Tombs and Temples
What are some major architectural structures
of Ancient Egypt? There are many amazing sites of architecture in Egypt from
ancient times. Many have been discovered, but there are still ones being discovered
and excavated today. Pyramids, tombs, and temples are the main structures
still standing that can be seen today.
The first tombs of the pharaohs were
large, unimpressive, bunker affairs called mastabas. A mastaba (Arabic for”bench”) is a low rectangular structure which was built over a shaft which
descended to the burial location. They were made from sun dried mud bricks
and most have long since crumbled to dust. This all changed around 2630 BC
with the creation of the step pyramid.
The Step Pyramid was designed for King
Djoser ,of the 3rd dynasty, by his vizier, Imhotep. The pyramid is located
in Saqqara, the main necropolis of Memphis. The Saqqara pyramid has a series
of six levels of stone decreasing in size as they ascend to about 200 feet/60
meters in height. The Step Pyramid originally began as a mastaba, and it has
been visualized as a series of mastaba shapes, decreasing in size, stacked
one on top of another. The surface was originally encased in smooth white limestone
which must have caught the sun light and reflected its rays. It has the distinction
of being the site of the first large stone structure built in the world. The
place where humans began to strive for the impossible, where the imagination
gained the power to transform reality.
Some of the loveliest works of art
ever seen can be found at Saqqara, in the tombs of the nobles. The limestone
walls are delicately incised with myriads of animals, fish, birds, insects,
vegetation and people – hunting, herding and farming. Some of the forms still
retain their original paint, after 4,500 years! The quality of these compositions
demonstrates that the Egyptians had attained, at an early stage, an artistic
culture of a very high order. Cattle Crossing is an etching made from sketches
done at Saqqara. The medium of etching, itself a process of erosion, seems
well suited to capturing the time worn quality of the relief carving.
person responsible for the step pyramid, Imhotep, is credited as being the
inventor of building in stone and was a man of many talents – Architect, physician,
master sculpture, scribe, and astronomer. He must be the first true genius
in recorded history and the impression he had on the Egyptians was profound
because later generations revered him as a god of wisdom.
The age of the
first ancient wonders of the world began with the pyramids of Northern Sneferu.
This Pharaoh built three pyramids and may have had a hand in others. His pyramid
at Medium began as a step pyramid and was then modified to form the first true
pyramid. It standardized the shape of all pyramids to come. Its four sides
are equilateral triangles which meet at a point. He built another pyramids
at Dahshur. It was called the Bent Pyramid because its upper part has a shallower
angle of inclination than the lower part. The slope of its sides probably
was adjusted due to the development of cracks in the base during the construction.
When Khufu, also known as Cheops, became pharaoh one of his first acts
was to curtail the growing power of the priesthood. He shut up all the temples
and forbade sacrifices. As a priest’s living came from performing these rituals
it is not surprising that Khufu was unpopular with the religious orders.
Some believe that his pyramid at Giza was built by slaves but this is not
true. One hundred thousand people worked on it for three months of each year.
This was the time of the Nile’s annual flood which made it impossible to farm
the land and most of the population was unemployed. He provided good food and
clothing for his workers and was kindly remembered in folk tails for many centuries.
There are three pyramids at Giza, each of which once had an adjoining mortuary
temple. Attached to this temple would have been a covered causeway descending
down to a valley temple, near the Nile. The “Great pyramid”6 itself is truly
an astonishing work of engineering skill. For over four thousands years, until
the modern era, it was the tallest building in the world. The sides are oriented
to the for cardinal points of the compass and the length of each side at the
base is 755 feet (230.4 m). They rise at an angle of 51 52′ to a height , originally,
of 481 feet (147 m) but nowadays 451 feet (138 m). It was constructed using
around 2,300,000 limestone blocks, weighing, on average, 2.5 tons each. Although
some weigh as mush as 16 tons. Until recently, relatively speaking, it was
cased in smooth limestone but this was plundered to build Cairo.
conceivable that by bringing together so many people and giving them a common
goal, that of making a mountain, a national identity is forged in their hearts.
From Upper and Lower Egypt communities would have got to know each other and
a common bond would have been manifest in the object of the pyramid. If this
is true it is unique because all other forms of nationalism have grown out
of war. For example England and France in the Hundred years war and the USA
through the revolutionary, civil and Indian wars.
The Temple of Karnak was
known as Ipet-isut (Most select of places) by the ancient Egyptians. It is
a city of temples built over 2000 years ago and dedicated to the Theben triad
of Amon, Mut and Khonsu. This abandoned place is still capable of overshadowing
many of the wonders of the modern world and in its day must have been awe inspiring.
For the largely uneducated ancient Egyptian population this could only have
been the place of the gods. It is the mother of all religious buildings,
the largest ever made and a place of pilgrimage for nearly 4,000 years. Although
today’s pilgrims are mainly tourists. It covers about 200 acres,(1.5 km by
0.8 km). The area of the sacred enclosure of Amon alone is 61 acres and would
hold ten average European cathedrals. The great temple at the heart of Karnak
is so big that St. Peter’s Cathedral, Milan Cathedral , and Notre Dame Cathedral
could be lost within its walls. The Hypostle hall at 54,000 square feet with
its134 columns is still the largest room of any religious building in the world.
In addition to the sanctuary there are several smaller temples and a vast
The Temple of Dendara, in Karnak, was known as the Castle of
the Sistrum or Pr Hathor, House of Hathor. Hathor was the goddess of love,
joy and beauty. With the exception of its supporting pillars, which had capitals
sculpted in the image of Hathor and were defaced by the Christians, the walls,
rooms and roof are complete and extraordinarily well preserved. The stone steps
of the spiral staircase are time worn but still used to ascend to the roof,
where there is a small chapel decorated with Hathor-headed columns. The Christians
seemed to have missed these.
Dendara was also used as a healing centre
and in the grounds stands an ancient hospital along with a sacred lake. After
visiting Dendara one gets a feel for the layout of other temples along the
Nile and in the minds eye it is possible to reconstruct the really huge design
of buildings like Karnak. What really grabbed my artistic attention among all
this magnificence was a small detail. The place sings with the music of birds.
Hundreds of them roost in small cracks and hollows in the walls seeming to
contemplate their carved likeness in the hieroglyphic reliefs. There is one
other thing that stirs the imagination, the building bares the name of the
famous Cleopatra and her son, whose father was Julius Caesar. It is possible
that these celebrate personalities climbed the same stairs and contemplated,
on high, the same landscape which stretches for miles below.
some of the most precious examples of architecture from the ancient world are
of the ancient Egyptians. Although the ancient Egyptians lived in a primitive
world, they proved to have great knowledge for building lasting structures
that would forever have a unique and majestic influence on the world.