Materials Used in Ancient Greek Architecture

Updated November 21, 2016

The ancient Greek have influenced the architecture of other civilisations and periods, especially through the use of ornamental columns in marble. Greek columns are present in contemporary architecture, says David Sacks in the "Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World." The buildings of the United States Supreme Court and the General Post Office of New York are examples of this influence. Three thousand years ago, the most common materials in Greek architecture were clay, wood and thatch. Later on, with the development of new techniques for cut stone, marble and limestone became the predominant building materials.

Clay, Thatch and Wood

At about 900 B.C., most buildings in Greece were made of wood, clay or mud-bricks, with thatched roofs. These included not only houses, some of which were built on a circular base, but also temples, says Jon Mikalson in the book "Ancient Greek Religion." During this period, temples were first built in a horseshoe shape, later evolving to the rectangular shape. Columns were used only for support, not yet as decoration.


Although limestone was used sparingly in relief slabs of temples as early as 1,250 B.C., as in the case of the Lion Gate of Mycenae, the Greeks began to use the stone more extensively in 600 B.C. Due to its softness, limestone was easy to carve and offered endless possibilities of decoration. In this period, columns started to have specific designs, becoming decorative pieces, especially in temples. However, due to the fragility of limestone, some architects preferred to use marble, reports Mikalson.


Marble is a metamorphic rock, a compacted form of limestone, first used in Greece in sculptures of gods and goddesses. As well as limestone, it was widely used in Greece from 600 B.C. onwards to build temples and other public buildings, writes Sacks. Ruins of ancient Greek temples and theatres still standing today are often made of marble, a stone known for its durability.

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