Stoas are lengthened, colonnaded buildings which served diverse purposes. Generally, they were public places serving various functions such as shelters for religious shrines, covered areas for business transactions, or spaces reserved for processions to honor a benefactor, a local hero, or a victorious athlete. The architectural origins of the stoa remain uncertain, but ultimately it may have derived from the Aegeans, Egyptians, Syrians or Phoenicieans. Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks preferred external colonnades to internal ones. The architectural development of the stoa seems to have been most influenced by the Greeks themselves. Essentially a detached portico, the stoa was among the most elementary of architectural forms, often with little to no decoration. The smallest and simplest stoas were built as “lean stoas,” resting against a wall for the enclosed side.
The Stoa of the Athenians at Delphi was primarily commemorative and was financed with spoils gained from defeating the Persians at the battle of Mykale (480 BC). It was structurally dependent upon the previously existing Polygonal retaining wall, built to support the terrace that held the Temple of Apollo. Unlike most stoas, which were built of columns in the Doric order (the simplest order, to minimize costs), the columns for the Stoa of the Athenians at Delphi were made of marble in the Ionic order, and their wide spacing made it imperative that the roof and entablature were made of wood. The intercolumniation of the Stoa of the Athenians is 3.58 meters with the lower column diameter of .39 meters.
Inscribed on the stylobate of the stoa was one of the earliest surviving occurrences of the word oroa (dated to around 479-470 B.C.), a word used to describe structures of this type. The inscriptions also record the Athenian dedications of the building, as well as cables and ships’ prows that were taken from the Persian enemy, when the Athenian fleet in 478 BC secured Persian King Xerxes’ bridge and dedicated it to the gods.
Roofing practices differed widely among the Greeks depending on location, building type, financial imperatives, local materials, and aesthetic preferences. To prove economically satisfactory, cross-beams were laid and spaced widely within a large section indirectly supporting the closely spaced rafters of the smaller sections. The cross-beams were laid either horizontally or sloping, in the Hellenistic period, and the width of the sloping cross-beams preferably spanned over 5 meters, depending on the availability of timber. Evidence is widepread for multiple combinations and variations of rafters, battens, purlins, clay, and sheathing. The Stoa of the Athenians at Delphi utilized a shedded roof (highly unusual in stoa architecture) with hipped ends. A ridged roof would have caused a valley between the Polygonal wall to the north and would have collected water and developed leaks. A hypothetical recreation of the stoa’s roof would have placed common rafters at a span of 3.5 meters, rather than having a principle rafter, with a longitudinal beam against the Polygonal wall.
The Stoa of the Athenians was located to the immediate southeast of the Temple of Apollo, which proved beneficial in many respects due to its size, shape, depth, and location. The architecture was designed for an abundance of lighting, with seven fluted columns. Each of the columns was constructed of a single block of marble, in contrast to the traditional method in which columns were built using separate drums, stacked on top of one another. The one-aisled stoa faced southeast, with a platform for displaying the spoils against the rear wall; the rear wall was a length of 31.6 meters with a depth of 3.71 meters. These war memorials frequently were used as dedications to the gods, but also as monuments to Athenian glory. Remains include the rear Polygonal wall, stylobate, and north-east foundations, with some colonnaded shafts and capitals.