights like Aeschylus, Sophocles , Euripides for tragedy, and Aristophanes for comedy, not only wrote and frequently acted in their plays but also served as directors and choreographers. A proskenion, a sort of portico forming a backdrop, and a skene, or stage building, were added at the rear of the orchestra. In addition to its functions as dressing room, storage area, and architectural background, it concealed the actors, who entered the stage through its three doors. Scenery painted on panels attached to the skene and machinery for special effects started to be used.
The first stone theatres appeared in the 4C BC and the structure of the theatre continued to evolve. The playwright no longer controlled all the production. The Greek theatre had become a professional institution with specialists responsible for the various aspects of theatrical art. The religious character of the theatre diminished against its entertaining and aesthetic value.
By the 2C BC, during the Hellenistic Period, a raised stage, called logeion or "speaking place", was added to the building, where most of the acting took place. The orchestra was then a little more than a semicircle.


Ground plan of the Hellenistic
theatre of Priene

Ground plan of the Hellenistico-Roman
theatre of Ephesus

Ground plan of the Roman theater of Aspendus

Roman theatre

From 3C BC, Greek Theatre was familiar to the Romans who brought it to Rome and translated the plays into Latin. However the first stone theatre was built in Rome only in 55 B.C..
The Romans changed the basic structure of the Greek theatre. Although Roman theater architecture was based on Greek models, the use of the arch enabled the Romans to build immense, free-standing open-air theaters that could be covered by huge awnings. On rugged ground, Roman architects, like their Greek predecessors, carved their theatres out of the hillside, but on flat ground the seating area which they called cavea or auditorium was typically supported by two or more tiers of Roman arches and was surrounded by an arcade. The orchestra, as well as the cavea, were reduced to a semicircle. Access to the orchestra and cavea was made through lateral vomitorium. The orchestra was often used for additional seating or sometimes flooded for aquatic spectacles. Performances were held on a large raised stage or pulpitum covered with a roof. It was backed by a three storied stage building or scaena frons which had between three and five doors and was ornemented with numerous niches, statues, frescoes, and pediments.
Both Roman tragedy (the foremost playwright was Seneca) and comedy (Plautus and Terence) were almost entirely derived from Greek models. Pantomime was another form of Roman theatre in which a single actor, frequently changing masks and accompanied by a chorus and orchestra, mimed and danced all the roles. The actors were referred to as histriones and mimes. They were mostly male but women performed in mimes. Mimes did not wear masks. Early Roman actors were often slaves owned by managers who offered their performers and plays to the magistrates in charge of the ludi, or games, at which drama was presented. Later actors and pantomimists were citizens who sometimes attained considerable fame and fortune. If the play scripted an actor's dying, a condemned man would take the place of the actor at the last moment and actually be killed on stage.

Roman Masks – Myra


The odeon was a small semicircular theater of the Roman period. It was covered with roofs or awnings and was used for musical recitals and auditions.



Roman amphitheatre

In latin “amphi” means “around” and “theatrum” means “theatre”. In this type of building, the elliptical cavea completely surrounded the stage space. It was specially designed with huge arenas for the purpose of sporting events, sea battles (naumachia), gladiator combats, wild animal fights and hunts...
Amphitheaters were an exception in Asia Minor, probably because the idea seemed barbaric to the autochtonous Greeks. However Gladiator competitions, wild animal fights could take place in a theatre but for the safety of the spectators, some adjustments like the removal of seats and insertion of barriers, were needed.


The origins of the stadium are related to the Olympic Games, a religious festival held in Olympia every four years in honor of Zeus. Homer's Iliad suggests that they existed as early as the 12C BC, but the first official Olympics dates back to 776 BC. Originally, it was confined to foot-race (a simple activity with religious meaning), but later other sports were added such as the pentathlon (five different activities), discus and javelin throwing , boxing, wrestling, chariot racing (quadriga race)... Music and literary competitions would also take place during the games. Athletes usually competed nude, proudly displaying their perfect bodies. Women, foreigners, slaves, and dishonored persons were not allowed to compete.
Among Greeks, the “stadion” was a unit of measurement of 600 podes (600 times the foot of Heracles) and the name and length of a foot-race competition. Among Romans, the “stadium” was a unit of measurement of 125 passus. The length of a Greek stadia (stadium) was equivalent to approximately 185 m / 202 yards / 607 feet (the length of the Greek "foot" varied by time and region).
The Greek stadium was composed of a Long and narrow track with banked seats on each side and one semicircular end. The dirt track had markers for the runners in a marble strip of pavement at both ends. In Roman times excersising and running took place within the bath complex and the stadium was used for chariot-racing. The track was enlarged and a spine was added in the middle.
The Olympics and all pagan festivals were banned in 394 AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius I who was a Christian. The Games were reinstated in Athens in 1896.


In Greek “hippos” means “horse” and “dromos” means “race”. A hippodrome was specially designed to hold horse and chariot-racing. It had a wider track than the stadium, allowing several chariots to race around the central axis called “spina” (see the Hippodrome in Byzantium/Constantinople). During antiquity, the hippodrome was the main place for exhibiting wealth and political strength.


Gymnasium and bath

The ancients believed that the human body was a thing of beauty, and should be displayed and exercised regularly. The Greeks developed the concept of Gymnasium, a place of education, physical training, and social intercourses. The Palestra was an important part of the Gymnasium for wrestling and boxing. The Greeks also favored the bath which could be found as an adjunct to the Gymnasium between the palaestra and the semicircle exedra, a place for conversation, discourse, intellectual activities.
The Romans continued with the Greek tradition of the gymnasium but they developed the concept of monumental public baths or thermae which became the center for social and recreational activities (smaller private bathhouses were called balneae). Most of the thermae were spacious luxury complexes comprising sports centers, baths with pools, libraries, odeons, gardens... They were available to most free Romans for a reasonable fee. The vaulted baths were heated by an ingenious invention, the hypocaust heating system: a furnace channeled hot air through earthenware pipes in the walls and under the marble floor, which was raised on pillars. The baths were supplied by aqueducts and water channels. The bathhouses were opened to women during the early part of the day and reserved for men from 2:00 pm until sunset. The bathers spent several hours in the complex. Unlike the Greeks they seemed to wear some light covering. They began in the palaestra for various sports activities and games. After exercise, they would have the dirt and oil scraped from their bodies. Then they progressed through three rooms of various temperature. First they started in the tepidarium, the warm room with heated walls and floors but without a pool. Then they proceeded to the caldarium for a hot bath in a small pool. They finished in the frigidarium for a dip in the cool pool. Other rooms provided moist steam, dry heat (laconicum), and massage with perfumed oils. In the end, the bathers retired to another part of the complex for a snack, conversation, reading etc.. .
Although wealthy Romans included a bath in their town houses or especially in their country villas, they loved to frequent the public bathhouses.


The Greek word “akro” means “top or high” and “polis” means city. The acropolis refers to the highest, the most defensible and sometimes fortified part of an ancient city. It frequently held major sanctuaries which served as the treasury and archives of the city.


The agora was a large open square area, surrounded by a colonnade, at the heart of the city. In early Greek times it was used as place of public assembly. Later it functioned as a marketplace and for commercial intercourse. Its boundaries were defined by the public buildings that surrounded it. It corresponded in general with the Roman forum.



The name of this ancient Greek building type comes from “boule” which means the “ council of the city”. It was used to hold public meetings as the council chamber. It was roofed and had tiers of benches on three sides either rectangular or semicircular in shape.



The stoa was a long and roofed walkway or portico along the shops at the agora. It provided space for shops and shelter against the sun or rain. The stoa sometimes had a second storey.


The forum was more than a market-place to the Roman. With its adjuncts, of which the basilica (a large meeting hall) was chief, it was the centre of civic life and movement, combining the functions of market, town hall, law courts, exchange, and a gathering-place where the townspeople discussed matters of mutual interest, settled points of difference, gossiped and idled . It was a place where public notices were displayed, and games were often held and religious festivals celebrated. It was the rendez-vous for all classes and for all purposes.

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