The Aegean in the Bronze Age from A Global History of Architecture

The societies that developed around the Aegean sea during the second millenium BC, were highly spiritual when it came to nature. Nature was not just the biggest motive for their religion, it was also a reference point for their architecture. Their architecture was always integrated with nature. They were living in cities built on hilltops and they were using cyclopean masonry which looked like it was not even formed by men but has been there naturally. This even led the Greeks of the next generation to believe that these walls were made by giants. The cyclopean wall actually has its name from the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, the Cyclops in Homer’s Odyssey who tossed huge stones at the escaping boats of Ulysses…

Mycenaens rebuilt cyclopean walls of Crete and added Lion Gate.


The earliest ones of the bunch, were Minoans who inhabited Crete. Minoans had a very peaceful societal order. There are no signs of kingdomship, they only had high priestesses to practice their religious ceremonies. They were international traders and master pottery makers. Just like the Harappans, they had a very good drainage and plumbing system that indicated great hygiene for that period of time. Unlike the settlements near them, the Minoans did not have fortified walls around their cities. Again, unlike the surrounding societies; they did not even pronounce any hierchical order among the members of their society.

The reason they did not have fortification shows us that there were no internal conflicts. And it also indicated that the security was provided both because their settlements seemed to be protected by the geography they chose, with hills and natural sites, but also due to their network of communication. They had communication towers along the coast and they had colonial activity in the warrior states that could get information.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The one thing Minoans did  try to protect was their temples. Their greatest temple was located in the biggest city: Knossos. Little did we know that the word labyrinth is actually an inheritance from our ancestors in Crete. The labyrinth, was in an isolated location and was built as confusing as it gets! The two sides of the labyrinth was fortified with cyclopean walls.And while entering the temple you had to make two 90° turns which was very intimidating for a new comer. It’s not certain whether it was built as a maze or evolved into such but the structure itself is like a manifestation of god with its uncomfortable turns and corridors, anti-symmetrical approach and table-leg columns which are no good when it comes to physical qualities like compression but probably had a symbolic significance.

The Minoans’ attention to nature led them to make structure adjust to the topographical qualities of their land and keep them in contact with their landscape. They are the first culture that introduce windows in residential spaces, in which they used piled parchment as the transparent material. They also built terraces and loggias. As a culture that has been devastated many times by nature, their positive attitude towards nature and their optimism can  be grasped by just taking a look at their frescoes.


After the peaceful Minoans, Crete becomes the hometown of a whole different culture, the Mycenaeans. They were warriors. The decoration of palaces and religious sites had strong borrowings from Minoans but their approach to architecture could not have been more different. The Mycenaeans built lithic, solid and hierarchical structures. Their houses were tiny and dark, without windows tying them to nature and landscape. They had heavily fortified hilltop towns due to local infighting. Each lord would build a great hall or a Megaron Palace that dominated the townscape. But these great structures called megarons were going to inspire the layout of the Greek temple.

Mycenaeans’ architecture, just like some of their burial rituals had footprints from Egypt. They made use of the Egyptians pylons in the façade of complexes made for tombs.

Also, the infamous city of tale of the Trojan War includes the city of Troy and Mycenae.

At the time another city, Hattusha gained big importance. In Hattusha, like a tradition in Crete, the structure would be oriented according to the temples. Hittite temples just like Mesopotamian and Egyptian ones had great functions of storage and public places. Also, the houses in Hattusha did not have windows and maybe because the people are so desperate for daylight in their temples that they built  the outdoor sanctuary of Yazılıkaya. This complex is a very impressive combination of natural order and architectural elements. Just like Mycenae their culture collapsed probably due to internal inflicts. But they too, showed the world how architecture can integrate with the landscape.

Yazılıkaya Sanctuary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s