Egyptian Architecture – Knowledge, Development and Evolution

History of Egyptian Architecture

The Egyptian civilization dates back to about 5500 years B.C., calling attention to the structure and social fabric dominated by dynasties of strong pharaohs with attributes considered of divine origin. C., drawing attention to the structure and social fabric dominated by dynasties of strong pharaohs with attributes considered to be of divine origin. Therefore, this way of conceiving oneself had a profound influence on society and therefore on the architecture and construction of that era. Likewise, the architecture of ancient Egypt was strongly influenced by religion, leaving a legacy of immense value for the history of mankind in its colossal pyramids, which are still standing. This is to say the least, since the first constructions that preceded the monumental pyramids were the dykes and mastabas.

Highlighting and impressing the types of constructions of ancient Egypt in its pyramids, temples, effigies, mastabas and sarcophagi, all of them of immense size, spectacular and magical beauty. Likewise, the so-called colossi, which were large sculptures of guardians at the entrance of the temples and numerous religious hand-paintings, also stand out.  Thus, these impressive constructions were made by slaves who suffered the sun and the high temperatures of the desert to accomplish this magnificent goal. Since the wheel was not yet known at that time, it is believed that the slaves ingeniously climbed the stone blocks by hand.

History of Egyptian Architecture

The distinguishing characteristics of Egyptian architecture were the use of sun-baked mud bricks, mud bricks and stone, mostly limestone. Stones and bricks were used in tombs and temples while bricks were used in royal palaces, fortresses and public buildings.

The roofs of all large buildings were flat roofs constructed of huge stone blocks, supported by columns. The houses were made of mud from the Nile River, extremely modest and small, hard to believe that they were great architects. Thus, the colossal size of the Egyptian buildings, built mostly in stone, profusely using the column, with a linteled architecture predominating the straight line over the curve, are the main qualities of its masterful architecture, of which two types of building stand out: temples and tombs.

This architecture is strongly linked to what was this powerful civilization, intensely influenced by religious magic. So much so that all of their buildings were built in an attempt to achieve divine supremacy.

Contrary to what happens in other architectures, in this one there are individualities and there is talk of the first architect in history, Imhotep, who is said to have built the first pyramid. It is believed that he got the idea of the union of several mastabas with each other creating a building that pointed to the cosmos. As of 2008, some 138 pyramids have been discovered in Egypt. Likewise, the richness of color and symbolism in the interior, the interior and exterior walls of the buildings as well as the columns and piers, covered with hieroglyphics, frescoes and carvings in bright colors, stand out in this marvelous architecture. The magnificence of the temples of ancient Egypt, do not cease to amaze by their alignment with the astronomical events of the solstices and equinoxes and therefore it is known that they had a great knowledge of astronomy, obtaining very precise measurements.  Likewise, archaeological studies reveal that they possibly had about 25 thousand workers who spent about 16 hours a day in the construction of a pyramid and that each of them required at least 6.5 million tons of stone to shape its magnificent structure of about 146 meters high, boasting a giant base in which could fit about 5 of the largest cathedrals in Europe. It is estimated that 250 men were needed to move each block.

Thus the huge temples were preceded by an avenue of smaller sphinxes and two colossi at the entrance. Similarly, such was the worship of the pharaoh that obelisks were erected, which were tall and slender pieces of stone, ending in a point, on which the writings were made in stories of the feats done by these pharaohs.

How did Egyptian architecture develop?

The most important characteristic that determined Egyptian architecture was the environment and geographical isolation, especially the isolation from other influences and cultures, which made it unique and intact in essence for millennia. Likewise, the abundance of materials in the environment allowed for a solid and durable construction over time. For this reason, the great and famous Egyptian architectural works are the best preserved. Being constructions planned for eternity. Surprising that the tombs and funerary temples of stone have not been so affected by the passage of time as well as the civil architecture of adobe exposed to the floods of the Nile River. Therefore, the general characteristics are highlighted below:

The religious and funerary function

This characteristic determined what was all the vast creation in this majestic architecture, since religious beliefs are notoriously very present in Egyptian architecture, particularly the belief in the afterlife and the divine character of the pharaohs. Therefore, the creation, design and elaboration of the tombs and temples are subordinated to these powerful doctrines.

Symbolism

The magical and symbolic is enormously present in the tombs and temples intimately linked to their religious function, which transcends the material architectural forms. This symbolism includes architectural decoration with hieroglyphs, bas-reliefs and mythological statues.

Durability

Religious buildings were designed to withstand and last throughout eternity and, therefore, they are more than robust constructions with large limestone ashlars ingeniously rigged without mixing, with very thick and sloping walls, few openings, linteled roof and abundance of columns with capitals with vegetal and proto Doric motifs.

Mathematical Rationalism

The mastery of mathematical knowledge is reflected in the beauty of Egyptian architecture, seeking and finding in the proportions and simple geometric shapes, predominance of straight and horizontal lines.

Colossalism

The enormous size and monumentality of these works is astonishing and breathtaking, transcending human proportions and entering into the divine. It is not only because they are buildings worthy of gods, but also because they exalt the greatness of the kingdom and its rulers.

How is Egyptian architecture classified

How is Egyptian architecture classified?

In the literature there is a classification of this architecture depending on the characteristics of the buildings, in particular the durability, since the buildings were made to remain in time. Thus, there are two types of Egyptian Architecture, the Imperishable and Perishable Egyptian Architecture.

In this sense, this classification is justified because Egyptian architecture as an art (technique), is closely related to the environment in which it develops and this environment has a very important influence in different aspects. On the one hand, there is the geographical environment that determined a closed culture that makes an art impermeable to outside influences, which then will evolve little and when it does, it does so on its own forms due to lack of communication with the outside. On the other hand, it is also exerting influence, the environment, which will determine materials that in themselves reflect a disregard for earthly life and a desire rather to eternalize the morality of the deceased and the god. Therefore, most of the architecture that was developed was in function of maximizing the temples and tombs, which is also related to two determining factors of this architecture, such as the system of government of the monarchy and the beliefs through religion. In this sense, these two types of architecture were built, which are briefly described below:

Imperishable Architecture

It is that architecture that was designed and built with materials such as stone, adobe, brick, among others, to remain in eternity.  This architecture is strongly reflected, primarily in the religious architecture of tombs and temples. Therefore, the buildings that have been most preserved are particularly those of a funerary nature because they are far from the main centers, as well as the temples because they are close to them. Such is the case of the tombs of the pharaohs. Because the pharaoh (and the nobles) and the priests were going to be the main clients. It is an official architecture, which is developed primarily by virtue of exalting the spirit of the religious.

Perishable Architecture

This architecture is considered provisional, it was made for the man of that time. It is the so-called civil architecture of houses, cities, palaces, among others. However, even when palaces are included in this classification, they were made with care and with noble materials, but they were never compared to the quality of religious architecture. Therefore, because they were considered of lesser quality and also for political reasons, it was determined that they have been less well preserved.

What is the legacy of this architecture?

One of the transcendent legacies of Egyptian architecture is the Islamic architecture imported from the latter and further developed with local influences, especially from the Fatimids, creating architectural ensembles of great beauty, which can be seen in Cairo, in the Necropolis of Aswan, the houses, mosques of Rosetta, among others. Also, there are the ornaments of wood, metal and rock crystal that differ from the Egyptian architecture to the rest of the Islamic. Thus, under the Mamluks, minarets with superimposed shafts and domes decorated with gadroons were developed, which later, as a result of the influence of Egyptian architecture, appeared in the buildings of the various funerary mosques and madrasas. The Baybars Mosque (circa 1269) or the madrasa of Sultan Hasan (circa 1360) are examples of this architectural period, which also, with the arrival of the Ottomans, brought the imposition of the models of Istanbul. Likewise, later, the Islamic state built a great library to recall that of Alexandria. Likewise, from the monumental architecture of Ancient Egypt, characteristics such as the use of carved ashlar stone, in large blocks, the linteled construction system and solid columns were taken. Another aspect that is considered a legacy of Egyptian architecture and that allows us to understand its magnificence are the following conditioning factors, later passed on to other cultures, such as: the strongly centralized and hierarchical political power, the religious concept of immortality of the pharaoh in the “Afterlife”. They also influenced the technical aspects such as mathematical and technical knowledge, sometimes disconcerting for the time, the existence of very experienced artists and craftsmen, the abundance of material such as easily carved stone. Therefore, as a result of their enormous ingenuity and mastery, one of their greatest legacies is contemplated today, and which also marked a great influence because they were the original constructions of the monumental, they are the complexes of the pyramids, temples and tombs (mastabas, speos and hypogea).

Types of this Architecture and the most representative examples

The most representative examples of these powerful constructions of ancient Egypt, were the pyramids and in Egypt there are currently more than a hundred of them, built in the Pharaonic period, located mostly in the Nile Valley. Increasing greatly the tourist demand in that country.  Some of the most representative ones are described below:

The great Abul Simbel Temple (Temple of Riamsese-Meryamun)

This temple was built by Ramses II, possibly at the beginning of his reign. The temple was brought to light by J. L. Burckhardt as it was completely covered by sand until 1813. Then, in 1815 Belzoni, discovered the access door and between 1964 and 1968 it was dismantled and moved from its initial location, due to the construction of the great Aswan dam. Thus, the temple opens with a portico leading to the atrium and a terrace, where the impressive facade is located, 35 meters wide by 30 meters high, with the 4 famous seated colossi of Ramses II inside, about 22 meters high. These giants are accompanied by small figures, placed between the legs, symbolizing their relatives. Likewise, the temple was built taking advantage of the already existing cavities, dedicated to local divinities, and enlarging the plant by adapting to new needs. In it appear quotations of Ramses II, mostly in praise of the gods, inscribed on the north wall of the entrance. The construction was planned following the appearance of the sun, so that twice a year when the sun rises over the horizon its rays penetrate through the door and after being projected in the huge hall of eight columns, the second door, the hall and the sanctuary, illuminate the four statues of the niche in the back completely.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops

It is located in the Giza complex, is the largest of all the pyramids and occupies the space of seven soccer fields.  It is the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that is still standing. It was built as a tomb for the pharaoh Cheops, to contain his essence for eternity. It was also built under the supervision of Himinu, the king’s architect. Herodotus, in his writings, estimated that about 100,000 men were employed to build the pyramid, and that the time it took to build it was 27 years.  Originally it had a height of 146 meters, but due to the wear and tear of time, it is now only 137 meters high. Each of its sides is curiously oriented to the four cardinal points. The angle of inclination of each side is 51 degrees and it is believed that more than 2,300,000 stones were used for its construction, with an average weight of two and a half tons per block, some weighing up to sixty tons. It was originally covered by some 27,000 blocks of white limestone, polished, and weighing several tons each, maintaining its integrity until the early fourteenth century, when an earthquake dislodged part of the limestone coating. Subsequently, these fragments were detached and used by later cultures in the construction of their own buildings in Cairo. Thus, the entrance of the pyramid is located in the northern part, at a height of 16.5 meters, and is believed to be the product of an excavation ordered by Sultan Al-Mamun.

The Pyramid of Zoser

This complex pyramid was designed by the architect Imhotep, who also supervised its construction for the pharaoh Zoser (Dyeser), the second of the third dynasty, also built to preserve its essence and eternity. Likewise, this step pyramid of Saqqara is an example of the necropolis, which up to that time used the mastaba as the main element.  This new step pyramid design would lead to the construction of the monumental pyramids of Giza. Its height is 60 meters and has six superimposed levels, which decrease in size as they ascend. It is also built with limestone and in 1979, together with Memphis, its necropolis and pyramid fields (Giza, Abusir, Saqqara and Dahshur) was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the name of Memphis and its necropolis.

The Pyramid of Sejemjet

This funerary enclosure was built by order of the pharaoh Sejemjet, in staggered form, which is considered of greater size than that of Dyeser located to the southwest of the latter. This pyramid was half built and it is believed that it was because the duration of the reign of this pharaoh was only about six to seven years. It was buried in the sand and in 1950 the Egyptian Egyptologist Zakaria Goneim discovered it, giving it the name of buried pyramid. This complex was surrounded by a rectangular wall of about 550 x 180 meters. It is believed that it underwent an extension in a north-south direction and possibly had a height of about 70 meters in 6 bodies and an inclination of 70 degrees. At present only the foundations and the lower body with 14 layers are preserved. It was made with limestone blocks and the chamber could be accessed through a passage located 40 meters southwest of the pyramid axis.

Which are the most important artists and/or representatives?

Although in other architectures individual architects are not mentioned but civilizations that built and made the cities, in Egyptian architecture, we begin to individualize characters of architecture, art and design that made an important difference in this art. Therefore, the following is a review of some of them.

Imhotep (ca. 2700 B.C.)

Considered the first architect in history, he was also the Egyptian physician of King Djeser or Zoser, of the III Egyptian dynasty.  He was of plebeian origin, and was the son of the architect Kanefer and Kherduankh, whose information was collected in an inscription found in the Wadi Hammamat. It is believed that he reached, thanks to his personal worth, a significant position in the royal court, acting as personal advisor to the king.  Among his titles, known thanks to the existing hieroglyphs on the remains of a statue of King Djeser found in Saqqara, were those of Chancellor of Lower Egypt, Royal Prince, Chief Judge, High Priest of Heliopolis, Chief of public works, Carpenter and Royal Mason.

Amenhotep son of Hapu

This architect was seen as one of the greatest of the new empire, who realized the temple of Luxor for his pharaoh Amenhotep III, under whose reign he reached a position in the court.  He was compared with the great Imhotep, for being versed architects of the time. They were both represented in statues in the posture of the scribe with a papyrus roll on his knees. In addition to architect and physician, was philosopher and who designed the plans and directed the work of the royal palace of Malgata, the funerary temple of Amenhotep III, which still stand the colossi of Memnon, and the temple of Luxor already mentioned above. So he got the friendship and the exceptional privilege of the king, reserved only for princes and kings, as was the right to build in Medinet Habu a funerary temple next to his own.

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