Ionic Order of Architecture | How to Identify Columns?

Ionic order together with Doric and Corinthian orders are the most important classical greek orders of architecture. It’s regarded to has emerged in the 600s BC. Nike Apteros Temple, known as one of the first important examples of ionic order temples, was built in 427 BC.

Some temples were fully designing with the rules of ionic order. As for multi-storey structures, we often see ionic elements at the second floor. Generally, the ground floor of these buildings have Doric and the second floor has corinthian order components. Perhaps the most known of the multi floor buildings with mixed orders is Colosseum in Rome. Respectively, the ground floor is decorated with Dor, the 1st floor is ionic and the 2nd floor is decorated with Corinthian style columns. However, these pillars have not any structural functions. The bearing elements enabling for the building to rise so much are arches of the Roman architecture.

Colosseum and Greek orders

In “De Architectura”, Vitruvius said that ionic order architecture reflects the beauty of women. The author conveyed that when classic greek architects invent the ionic order, they have benefited grace, fineness, rate and fanciness of women body. In addition, according to him, Doric order reflects the plain beauty of men body and as for corinth represents beauty of maiden’s body.

Doric column example from Neptun Temple
Doric column examples from Neptun Temple

Ionic structures which can be distinguished from Doric order examples easily are frequently confused with corinthian buildings. Doric is so much simpler than others since it invented much earlier. Doric columns can generally be distinguished easily by their no-groove body and unprocessed column capital. However, It’s required to look under the hood for picking out corinth and ionic styles from each other. Let’s we all together examine ionic order architectural elements closely.

Architectural Elements of Ionic Order

The key element of classical greek architecture is the pillar. Greeks used to pillars as the bearing component of Doric, ionic and corinthian orders. Beside this, they also evaluated columns in terms of the aesthetic and make them the most importants of greek structures. So, how to identify an ionian column?

Ionic column is thinner and taller than Doric type. It looks much more graceful in contrast with dumpy structure of Doric columns. In generally, Ionic columns place upon pillar bases consisting of horizontal moldings or disks. Faces of these columns used to designed often with groove or rarely flat. According to “The Ten Books on Architecture”, the number of grooves on pillars should be 24.

İonic pillars
Ionic pillars

There is no entasis in the ionic order column. The entasis principle has used mostly for the Doric order with the aim of making optical illusions. With this way, pillars rise by getting thinner upwards, and they look overtall. In his book, Vitruvius narrates the classical orders down to the smallest detail, from the proportions of the columns to the drawing of the volutes by a compass. Thanks to these informations, West’s great art movements like Renaissance and Neoclassicism had been fed on classical architecture quite.


Steps of stair, which is located in the entrance of temples and generally 3, are krepis. The first two step are called as stereobate, and the upmost one is stylobat. Stylobat is also the plate that carry pillars and the ground floor. For this reason, it would not be wrong to say that it is an entrance landing.

It was taken care in the design of stairs to ensure krepis number is odd. By this means, the right foot stepped on the first step will also be the foot stepping on the last step, namely the stylobate, Vitruvius says. In addition, he recommended that riser height should be between 9-10 inch in terms of the comfort. Moreover, the width of the steps should be in the range of 1.5-2 feet.

Pillar Base in Ionic Order

In the ionic order of greek architecture, columns are sit on pillar bases not on a stylobate. Then, this base transfers its load to the stylobate. Architects had arranged the length and width of the bases to be 1.5 times the column thickness. As for height of column base, it’s the half column diameter. The molding that appears to be curved outward from these is called a torus. Generally, there is a narrower cross-sectioned intermediate element called scotia between the two toruses on the bases with lower and upper torus.

Ionic order architectural elements
Erechteion Temple at Acropolis and Architectural Elements of Ionic Order

Ionic Column Capital

The simplest way of identify a classical greek order is looking at columns of the structures. These pillars relay critical informations about what kinds of order were buildings designed with. As for the part of columns that vary most from each others is their capital. Because, while the body of most of them differs only as dimensionally, column capitals have more apparent features.

The thing that ensure us to distinguish the ionic column capital from other capitals and orders is volutes. There are volutes resembling a spiral flower, one on each side of the heading.

Since usage of volutes at corner pillars cause an aesthetic problem, these volutes differ. Because, the columns on the corner face both the front and side facades. For this reason, the problem was in the outward facing volute of the corner column. Should the outward-facing volute be turned to the front or to the side? As the solution, architects had thought a co-volute for both facade in the corner. Generally, this volute does not look at straight ahead, but in the middle of the two fronts. Furthermore, architects of the classical period who want to solve the corner column problem recommended more different solutions.

Another element, the abacus, is the separating layer between the column capital and the architrave. Although there is abacus in the ionic pillar capital, it was not used in the archaic period. Besides, there was no frizes in the structures in that period.

Ionic Pediment and Entablature

In most of temple orders, we can see similar elements above the column heading. The most remarkable of these are the architrave consisting of horizontal moldings, the frieze with various drawings and statues, the cornice and the pediment on it. The pediment, which means fronton, was arranged in a triangular shape in the first times, yet it has undergone formal changes in the following periods.

The Ionic order, about which I have given a very brief information, is an architectural language that needs to be researched and studied much more. So much so that, with the enlightenment, European architects have investigate these 3 orders of the classical age, so started a rebirth in architecture with the Renaissance. Undoubtedly, the most important source used for revealing the architectural tenets of the classical periods is the Vitruvius’s work of ten books, which is estimated to was written in BC 25. I recommend you to read this cult book for getting unique informations about the classical architecture at first hand.

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