Triglyph: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Explore the architectural feature of ancient Greek temples called the triglyph and test your understanding about ancient Greek culture, religion, and architectural development

Tri It Out

Architecture can be fascinating. It's an art form that seeks harmony on a scale so large you can stand inside of it. As a science, the designs and styles of appearance have to coexist with engineering features to make it strong and stable enough for practical use.

Triglyphs
Triglyph

The triglyph is a carved panel with three vertical columns on its surface. It's a design feature of the oldest style of Greek temple architecture, called the Doric Order. Triglyphs are purely aesthetic, meaning for appearance's sake, but they may indicate what Greek buildings would have looked like before they had the engineering prowess to make temples out of stone.

Doric Order

Greek architecture is divided into three general styles: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The oldest of these, and the first true architectural style of Greece, is the Doric Order, which roughly corresponded to Greece's Archaic Period from 750-480 BCE. The Doric Order represented the first time that the Greeks really mastered building monumental temples using stone. Before this, most Greek buildings would have been made of wood. Stone is stronger and sturdier, but also heavier and ancient Greek engineers had to develop new techniques to support the weight. Most Doric temples are made of marble, a stone that is soft enough to be easily workable, strong enough to support weight, and has a natural illustrious beauty.

Reconstruction of a Doric Temple
Doric Temple

The Doric Order is recognizable by features in the columns and the entablature. The columns are the large vertical cylinders that support the weight of the ceiling. Doric columns have 20 vertical groves and a smooth top piece called a capital. The entablature is the structure that sits on top of the columns. In a Doric temple, the middle section of the entablature, called the frieze, contains alternating patterns of triglyphs and metopes. The triglyphs is the panel with three vertical lines, the metope is simply the space in between triglyphs.

Triglyphs

Triglyphs are an aesthetic feature of Doric temples that do not serve any function besides design. The triglyph is meant to represent the end of a wooden beam, which would have supported the weight of the roof in pre-historic Greek buildings. These wooden beams had three notches on the ends to create dramatic shadows, and the Greeks preserved this feature as a tribute to their own architectural history and development.

Triglyphs in a Doric Temple
Triglyphs

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