Of the three great styles or orders of architecture (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian), the Doric was the earliest and the one in which the noblest monuments were erected. Theories of the origin of the Doric order are numerous. The great remaining examples of the 6th cent. B.C. are found chiefly in Sicily and at Paestum in Italy. After 500 B.C. the archaic features of the Doric disappeared; harmonious proportions were achieved; and the final exquisitely adjusted type took form at Athens, in the Hephaesteum (465 B.C.), the Parthenon (c.447–432 B.C.), and the Propylaea (437–432 B.C.).
The Greek colonies of the Asia Minor coast had evolved their own special order, the Ionic order, stamped with Asian influences. This style appeared in temples in Greece proper after 500 B.C., challenging with its slenderly proportioned columns and carved enrichments the supremacy of the simple, sturdy Doric. The most magnificent Ionic temples were those at Miletus. In Greece proper the Ionic appeared in only one temple of major importance, the Erechtheum at Athens, and otherwise the form was restricted to minor buildings, as the temple of Nike Apteros, Athens (438 B.C.), and to interiors as in the Propylaea, Athens.
The third Greek order, the still more ornate Corinthian order, appeared in this period, reached its fullest development in the mid-4th cent. B.C., but was comparatively little used. The chief examples, both at Athens, are the choragic monument of Lysicrates (c.335 B.C.) and the Tower of the Winds (100 B.C.–35 B.C.). Later, the Romans used the Corinthian order extensively and adapted it into their widely used composite order.