Architectural Ornament in Plant Forms
The trees may also have been adorned with the fruits and flowers of the harvest or with the physical remains of the sacrificial fowl and animals produced by the harvest. Battle trophies replicating the armor of slaughtered enemies might be hung from the trees as symbols of victory.
Evidence of sacrificial rites such as the beaks and claws of birds shown above may have been hung from tree branches along with the many small bones of the sacrificed creatures strung together on ropes with votive tablets and other paraphernalia assembled to invoke the divinity. Our Christmas tree continues the originally pagan practice of honoring trees associated with sacred events.
Temples made of wood, none of which survive, were the likely predecessors of stone temples. Vitruvius, the Roman writer from whom we have gained much of our knowledge of Greek building practices, theorized that posts made from tree trunks became stone columns. The columns supported the horizontal superstructure called the entablature, which was originally a series of wood beams that, in turn, supported the roof. The absence of arches in Greek temples may indicate that the Greeks did not explore the structural possibilities of stone because they valued its durability more.
The frieze of a Doric temple is composed of alternating triglyphs and metopes. The three vertical parts of the triglyphs are thought to have been wooden strips used to disguise or protect the rough-cut ends of the ceiling beams. Translated into stone and no longer structurally necessary, such motifs served both as reminders of former construction methods and as ways to create a pattern of light and shadow to delight the eye.
The rules that governed the architecture of temples were culled from famous examples in Greece. Roman builders grafted Greek forms on to such important buildings in Rome as the Colosseum as a way of increasing the prestige of their new culture. Centuries later, Thomas Jefferson used the Roman temple form to validate the fledgling republic of the United States. To promote confidence in the stability of the country’s civic and commercial buildings, Americans applied temple fronts to government buildings, banks, and other important commercial structures. Viewed as a kit-of-parts, the neo-classical buildings used borrowed structure and useful symbols to bridge the cultural gap between our new country and the ancient western world.