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Temple Construction

Post  AgathonZante on Sun Jul 27, 2014 2:27 am

If someone wanted to build a temple, what would be the basic structure they would have to adhere to in order to be in compliance with traditional Greek architecture? For example, where would altars and shrines be placed, where would images of the deity stand?
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Re: Temple Construction

Post  Erodius on Sun Jul 27, 2014 12:37 pm

A temple is a fairly architecturally simple structure. Although some temples, especially to Vesta/Ἑστία, are built as circular structures – typically they consist of one large rectangular room (Latin: cella, Greek: ναός) with, occasionally, a separate back room in the rear that was shut off from public access and used, typically, to hold precious offerings that have been made to the deity. In some other temples, this back room was the adytum or ὀπισθόδομος (opisthódomos), used for special, often Mystery-related ceremonies, and was considered the place where the divine presence of the deity dwelt – akin to the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Beyond that, Greek temples often have a covered porch that extends all the way around the cella/ναός, whereas Roman-built temples often have only a front and back porch, without any space on the sides. 

In the temple's interior, a large image of the deity to whom the temple is dedicated would be placed in an apse at the rear end of the cella. Some temples would also have numerous small shrines along the side walls to various minor or associated deities, or even the tombs of benefactors of the temple. Very little actually would be done within the cella, however. There would be tripods and turibula set up for offering incense, and candelabra set up to light the room (although only dimly – temple interiors were notoriously dark in most cases), but other than that, the cella was mostly empty. It was open to people for prayer who met the proper purity criteria to enter the temple (those who didn't would often simply pray out on the porch – if for whatever reason the caretaker priest wouldn't let you in, it was not unusual for people to simply bring a tripod or brazier and do their prayers out on the steps of the entryway among the homeless people (we know that the porches of temples were favorite congregating places for wanderers and homeless – the sanctity of the space meant they were relatively safe there, and the covered porch kept them out of the rain and sun. Furthermore, temple patios were a favorite, free-of-charge lodging place for travelers. In an era where hotels didn't exist, and inns were often quite dangerous, it was usually cheaper and safer, as a traveler, to simply set up camp on a temple porch). 

As another note, people would often pray on the porch because the cella was, actually, usually closed. The caretaker priests usually had other jobs and only came around to unlock the cella sporadically. One document I read involved a public edict by a local government that said that the priests had to open the temple for at least 10 days per month.  

Last, in terms of the altar – that would almost never have been within the temple itself. Typically, if there was space, the altar would be located in a courtyard in front of the temple, often surrounded by a low, symbolic wall or fence, or, in urban areas, would sometimes be on the front porch, or, oftentimes, on a platform in the middle of the flight of steps leading up to the cella. 

Here are some visuals to help see what I've described: 

Various typical temple layouts



An external view of a temple, showing the altar in front in the center of the stairway:


An internal view of a temple, showing the central image in the apse, and shrines along the side walls:

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