Ancient History 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. The 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 priests 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 Niles 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. Is it 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 todays 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 sacred lake. 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.
In Summation, 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.