What's wrong with the proportions of ancient Greek temples?
What's wrong with the proportions of ancient Greek temples?

The ability of the human brain to change the visual perception of objects, to distort their color, shape, size, image and line was known to the ancient architects, who learned to filigreely violate the proportions of elements, deflect them from vertical or horizontal, bend contours and shapes so that a person could see perfect picture.

Today's story is about how ingenious architects managed to achieve fantastic spatial effects.

The most impressive results in the art of using the instruments of optical illusion were achieved by the architects of Ancient Greece (Temple of Hephaestus)

Optical illusions of any origin are impressive, and sometimes completely shock us. It is especially surprising why different people have the same perception of shapes, colors, dimensions, etc., despite the fact that reality does not correspond to the picture that everyone sees.

Optical illusions make our brain perceive an absolutely straight column as concave, ideally horizontal steps as sagging, and a static pattern as moving. This feature of brain deception was noticed in ancient times, long before scientists found an explanation for everything that was happening.

If you measure each of the columns, it turns out that they are not entirely perfect

The most advanced in this direction were the ancient Greeks, who decided to “fight” with the illusion in a cardinal way. They made changes to the design so that the magnificent structures looked flawless and effective. Greek architects began to experiment, using various compositional techniques, with the help of which they managed to "outwit" the deceived vision and correct the errors of perception.

They learned to use optical illusions and enhance them organically to achieve a wah effect (in modern terms). Judging by the structures that have come down to us, we can assume that in most cases they managed to do this at the highest level.

Architectural techniques, called curvature (from Latin curvatura - curvature), consist in the deliberate violation of strict symmetry, slight bending of the horizontal or vertical slope, changing geometric shapes, planes, straight lines, etc.

Plan of changes to the design of the Parthenon, created taking into account corrections for visual illusions

The Parthenon, the main temple of the Athenian Acropolis (447-438 BC), became a striking example of the competent use of the skills of double deception.

Almost every element of the structure has been meticulously changed, therefore, in a grandiose architectural monument, there is hardly at least one detail or contour that has a right angle, a strict line or full correspondence of the shapes of geometric figures. At the same time, for many centuries, mankind has perceived the temple as an ideally straightforward object without any flaws.

Design Tricks to Achieve Impressive Visual Effects (Parthenon, Athens)

During the design of the Parthenon, the architects Iktin and Callicrates used all kinds of methods to create an impressive and correct picture. To do this, they changed the proportions and configuration of the building elements themselves. And they began with the foundation (stylobate) of the temple. To avoid "subsidence" of the floor, the stone platform was made slightly convex in the center; for the same reason, the steps of the Parthenon were slightly bent.

The emphasis on columns required changes in their size, shape and angle of inclination

I had to tinker with the columns no less. Knowing about the effect of light on the perception of the human eye, they calculated that the corner columns will always be illuminated by the bright sky of Hellas, while the rest are visible only against the dark background of the temple itself. To avoid a visual reduction in the size of the corner posts, they were made a little wider than the others, and they were also placed closer to the neighboring ones. Thanks to this technique, it was possible to smooth out the illusion of "thinning" of the extreme supports and create the illusion of the same distance between the columns.

If we take up the measurement of each of the subsequent supports, it turns out that they are also modified, and the violations of proportions and straight lines, the addition of thickenings or the creation of slopes could be several on one element.

To make the Parthenon look more impressive and tall, the columns were narrowed to the top

To make the building look higher and give the impression of a temple rushing into the sky, the columns were narrowed to the top. To "fight" the illusion of concavity of massive supports, they were simply thickened approximately at the level of the lower third of the trunk. This means of compensation is called "entasis" (from the Greek. Entasis - tension, amplification).

The horizontal beam is tapered towards the center to compensate for visual illusions (Parthenon, Athens)

With the help of such means of illusory compensation, it was possible to achieve the correct perception of vertical and horizontal lines, which seem not at all parallel if they are of considerable length. A horizontal beam (architrave), for example, which is placed on the capitals of the columns, was made narrower in the center than at the edges, but from a distance it seems absolutely even.

To make the supports more slender and even, they were slightly "overwhelmed" relative to the base. Not only did this trick help maintain perfectly even angles and lines for human perception, but the structure also became more solid and durable.

The curvature (Stonehenge) techniques were also used to create the most mysterious cult building in Great Britain

Such secrets and techniques in the construction of grandiose buildings, especially temples and palaces, were known and applied not only by the ancient Greeks. If you look at the famous landmark of England - Stonehenge, you will notice that its creators, during the processing of the surface of the stones, made it more convex, and from all its sides.

Due to this, the boulders themselves appear rectangular, and the joints between the pillars and the slabs laid on them are smoother (the human eye sees them perpendicular).

The Trinity Cathedral in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra was built with an allowance for optical illusions

Russian architects were also familiar with optical illusions and often used cunning compensation techniques in their creations. Take, for example, the Trinity Cathedral in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra - the most important monument of early Moscow architecture (1422), erected over the tomb of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Its walls were made with a slope towards the center of the building, so as not to deceive the eyes, but on the contrary, to enhance the feeling of its stability.

Inside the temple, with the help of the support of the dome, in which slit-like openings were made, narrowing towards its top, it was possible to visually "raise" the structure. A similar property is possessed by the steep lines of arches and vaults, rushing upward, which can also be seen in the Russian shrine.

Campanile Santa Maria del Fiore designed by Giotto di Bondone from the laws of reverse perspective (Florence)

A striking example of how to visually balance a monumental building of impressive height is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, which was designed by the Italian painter and chief architect of Florence - Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337). When calculating the proportions of the campanile (bell tower), he decided to resort to reverse perspective, which helped to avoid the apparent distortion of dimensions with changes in distance.

Everyone knows that if you look at a tall building from bottom to top, you will definitely get the impression that its upper part is much narrower than at the base, while it seems that it is "piled up" back. To even out the perception, the Italian made the bell tower so that its upper part is much larger than the lower one. Thus, a person sees an absolutely flat structure that will really delight the eye.

Applying the laws of optics and perspective to create an illusory floor covering that is disorienting in space

But the ancient Greeks solved this problem easier - they tilted the upper part of the building slightly forward (relative to its vertical position). As a rule, this was done using a pediment, which was installed at an angle (as pictures are hung in art galleries). Also, more relief sculptures were installed at the top of the building, smoothing the visual effect.

Considering all these examples, it is safe to say that the system of compensation techniques and optical corrections, used by architects since ancient times, prove that their methods are relevant even now.

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