In life, there are items or objects that we have grown so accustomed to, that we never stop to think about the fact that they all have names. The portico is one of those very things.
For the past few years, there's been a lot of hubbub around so-called untranslatable words, but given that there are descriptions attached to those words, is it really accurate to call them untranslatable?
There is a name, somewhere in the world, for almost everything. The English language itself is derived from multiple European languages, from Latin to French to German. Latin and Greek both, too, originate from a single shared ancestor, and when a master creates their pièce de résistance, they will, inevitably, name it.
The human mind has a natural tendency to describe what it sees in order to process it. This is why names and labels exist. A good example of this is 'zugzwang'; when you're playing chess and you know you're screwed, whichever move you choose to make. Similarly, the feeling of the warm sun against your face on a chilly day is known as experiencing 'apricity'.
Porticos are built, in part, for protection and are a wonderful, sturdy example of a branch of architecture that is constantly being reinvented. The portico is the columned porch-like structure that leads to the entrance of an important or extravagant building. Its name comes from the Greek word pronaos, which roughly means 'before the temple' (pro- before, naos- temple), which is why porticos were originally part of larger structures in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, either protecting small walkways or colonnades.
There are different types of porticos. The Romans both preferred the tetrastyle porticos which consist of four supporting columns, and the Greeks used this style too, but only on their smaller buildings. For bigger buildings and colonnades, the most common usage was hexastyle, but the styles go on and up to ten.
Their usage was carried through from Ancient Greece to the extravagance of the Romans who then took it to the shores of Britain and northern Europe where it was to be adopted by the church as cloisters for their monasteries. This use of porticos is continuously revived for use in the modern world, and it's these we see almost everywhere, without knowing. You may have seen porticos in front of the old Colonial houses of New Hampshire, or from the Capitol Building itself.
In my hometown, there's a Greek structure based on the top of a burial mound. It was built in the mid-19th century as a half-sized replica of The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, as a monument to the work of the colonizer and high commissioner, John Lambton.
It's a wild site that hardly fits amidst the industrial, coal-rich landscape of the hills and valleys that make up that corner of the country but is also a fine example of a hexastyle portico; a style that will never die out.
The Panthéon is a temple and mausoleum within Paris's Latin Quarter. It was built by the French architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, commissioned by King Louis XV as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris. Soufflot decided to combine a façade inspired by The Pantheon in Rome, with its portico of Corinthian-style columns and a dome akin to that of St. Peter's Basilica.
Many of France's greatest visionaries are interred in the necropolis behind the colonnade as an honor to their memory; Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie among them.
The National Gallery has, within its walls, one of the greatest and largest collections of art in the world, but it is its style that truly stands out as itself in a history full of beautiful and historical buildings. The colonnade is at the forefront of Trafalgar Square. It is one of the first things that you see when you visit the famed spot that also gives a home to the infamous stone lions around Nelson's Column, as well as the Fourth Plinth - an empty plinth that has become host to specially commissioned and ever-changing pieces of art.
Its neo-Grecian columns have been at the center of hundreds upon thousands of postcards, paintings and many legendary photographs over the years.
Not to be confused with the Parisian Panthéon or the Roman, the Parthenon is a former temple on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The Greeks built this temple as a shrine to the Goddess of hunting and Patron of the Athenians - Athena. The Parthenon is the most important surviving building left over from Ancient Greece. It is the Parthenon we think of when we think of the wonders of the ancient world, of these columns and structures we've come to know as porticos, and its positioning is linked to the star cluster, the Hyades, that appear within the constellation of Taurus.
Perhaps then, we might allow ourselves the opportunity to ponder the idea that these temples were, figuratively, written in the stars.
The western front of the United States Capitol is one of the most recognizable examples of porticos in the modern world. The great image has been memorialized on film, in photographs, in books and in art, but the portico on the east front of the building is a replica. The original facade was replaced in the 50s as a preventative measure against the sandstone from which the old columns were built.
These old columns are now on display at the National Arboretum, not far from their original home, now supporting nothing but the cloudy skies above..
Everything has a name because everything has a reason in accordance with us. And now, you can tell everyone you walk by one with what the portico is, further extending the legacy of one of the oldest pieces of ancient architecture that the modern age has ever and will ever know.