The Eastern Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Eastern provinces comprise Asia Minor (Asia, Bithynia/Pontus, Lycia/Pamphylia, Cilicia, Galatia, and Cappadocia), Greece (Achaea, Macedonia, Epirus, and Thracia), the Levant (Syria, Arabia and Judaea), the Balkans and some of the Danube provinces (Chapter 10) and Egypt and Cyrenaica (Chapter 9). Until the Roman conquest most of the eastern Mediterranean had been part of the Hellenistic world and the columnar Orders, which had their origins in Classical Greece, remained enormously significant. Even under Roman rule, the columnar style remained so deep-rooted that the architecture of the Eastern Empire can be viewed as the final development in an unbroken Hellenistic tradition. Such buildings as the Temple of Zeus at Athens (Figure 11.2), the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (Figure 11.10), the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek (Figure 11.14), and the Temple of Bel at Palmyra (Figure 11.17) all owe their effect to skillful handling of the columnar Orders, with concrete playing no significant role until the late Empire. Clearly, Roman architectural styles were nowhere near as influential here as they were in the west.

In the Republican period generals took their own Greek or Asiatic architects back to Rome with them. Augustus used Greek columnar Orders to build his marble city. Trajan declared that architects in Rome usually came from Greece (Pliny the Younger, Epist. 10.39–40) and Hadrian may have imported architects from Asia Minor for his building projects. It can be argued that Rome’s main contribution to architecture lay in the realm of engineering and the development of concrete, while eastern architects continued to develop the Classical Orders. In the words of Lyttelton: ‘While it is certainly true that it was the architects in Rome who first realized the exciting potentialities of building in concrete … it appears that throughout the first two centuries of imperial rule it was the architects of the eastern provinces of the Empire who remained pre-eminent in the evolution and exploitation of the traditional column-and-lintel style.’1

Here a few words should be said about Hellenistic architecture and the Classical orders on which it is based. The Classical tradition of trabeated columnar architecture was developed in Greece during the period 600–400 bc and two highly sophisticated styles of architecture developed, the Doric and the Ionic. Both these systems depended on a clear and logical relationship between the constituent parts of the building and equal value was given to each part. Thus in a Classical Greek temple, no single side of the building was treated as the façade, and precincts were often planned so that the first view of a temple was from a three-quarter viewpoint. Indeed one’s first view of the Parthenon upon entering through the Propylaea is the rear of the temple not the entrance façade. Moreover, the appearance of a temple closely reflected its structure. That is to say, not only did the columns support the horizontal entablature which spanned them, but they appeared capable of supporting them. Therefore they had to be of adequate thickness to take the weight, and sufficiently close together so that the entablature did not appear to be in danger of collapsing. In fact that is the basis of Vitruvius’ criticism of the Second Pompeian style of wall-painting (de Arch. 7.5.4). In the Classical Greek temple structure dictated appearance to the extent that every major element played an essential part in the system. However, as early as the fifth century bc some Classical buildings began to include elements superfluous to any structural requirements, but valuable for their effect. For example, in an orthodox Classical temple, two rows of columns often ran down the cella. They were to help support the roof, which is to say they were an integral part of the whole structure. However, in the Parthenon, these columns turned to run behind the statue of Athena, showing that they were being used decoratively rather than purely structurally. In the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, which dates to the later fifth-century bc, the rows of columns ran so close to the cella walls that they were actually joined to them by a series of spur walls. In terms of supporting the roof they would have been of very little value, and one could conclude that their purpose was to deceive the eye by giving the impression that they were complete columns and that there were normal aisles beyond them. This represents quite a sharp break from previous architectural practice and soon architectural elements began to be used in an unorthodox fashion. Columnar screens and façades were often placed in front of a building without regard to structural logic. Half-columns and pilasters were used, both of which appear to act as supports while having little independent structural value. Elements that were originally necessary parts of the structure were used decoratively. For example, the pediment, which ought to be the triangle produced at the ends of a building by the sloping roof, was applied decoratively to façades and over niches or aedicules. Sometimes it became segmental in shape, or it could be hollow at the bottom or broken in the middle.

The Eastern Provinces Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

At this point, it may be useful to look at an eastern building and analyze its component parts. The Deir at Petra (Figure 11.19) is a rock-cut tomb with a columnar façade, designed to impress by its sheer size and position. It is worlds away from the graceful Greek temple designed to be viewed from all sides with its surrounding columns regular and even. Here the aim is to overwhelm by piling up the Classical Orders to create a dramatic effect, one that relies entirely upon the façade, in contrast to the small plain interior. The façade is conceived as an independent screen in front of the building rather than an organic and logical element in the structure as a whole. Note how the central part of the façade is emphasized and the sides build up towards it. The columns are not arranged regularly, reflecting the structures they have to support; instead, they are arranged in terms of rhythms. On the two sides are pilasters, used to articulate rather than act as supports. The two niches and doorway on the lower floor are capped with alternately segmental and triangular pediments, a favorite device of the 17th century Baroque with which this eastern architecture has so much in common. The outer pairs of columns on each side support a projecting section of the entablature which then breaks off. The third column from the edge on each side supports a shorter projecting section of an entablature, whose only function in projecting is to be supported by the column.

In the upper story, the Orders are used to more dramatic effect. The two pilasters on each end have half-columns engaged in them and support a boldly projecting section of entablature with a triglyph frieze. Once again the only function of these complicated pilasters cum half-columns is to support an entablature, whose purpose is to be supported by them. Their real function is of course not structural at all, but to give a powerful rhythm to the upper story. Closer to the middle is a pair of columns straddling the two projecting sections of the entablature on the story below. They support the ends of a massive broken pediment with a circular kiosk in the middle. Note, however, the sophistication with which this circular element is handled. Its columns are exactly the same height as the flanking ones and even the rhythm of the triglyph frieze is maintained. Also, the acroterion on the top of its conical roof is in exactly the position it would have been having the pediment complete.

One must conclude that there is nothing crude about this style. It is highly sophisticated handling of the Classical Orders by architects who thoroughly understood their true function and were able to break the rules with a deliberate effect in mind. Incidentally, this also presupposes that the clients of such buildings had the taste and understanding to appreciate such subtleties. In order to understand a building that breaks the rules, one has to know what the rules were in the first place.

rome

Greece

Athens had enjoyed a fine architectural past and in the Hellenistic period rulers such as Eumenes and Attalos of Pergamum had made magnificent additions to a city already resplendent with monuments such as the Parthenon, Erechtheum, and the Temple of Hephaestus. However, Athens suffered badly as a result of the Sullan sack of 86 bc and rebuilding was overdue. The tradition of benefactions begun by the Hellenistic monarchs continued under the Romans, and Athens was favored with much patronage both by the imperial family and by fabulously wealthy individuals like Herodes Atticus. The first Roman contribution to the built environment of Athens was the commercial Agora or Agora of Caesar and Augustus, which was used as a commercial or trading center. It was planned during the visit of Julius Caesar to Athens in 47 bc, but not begun until the visit in 19 bc of Augustus, who provided the money for it. Finally dedicated in 10 bc, it is situated in what used to be the eastern Agora until the Stoa of Attalos cut the area off from the main or western Agora. The monumental west propylon was utterly conservative if not reactionary in style. Its four columns and its entablature, with its heavy triglyph frieze, were close copies of the late fifth century bc Classical originals. The propylon led into an open square surrounded on all sides by colonnades of Ionic columns in grey-blue Hymmetian marble. Behind were rows of shops, an arrangement common to buildings of the Hellenistic east.

The west propylon of the new Agora was one of a number of Classical revival buildings erected towards the end of the first-century bc both in Athens and Rome. We know that earlier in the century, the Erechtheum, a Classical building of the late fifth-century bc, was damaged by fire. In the course of its reconstruction, which was completed in 27 bc, the masons engaged on its repair must have become familiar with the ornate Ionic order employed in the original building because the small circular temple NE of the Parthenon, dedicated to Rome and Augustus in the same year, had nine Ionic columns closely modeled on those of the Erechtheum. This Classical revival in Athens had important repercussions in Rome of the last decades bc when Augustus was promoting the Classical period as a model for imperial art and architecture. Among the products of this classical revival were the Prima Porta Augustus, based upon the fifth century bc Doryphoros of Polycleitos, the Ara Pacis, completed in 9 bc and based upon Classical and Hellenistic prototypes, and the Forum of Augustus replete with its row of Caryatids based upon those of the Erechtheum. In a more general sense, the Augustan Classical revival gave purity and discipline to the rash of new architectural forms and styles in vogue in the early years of Augustus’ principate. Thus the Classical revival in Athens, although antiquarian in spirit, had more than a passing effect on the architecture of the Roman Empire.

The old marketplace or Agora also underwent considerable rebuilding during the early Empire. Most notable was the building of a new odeum by Agrippa, in about 15 bc (Figure 11.1). Its enormous bulk must have towered over the elegant stores all around it and

The Eastern provinces comprise Asia Minor (Asia, Bithynia/Pontus, Lycia/Pamphylia, Cilicia, Galatia, and Cappadocia), Greece (Achaea, Macedonia, Epirus, and Thracia), the Levant (Syria, Arabia, and Judaea), the Balkans and some of the Danube provinces (Chapter 10) and Egypt and Cyrenaica (Chapter 9). Until the Roman conquest most of the eastern Mediterranean had been part of the Hellenistic world and the columnar Orders, which had their origins in Classical Greece, remained enormously significant. Even under Roman rule, the columnar style remained so deep-rooted that the architecture of the Eastern Empire can be viewed as the final development in an unbroken Hellenistic tradition. Such buildings as the Temple of Zeus at Athens (Figure 11.2), the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (Figure 11.10), the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek (Figure 11.14), and the Temple of Bel at Palmyra (Figure 11.17) all owe their effect to skillful handling of the columnar Orders, with concrete playing no significant role until the late Empire. Clearly, Roman architectural styles were nowhere near as influential here as they were in the west.

rome

In the Republican period, generals took their own Greek or Asiatic architects back to Rome with them. Augustus used Greek columnar Orders to build his marble city. Trajan declared that architects in Rome usually came from Greece (Pliny the Younger, Epist. 10.39–40) and Hadrian may have imported architects from Asia Minor for his building projects. It can be argued that Rome’s main contribution to architecture lay in the realm of engineering and the development of concrete, while eastern architects continued to develop the Classical Orders. In the words of Lyttelton: ‘While it is certainly true that it was the architects in Rome who first realized the exciting potentialities of building in concrete … it appears that throughout the first two centuries of imperial rule it was the architects of the eastern provinces of the Empire who remained pre-eminent in the evolution and exploitation of the traditional column-and-lintel style.’1

Here a few words should be said about Hellenistic architecture and the Classical orders on which it is based. The Classical tradition of trabeated columnar architecture was developed in Greece during the period 600–400 bc and two highly sophisticated styles of architecture developed, the Doric and the Ionic. Both these systems depended on a clear and logical relationship between the constituent parts of the building and equal value was given to each part. Thus in a Classical Greek temple, no single side of the building was treated as the façade, and precincts were often planned so that the first view of a temple was from a three-quarter viewpoint. Indeed one’s first view of the Parthenon upon entering through the Propylaea is the rear of the temple not the entrance façade. Moreover, the appearance of a temple closely reflected its structure. That is to say, not only did the columns support the horizontal entablature which spanned them, but they appeared capable of supporting them. Therefore they had to be of adequate thickness to take the weight, and sufficiently close together so that the entablature did not appear to be in danger of collapsing. In fact that is the basis of Vitruvius’ criticism of the Second Pompeian style of wall-painting (de Arch. 7.5.4). In the Classical Greek temple structure dictated appearance to the extent that every major element played an essential part in the system. However, as early as the fifth century bc some Classical buildings began to include elements superfluous to any structural requirements, but valuable for their effect. For example, in an orthodox Classical temple, two rows of columns often ran down the cella. They were to help support the roof, which is to say they were an integral part of the whole structure. However, in the Parthenon, these columns turned to run behind the statue of Athena, showing that they were being used decoratively rather than purely structurally. In the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, which dates to the later fifth-century bc, the rows of columns ran so close to the cella walls that they were actually joined to them by a series of spur walls. In terms of supporting the roof they would have been of very little value, and one could conclude that their purpose was to deceive the eye by giving the impression that they were complete columns and that there were normal aisles beyond them. This represents quite a sharp break from previous architectural practice and soon architectural elements began to be used in an unorthodox fashion. Columnar screens and façades were often placed in front of a building without regard to structural logic. Half-columns and pilasters were used, both of which appear to act as supports while having little independent structural value. Elements that were originally necessary parts of the structure were used decoratively. For example, the pediment, which ought to be the triangle produced at the ends of a building by the sloping roof, was applied decoratively to façades and over niches or aedicules. Sometimes it became segmental in shape, or it could be hollow at the bottom or broken in the middle.

At this point it may be useful to look at an eastern building and analyze its component parts. The Deir at Petra (Figure 11.19) is a rock-cut tomb with a columnar façade, designed to impress by its sheer size and position. It is worlds away from the graceful Greek temple designed to be viewed from all sides with its surrounding columns regular and even. Here the aim is to overwhelm by piling up the Classical Orders to create a dramatic effect, one that relies entirely upon the façade, in contrast to the small plain interior. The façade is conceived as an independent screen in front of the building rather than an organic and logical element in the structure as a whole. Note how the central part of the façade is emphasized and the sides build up towards it. The columns are not arranged regularly, reflecting the structures they have to support; instead, they are arranged in terms of rhythms. On the two sides are pilasters, used to articulate rather than act as supports. The two niches and doorway on the lower floor are capped with alternately segmental and triangular pediments, a favorite device of the 17th century Baroque with which this eastern architecture has so much in common. The outer pairs of columns on each side support a projecting section of the entablature which then breaks off. The third column from the edge on each side supports a shorter projecting section of an entablature, whose only function in projecting is to be supported by the column.

In the upper story, the Orders are used to more dramatic effect. The two pilasters on each end have half-columns engaged in them and support a boldly projecting section of entablature with a triglyph frieze. Once again the only function of these complicated pilasters cum half-columns is to support an entablature, whose purpose is to be supported by them. Their real function is of course not structural at all, but to give a powerful rhythm to the upper story. Closer to the middle is a pair of columns straddling the two projecting sections of the entablature on the story below. They support the ends of a massive broken pediment with a circular kiosk in the middle. Note, however, the sophistication with which this circular element is handled. Its columns are exactly the same height as the flanking ones and even the rhythm of the triglyph frieze is maintained. Also, the acroterion on the top of its conical roof is in exactly the position it would have been having the pediment complete.

One must conclude that there is nothing crude about this style. It is highly sophisticated handling of the Classical Orders by architects who thoroughly understood their true function and were able to break the rules with a deliberate effect in mind. Incidentally, this also presupposes that the clients of such buildings had the taste and understanding to appreciate such subtleties. In order to understand a building that breaks the rules, one has to know what the rules were in the first place.

 

 

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