What is a portico and where might you find one?

The word portico comes from the Greek word “pronaos” meaning “placed before”. It is used in architecture to describe a porch or walkway with columns holding up its roof, positioned on the front of a building.

A portico is usually open on three of its sides. An elongated portico that forms more of a walkway than a porch is sometimes referred to as a colonnade.

Different styles of portico exist according to the number of columns present across their facades. A portico with four columns is known as tetrastyle, and this was a design used by the ancient Greeks, the Romans and the Etruscans. In modern times, you can see an example of a tetrastyle portico on the north side of the White House.

Hexastyle porticos have six columns across the front. Again, this is a portico style that was favoured by the Romans and Greeks. At Agrigentum you can see The Temple of Concord, a well-preserved Greek temple from around 430BC.

Porticos with eight columns are described as octastyle and two famous present-day examples are the Parthenon in Athens, built between 450 and 430BC, and the Pantheon in Rome, which dates from 125AD. Decastyle porticos have ten columns and include the portico of University College London.

On the island of Crete, the Minoans used porticos on their buildings. The famous Minoan palace at Knossos, which can still be seen today, has porticos arranged around a central courtyard to form covered walkways.

In the north of Italy, the architecture of Bologna is renowned for its porticos, which have long enabled residents to walk around their city and socialise sheltered from the weather. The porticos were originally constructed out of wood but, during the 16th century, they were replaced by stone and brick structures. Bologna contains the world’s longest portico, which has 666 arches and is around 3.5km in length.

Posted by Matt Hughes
August 7, 2014
Features

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