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Greek keys

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River Meander

A Greek key is a decorative border. There are a surprising number of different versions. This website explains how the keys are different from each other and allows you to compare keys against each other.

The Greek key pattern is called that because the square pieces sticking out in the pattern look rather like a key. The pattern is also known as a meander or a Greek fret.

Meander means twisting and turning, It is named after the River Meander, now called Buyuk Menderes River, in South Western Turkey. This river is mentioned in the Iliad, by Homer. Part of the river is shown on the right. As you can see, it is a very twisting river! The U shapes are oxbow lakes, made when the river changes course. So a meander pattern is a single path which twists back on itself. This is a good description of the Greek key.

Fretwork is a design cut out with a fretsaw. A Greek key is geometric and simple and you could imagine that it has been cut out, which explains its other name, Greek fret. Also it is one colour against a neutral background, so it is easy to carve or cut.

Links to external sites

Richard Trefrey has some interesting borders and panels. These ones are based on Greek Keys.

Fractional Beauty has some wonderful patterns based on Greek Keys, some with six arms rather than two or four.

The Arlington Baths Club in Glasgow, a Victorian building, has these splendid Greek keys with interesting designs:

Arlington Baths Club Greek key decoration Arlington Baths Club Greek key decoration

Here is a collection of Greek keys. Some of these are described in the rest of this website, some aren't.

Collection of Greek keys

Collection of Greek keys