Temple, edifice constructed for religious worship. Most of Christianity calls its places of worship churches; many religions use temple, a word derived in English from the Latin word for time, because of the importance to the Romans of the proper time of sacrifices. The name synagogue, which is from the Greek for a place of assembly, is often interchangeable with Jewish temple. Mosque is roughly an Arabic equivalent for temple. The Church of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, temples are not places of worship but centers for sacred ordinances to and for the living and for the dead.
Because of the importance of temples in a society, temple architecture often represents the best of a culture's design and craftsmanship, and, because of ritual requirements, temple architecture varies widely between one religion and another.
The ziggurats of the Mesopotamian culture were elaborately designed and decorated, and their "stair-step" style ascended to a point where a god or gods could dwell and where only special priests were allowed.
In the ancient Greek religion the various gods were the most important focus, and Classical Greek temple architecture created structures that emphasized that focus. An inner, windowless room, or cella, housed an image of a god, and an altar stood outside the temple, usually at the eastern end and often enclosed.
During the 3rd and 2nd centuries bc, Roman temples began to evince Greek influence, using the Greek decorative style but placing the altar within the temple and eventually creating entire forums, or meeting places, of which the temple was the centre. In Roman temple architecture, the columns, in their various styles, soon became engaged rather than freestanding, and circular as well as rectangular temples were built.
In the East and Middle East, too, temple design expresses the nature of the religion. For example, the asceticism and rich symbolism of Jainism is reflected in that religion's beautifully decorated monastery-like structures in India, both above the ground in simple cloisters and below the ground in caves. Other Indian temple architecture, although it tends to follow the pattern of a simple floor plan with a richly decorated facade, differs according to the ritual. Hindu temples, which vary regionally in style, usually consist of a towering shrine and a columned hall surrounded by an elaborate wall. Buddhist temples range from half-buried sanctuaries with richly carved entrances to single, carved towers or statues. Muslim temples in India, as elsewhere, are usually domed structures decorated with coloured tiles on the outside and covering a large central sanctuary and arcaded courtyards within.