Egyptian architecture

Historical Development

Egyptian architectural development parallels the chronology (see Egypt): Old Kingdom, 2680–2258 B.C.; Middle Kingdom, 2134–1786 B.C.; New Kingdom, 1570–1085 B.C. Old Kingdom remains are almost entirely sepulchral, chiefly the tombs of monarchs and nobles. The mastaba is the oldest remaining form of sepulcher; it is a rectangular, flat-roofed structure with sloping walls containing chambers built over the mummy pit. The pyramid of a sovereign was begun as soon as he ascended the throne. Groups of pyramids remain; those at Giza, which include the Great Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops), are among the best known. Many Middle Kingdom tombs were tunneled out of the rock cliffs on the west bank of the Nile, among them the remarkable group (c.1991–1786 B.C.) at Bani Hasan. New Kingdom temples in the environs of Thebes, such as those of Medinet Habu and the Ramesseum, derived their form from the funerary chapels of previous ages.

The New Kingdom years cover the great period of temple construction, those temples extant conforming to a distinct type. The doorway in the massive facade is flanked by great sloping towers, or pylons, in front of which obelisks and colossal statues were often placed. The more important temples were approached between rows of sculptured rams and sphinxes. A high enclosing wall screened the building from the common people, who had no share in the temple rituals practiced solely by the king, the officials, and the priesthood. Beyond the open colonnaded courtyard was the great hypostyle hall with immense columns arranged in a central nave and side aisles. The shorter columns of the latter permitted a clerestory for the admission of light. Behind the hypostyle hall were small sanctuaries, where only the king and priests might enter, and behind these were small service chambers.

The Great Temple of Amon at Karnak is a product of many successive additions; the central columns of its hypostyle hall are the largest known. In the temples that resulted from many additions, unity of design was often sacrificed to sheer size. New Kingdom temples were also excavated from rock. The temples of Abu-Simbel begun by Seti I (1302–1290 B.C.), have four colossal figures, sculptured from solid rock, of Ramses II, who completed the temples. (The temples were cut apart and removed from their position by the Nile previous to the completion of the Aswan dam and reassembled in 1966 at a point higher and farther inland.) The temple at Idfu (237 B.C.), by Ptolemy III, is the best preserved of the Ptolemaic period.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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