K. Graham Pont
54 Birchgrove Road
Balmain NSW 2041 AUSTRALIA

N2006-PontAthens, Acropolis after 450 B.C. Perspective view, reconstruction by C.A. Doxiadis, 1972. Courtesy of the MIT Press.

In his doctoral thesis (1937), translated as 'Architectural Space in Ancient Greece' (1972), Constantinos Doxiadis argued that the apparently haphazard layout of Greek temple sites could be explained by a system of planning by 'polar coordinates'. From a fixed pole, usually at the ritual entrance, the planner could locate any building by measuring the distance to that building and the size of the angle between two vectors or radii, here sightlines from the viewer to the outer edges of that building.

Analysis of 29 ancient sites revealed two systems of ancient planning - the Doric, based on a 12-part division of the 360-degree visual field, and the Ionic, based on a 10-part division of that field. In both cases, buildings were carefully sited so that their outer edges (stylobates, cornices etc) appeared to the viewer at canonic angles of vision, such as 30, 60, 90 (Doric) and 18, 36, 72 (Ionic), thus creating a 'unified composition' of the visible landscape. Doxiadis' theory is testable and was confirmed by the discovery of a 30-degree angle between sightlines from the top western step of the Propylaea to the outer edges of the temple of Athene Nike.

A similar system of planning might have been used in Italy by augurs practising the 'Etruscan Rite' which was also based on a ritual division of the visual 'templum' (sacred space). Since Joseph Rykwert's reconstruction of the Etruscan Rite, in The Idea of a Town (1976), is confirmed by only one cardinally oriented and orthogonally planned city (Marzabotto), I suggest that the many irregular Italian sites (including Rome and Hadrian's Villa) might have been ritually planned by methods analogous to the Greek system and involving a 'Pythagorean' world-view based on an 'harmonic' division of space and time.

About the author
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a philosopher specialising in aesthetics of music and architecture. He is currently working on the notation and interpretation of Handel's music, the irregularities of Greek and Gothic architecture, and the design philosophy of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin...

The correct citation for this paper is:
K. Graham Pont, "Inauguration: Ritual Planning in Ancient Greece and Italy", pp. 93-104 in Nexus VI: Architecture and Mathematics, eds. Sylvie Duvernoy and Orietta Pedemonte Turin: Kim Williams Books, 2006.