Ionic Order of Greek Architecture: Definition & Example Buildings

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  • 0:00 What Is the Ionic Order?
  • 0:43 Columns
  • 2:27 History
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the Ionic order of classic architecture, and test your understanding of the ancient cultures that developed the standards of beauty and perfection in art, math, and architecture.

What Is the Ionic Order?

Although most ancient Greek and Roman buildings are now ruins, we can still picture them. We see them in movies and magazines because these buildings set the standards for what we still consider to be good architecture. We just like our modern architecture to be a little less...ruined.

Ruins of a Greek temple
Ruins of a Greek Temple

The Ionic order is one of the three orders of classical architecture, alongside the Doric and Corinthian orders. Classical architecture refers to the architecture styles of ancient Greece and Rome, which set the standards for architecture in the Western world. These ancient civilizations defined what we consider to be architectural beauty.

Ionic Temple at Yorkshire
Ionic Temple at Yorkshire

Columns

The Ionic order is defined by the Ionic column. In ancient Greece, buildings were made with a number of columns that held up their roofs. The column was the architectural staple of Greece, both from a practical and artistic standpoint. Columns supported the weight of the roof and let the Greeks build larger temples.

A column was made up of several parts. The base is the stone platform at the bottom of the column. There are usually multiple layers to the base. On top of the base is the shaft, the long part of the column with groves running down the sides. At the very top is the capital, the decorative stone that bears the weight of the roof. Ionic columns tend to be more slender, but the defining feature of the Ionic order is the volute. The volute is the spiral, scroll-like capital of the Ionic column.

Ionic Capital
Ionic Capital

Besides a column, the Ionic order also has specific entablature. The entablature is the part of the roof that rests on top of the column and consists of the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice:

  • The architrave is the long beam that supports the weight directly above the column.
  • The frieze is a strip above the architrave.
  • And the cornice is the top weight-bearing part which juts outwards.

The cornice in the ionic order has saw-like squared edges. In architecture, the post and lintel system refers to any building in which the weight of the roof is supported by load-bearing upright sections and a horizontal section on top of those. The entablature is a lintel, and the columns are the posts. The entablature was meant to be functional, so it could help support the weight of the roof but was also often carved or decorated.

Ionic column and entablature
Ionic column and entablature

History

The Ionic order was developed in the mid-6th century BCE by Ionian Greeks on the islands near present-day Turkey. By the 5th century BCE, it was popular in mainland Greece. The first time it was used on a major temple was for the Temple of Hera on Samos, built around 570 BCE by the Greek architect Rhoikos.

Another Ionic building was the Temple of Artemis, which was said to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. According to the Roman architect Vitruvius, the Doric order was based on the proportions of the male body, while the Ionic order was modeled after the more graceful elements of the female body.

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