Porches, staircases, and columns, oh my! 

Image by Erik Pronske Photograph/Getty Images

Ornate, grand, and unabashedly beautiful, antebellum architecture is a true Southern treasure.

And even though antebellum is a word we’re used to hearing, few know what it means—other than multi-level porches, sweeping staircases, dramatic columns, and old money, of course.  

The word "antebellum" is actually Latin for "before the war" ("ante" means "before,” and "bellum" means "war"). The war in this case being the Civil War fought between the North and the South in the 1860s.

"When 'antebellum' is attached to the description of a home, it means that the home was built before that war," Michael W. Kitchens, author of Ghosts of Grandeur and co-author of Southern Splendor: Saving Architectural Treasures of the Old South, explained to Realtor.com. Today, experts estimate that less than 20% of the grand structures that dominated the South during the antebellum period remain intact.

Before the Civil War, neoclassical house styles like Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate were the look du jour. Examples of these include Stanton Hall in Natchez, Mississippi; Green-Meldrim House in Savannah; and Hay House in Macon, Georgia, respectively. Today, the term "antebellum architecture" is used as a blanket term synonymous with all three styles of architecture.

"The style's rise in Europe came after discoveries of ancient Greek buildings in countries along the Mediterranean, revealing the classical forms of architecture employed by the Greeks and Romans," Kitchens said.

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The most notable characteristics of antebellum architecture include huge pillars, a balcony that runs along the outside edge of the house, large windows, and grand entrances at the front and rear of the home, Kitchens told Realtor.com. Inside, enormous foyers, open stairways, grand ballrooms, and intricate plaster design work are the hallmarks of the time.

European-style homes became popular throughout the U.S., but they were embraced most enthusiastically for Southern plantation homes and mansions. And the reason, according to Kitchens, is surprisingly practical.

"The columned porticos of buildings provided shade to the front of the house, which was important in hot climates found in the Southern states," he noted.

We certainly understand the appeal of a big ol' porch!