A common type of ancient monuments around the Mediterranean is the ancient Greek temple. Unfortunately, very few remain intact; most of them surviving in the form of free-standing multidrum columns. Composed of stones resting on top of each other without any connection, such columns are considered vulnerable to earthquakes. The paper presents an experimental study of such structures, aiming to explore their seismic vulnerability and derive insights on the key factors affecting their response. Reduced scale models of a single multidrum column and of a portal were tested at the shaking table of the National Technical University of Athens Laboratory of Soil Mechanics. The models, constructed of marble just as the originals, were excited by idealized Ricker pulses and real seismic records. Single columns exhibit a remarkable earthquake resistance. Subjected to the strongest motions ever recorded in Greece, where many such monuments are situated, the columns hardly suffered any permanent deformation. Collapse is probable only for extremely harsh directivity-affected seismic motions. Portals proved even more robust, surviving extreme seismic excitations. Their superior performance is related to the beneficial role of the epistyle, which adds energy dissipation and restoring force to the system. Their performance is very sensitive to minor changes in geometry or input motion. The complexity increases exponentially with the number of drums, being directly associated with the number of drum-to-drum interfaces and the increased probability of interface imperfections. In contrast to PGA, the maximum spectral displacement SDmax and the length scale Lp have turned out to be effective intensity measures. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.