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Greco-Roman vs. Han Chinese Extant Architecture

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Gun Powder Ma View Drop Down

Joined: 02-Sep-2006
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  Quote Gun Powder Ma Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Greco-Roman vs. Han Chinese Extant Architecture
    Posted: 29-Sep-2006 at 11:56
Hi, there has been recently another round of mutual charges of cultural centrism in the thread 'Why was Europe first'. That time it evolved around architecture. Luckily, although we might have disagreed about certain thesises and ways of interpretation, we all enjoyed at least the numerous pics. That is what I like - philosophizing about whether blonde or dark-haired chics are more sexy, while all the time having a close look at them both! LOL

So why don't we put one's money where one's mouth is and get some things permanently settled? Here, I am going to post a thread with pics of extant Greco-Roman architecture, trying to give an overview of its essence, look and technique. I will restrict myself to the period of 600 BC to 600 AD. At the end, I will give my personal conclusion - based on the evidence.

You in turn are invited to do the same with contemporary Chinese architecture. Then we make a comparison. Please note that the purpose of this thread is to post pics and not to explain why you do not post them. We are looking here for evidence, not excuses.

In no particular order:


The Tower of Hercules (Torre de Hrcules), in northwestern Spain, is almost 1,900 years old. The ancient Roman lighthouse stands near La Coruna and is 57 metres (185 feet) in height. It is the oldest working Roman lighthouse in the world. The current facade was reconstructed in the late 18th century in neoclassicist style and works like a shell to the Roman original, which can be still visited in the interior.

Note the strong resemblance between Roman lighhouses and Western Islam minarets (Marrakesh; Giralda in Seville, Sultan Hassn Mosque in Casablanca).


Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy. Early example of Byzantine art. Constructed in the 6th century, the Campanile later. Inside there are marvellous Byzantine mosaics.

Note that church construction only could begin after Christianity was recognized by the Roman Emperors in the famous Tolerance Edict of Milan in 313. Before, Christianity was an underground religion with little access to state resources and little inclination to erect conspicuous buildings. Therefore, we are lucky to have such an early example surviving. The strong similarity of the structure to the traditional Roman basilica is evident.


Pantheon, Rome, Italy.
Constructed between 118 and 128 AD under Emperor Hadrian. The diameter is 43.2 meter, comparable to Christian and Islamic domes erected more than a millenium later.

The Pantheon is the first dome structure and can be rightly called the Mother of all Domes. Whether Hagia Sophia, Taj Mahal, St. Peter, or the Washington Capitol, all derive ultimately from this archtype.


Diocletian Palace, Split, Croatia. Old-age residence of Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD), the first to split the empire into two parts for administrative reasons. Later, the city of Split - today the second biggest in Croatia - evolved from the palace as nucleus when the Romance population fled into the confinements of the building during the time of the Slavic infiltration.


Theatre of Ephesus, Agean Coast, Turkey. Ephesus was one of the biggest cities in Asia Minor both in Hellenistic times and under the Romans. Later, the harbor silted due to the nearby Maander, despite the reccovering efforts of population, and Ephesus became deserted. Some of the population moved for defensive purposes to a nearby hill next to the  remains of the Artemision, one of the 7 World Wonders.

Theatre of Leptis Magna, Libya. Constructed in 193 AD by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Septimus severus was born in Leptis Magna and when he ascended the throne after overcoming three other rivals, he gave special attention to his home town and province, initiating an ambitious building program and announcing tax exemptions. At the time of the Arabs (642 AD), the city was almost empty and sand dunes began to cover the splendid remains. Only in modern times, Italian archaeologists started the excavations of the city area.


Basilica of Constantine, Trier, Germany. Constructed at the beginning of the 4th century AD. The building is 67 meter long, 27.2 wide, 33 meter high. The basilica was originally a large hall used for ceremonial and representative purposes by the Roman emperors. Its special architectural significance stems from the fact that the basilica served as blue print for the cross-shaped (Western) Christian church, thus ultimately becoming one of the hallmarks of Christian civilization. Greek Orthodox churches, in contrast, have a "+" shape with equal side lengthes.

Interior. Note that this building had been originally not a church, but a pagan ceremonial building. Still, you can see typical Christian elements like the semi-circular apsis.

In the interior you can find by the way the baptismal certificate of a certain Karl Marx, who was converted from Judaism to the Christian faith by his mother at the age of 4.

Bronze Sculptures

Bronze equestrian statue of Marc Aurel, Rome, Italy.
C. 175 AD. This sculpture is the only surviving bronze statue of a pre-Christian Roman emperor in Rome and one of only three in the whole Roman realm. The reason for its preservation is that the then Christianized Romans thought him mistakenly for the first Christian emperor Constantine (4th century AD) and not for the pagan Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius is also remembered as the 'philosopher on the throne' for of his still extant works on the philosophy of Stoics which stresses the virtues of wisdom, justice and moderation. As an anecdote, he used to upset the Roman populace by reading books during gladiatorial fights, perhaps indicating the beginning of a shift in the moral values of the time.

Note the right hoove lifted. This was from an technological point of view no easy feat because its static implications. In the Middle Ages, Marc Aureel's statue became one of the models of European bronze sculpture and was only really surpassed in the later Renaissance when artists succeeded at building  bronze statues with the horse standing on both of its backhooves high in the air!


Vaison La Romaine, France. erected in 149 BC, it is the oldest surviving Roman bridge and perhaps the oldest still extant stone bridge in the world.

Alcantara, Spain. Erected c. 105. Span of Arches 27m respectively 28m. 50 meter above the normal river level. 71 meter overall height.

Without comment.

Wall gates

Porta Nigra, Trier, Germany. Construction about 180 AD. Literally 'Black Gate'. For unknown reasons, never been really completed by the Romans as can be easily seen even by the untrained eyes. Functioned in the Middle Ages as church and town gate. Napoleon ordered in 1804 to tear down the church in order to restore the original state.

Trier reached its heyday in the fourth century AD when it became, due to its proximity to the Germanic border, briefly the capital of the fourth part of the Roman Empire (the eastern and western part were again administered by substitutes off the two emperors). Today quite a lot of Roman remains can still be seen, making it one of the most interesting tourist sites north of the Alpes for aficionados of Roman architecture.

Wall Towers

Roemerturm (Roman Tower), Cologne, Germany. Presumbly 3rd century AD. The ornaments point to Frankish workers. The Roman Tower had been originally part of a complete Roman wall around Cologne. Today, with the medieval wall dismantled in the 1880s it remains a solitaire.

Apartment Buildings

Roman Apartment Building at Ostia, the harbour of Rome, Italy. These buildings, also called insulae, were according to Wikipedia up to 7 and 8 stories high (I did not yet countercheck the info, I have been always going with four stories so far).  Whatever its exact height, they were complety outstanding achievements of Roman civilization, giving it a surprisingly modern look. AFAIK nothing comparable exists in other ancient cultures.

Model of Insula at Ostia.

Shopping Malls

Trajan's Markets, Rome, Italy. Construction period: 107-110 AD. It would not go too far to call them the first shopping mall ever: 'the upper levels of the market were used for offices while the lower part, in front of Trajan's Forum, had shops selling all kinds of food.'

Trajan's Markets Interior Hall. Note the segmental arches which were here favoured over the typical Roman semi-circle arch.

To be continued....

Edited by Gun Powder Ma - 29-Sep-2006 at 23:06
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