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You must be wondering why I have uploaded a picture of these five buildings in particular. Well, if you look closely at all the colonnades (click on the picture to get a better view), you will notice that the columns in each picture belong to different styles or to be more precise – the five types of columns seen above belong to the five different Classical Orders of Architecture. So, were you able to identify them?  If your answer is a ‘yes’, you deserve a pat on your back, if not, no worries, read on.

There are five orders of Greco-Roman architecture which are mainly distinguished by the style of the columns that characterize their construction. The columns typically differed in their capitals and entablatures.
What are capitals?
– The uppermost part of columns.
What is the entablature?
– The spanning element supported from below by a series of columns.

The five different orders of Classical Architecture are Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite. While the first three have their origins in Greece, the last two are additions by the Romans.

1. Doric

A typical Doric Column

– These columns are simple and have no fancy ornamentation.
– They are as old as the hills. They’ve been around from the 7th Century B.C.
– These columns are fluted i.e. their surface has rounded parallel grooves.
– They don’t have a distinct base.
– The flat slab at the top of the column called the abacus, is plain.
– The circular molding below the abacus is the echinus.

The entablature of a Doric column

The striking part of the entablature is the series of triglyphs and metopes. A triglyph is a grooved vertical block which separates the metopes. A metope is a panel which can either be plain or decorated.

2. Ionic

A typical Ionic column

– The origin of these columns dates back to the 6th Century B.C.
-These columns are fluted as well, but are taller than their Doric counterparts.
– The columns use the concept of entasis- they have a slight bulge to make them look straight even from a distance.
– The base of the columns are large and look like a set of stacked rings.
– The most distinct feature can be seen in the spiral volutes of the column capital and the egg-and-dart pattern (seen encompassed by the volutes in the picture below).

The entablature of an Ionic column

The frieze is richly decorated and the architrave has three bands. Look at the picture above if you aren’t familiar with those terms.

3. Corinthian

A Corinthian column – from base to entablature

– Being the most ornate and elegant of all the orders, these columns end up being the favourite of the majority.
– Though developed by the Greeks somewhere in the 4th Century B.C., this style was used more extensively by the Romans.
– The most distinct feature is the deep bell-shaped capital decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls.
– Like the Ionic columns, the Corinthian columns also use  entasis and are fluted.
– These columns are the most slender of all.


A typical Tuscan column

 The exact date of origin of this Roman Classical style is not very clear, but I can tell you that it has been there since times immemorial.
– The plain Jane columns
– Similar in proportions to the Greek Doric columns, but they have a smooth surface instead of a fluted one .
– They are easy to recognize as they are devoid of decoration -with a simple base, unadorned entablature and nondescript capitals.
– They give an impression of solidity and employ the concept of entasis too.

5. Composite

A typical Composite column

– The most decorative Roman column , whose exact date of origin is unclear.
– It is a mixture of the Ionic and Corinthian Orders –  the capital has the larger spiral volutes with the egg-and-dart system , below which lie the Acanthus leaves and scrolls.  They sometimes accommodate Roman symbols like olive and laurel leaves.
– They are similar in proportion to Greek Corinthian columns.
– They have a fluted surface.

So now that I am done with the description of the five orders of architecture, I hope you can distinguish among them for yourself.

The answer key to the picture at the beginning of the post is here:

  • The Roman Temple at Evora – COMPOSITE
  • The Parthenon – DORIC
  • The Temple of Athena Nike – IONIC
  • The Pantheon – CORINTHIAN
  • The Pacific Coast Stock Exchange – TUSCAN

P.S: I did three of the columns myself on google sketchup (the ones with the blue and green background). Excuse the messy look.
I couldn’t do the same for the Corinthian and Composite columns, as beautiful as they are,  time is a luxury I don’t currently possess. 😛


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This entry was posted on November 7, 2012 by in Architecture, Civil Engineering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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