Under the portico of the Pantheon
Temple diagram with location of the pronaos highlighted

A portico (from Italian) is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls. This idea was widely used in Ancient Greece and has influenced many cultures, including most Western cultures.

Some noteworthy examples of porticos are the East Portico of the United States Capitol, the portico adorning the Pantheon in Rome and the portico of University College London.

Bologna, Italy, is famous for its porticos. In total, there are over 45 kilometres of arcades, some 38 in the city center. The longest portico in the world, about 3.5 km (2 mi), extends from the edge of the city to Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. In Turin, Italy, porticos stretch for 18 kilometres.

Palladio was a pioneer of using temple-fronts for secular buildings. In the UK, the temple-front applied to The Vyne, Hampshire was the first portico applied to an English country house.

A pronaos (UK: /proʊˈneɪ.ɒs/, US: /proʊˈneɪ.əs/) is the inner area of the portico of a Greek or Roman temple, situated between the portico's colonnade or walls and the entrance to the cella, or shrine. Roman temples commonly had an open pronaos, usually with only columns and no walls, and the pronaos could be as long as the cella. The word pronaos is Greek for "before a temple". In Latin, a pronaos is also referred to as an anticum or prodomus.


Types of portico

The different variants of porticos are named by the number of columns they have.


Temple of Portunus, with its tetrastyle portico of four Ionic columns

The tetrastyle has four columns; it was commonly employed by the Greeks and the Etruscans for small structures such as public buildings and amphiprostyles.

The Romans favoured the four columned portico for their pseudoperipteral temples like the Temple of Portunus, and for amphiprostyle temples such as the Temple of Venus and Roma, and for the prostyle entrance porticos of large public buildings like the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Roman provincial capitals also manifested tetrastyle construction, such as the Capitoline Temple in Volubilis.

The North Portico of the White House is perhaps the most notable four-columned portico in the United States.


Hexastyle buildings had six columns and were the standard facade in canonical Greek Doric architecture between the archaic period 600–550 BC up to the Age of Pericles 450–430 BC.

Greek hexastyle

The hexastyle Temple of Concord at Agrigentum (c. 430 B.C)

Some well-known examples of classical Doric hexastyle Greek temples:

  • The group at Paestum comprising the Temple of Hera (c. 550 BC), the Temple of Apollo (c. 450 BC), the first Temple of Athena ("Basilica") (c. 500 BC) and the second Temple of Hera (460–440 BC)
  • The Temple of Athena Aphaia (the invisible) at Aegina c. 495 BC
  • Temple E at Selinus (465–450 BC) dedicated to Hera
  • The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, now a ruin
  • Temple F or the so-called "Temple of Concord" at Agrigentum (c. 430 BC), one of the best-preserved classical Greek temples, retaining almost all of its peristyle and entablature.
  • The "unfinished temple" at Segesta (c. 430 BC)
  • The Hephaesteum below the Acropolis at Athens, long known as the "Theseum" (449–444 BC), also one of the most intact Greek temples surviving from antiquity)
  • The Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sunium (c. 449 BC)[1]

Hexastyle was also applied to Ionic temples, such as the prostyle porch of the sanctuary of Athena on the Erechtheum, at the Acropolis of Athens.

Roman hexastyle

With the colonization by the Greeks of Southern Italy, hexastyle was adopted by the Etruscans and subsequently acquired by the ancient Romans. Roman taste favoured narrow pseudoperipteral and amphiprostyle buildings with tall columns, raised on podiums for the added pomp and grandeur conferred by considerable height. The Maison Carrée at Nîmes, France, is the best-preserved Roman hexastyle temple surviving from antiquity.


The western side of the Parthenon.

Octostyle buildings had eight columns; they were considerably rarer than the hexastyle ones in the classical Greek architectural canon. The best-known octostyle buildings surviving from Antiquity are the Parthenon in Athens, built during the Age of Pericles (450–430 BC), and the Pantheon in Rome (125 AD). The destroyed Temple of Divus Augustus in Rome, the centre of the Augustan cult, is shown on Roman coins of the 2nd century AD as having been built in octostyle.


The decastyle has ten columns; as in the temple of Apollo Didymaeus at Miletus, and the portico of University College London.

See also

Portico close to piazza Santo Stefano, Bologna

Line notes

  1. ^ W. Burkert, Greek Religion (1987)


  • Greek architecture Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1968
  • Stierlin, Henri. Greece: From Mycenae to the Parthenon, TASCHEN, 2004, Editor-in-chief Angelika Taschen, Cologne, ISBN 3-8228-1225-0
  • Stierlin, Henri. The Roman Empire: From the Etruscans to the Decline of the Roman Empire, TASCHEN, 2002, Edited by Silvia Kinkle, Cologne, ISBN 3-8228-1778-3

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • portico — c.1600, from It. portico, from L. porticus colonnade, arcade, from porta gate (see PORT (Cf. port) (2)). Specifically of the Painted Porch in Athens …   Etymology dictionary

  • Portico — Por ti*co, n.; pl. {Porticoes}or {Porticos}. [It., L. porticus. See {Porch}.] (Arch.) A colonnade or covered ambulatory, especially in classical styles of architecture; usually, a colonnade at the entrance of a building. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Portĭco — Portĭco, Flecken in der toscanischen Präfectur Florenz, am Montone; 2400 Ew …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • portico — / pɔrtiko/ s.m. [dal lat. portĭcus us, femm., affine a porta porta e a portus us porto2 ] (pl. ci, ant. chi ). (archit.) [ambiente limitato in uno dei suoi lati da una serie di pilastri e lungo gli altri lati da pareti continue: passeggiare sotto …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • pórtico — s. m. 1. Espaço coberto cuja abóbada é sustentada por colunas e que serve de entrada ou vestíbulo. 2. Porta monumental …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • portico — *colonnade, arcade, arcature, peristyle …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • portico — has the plural form porticoes (preferred) or porticos …   Modern English usage

  • pórtico — (Del lat. portĭcus). 1. m. Sitio cubierto y con columnas que se construye delante de los templos u otros edificios suntuosos. 2. Galería con arcadas o columnas a lo largo de un muro de fachada o de patio …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • portico — ► NOUN (pl. porticoes or porticos) ▪ a roof supported by columns at regular intervals, typically attached as a porch to a building. ORIGIN Italian, from Latin porticus porch …   English terms dictionary

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