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Egyptian architecture: features and main examples

The architecture of ancient Egypt is characterized by its monumentality. Among the most important constructions are the pyramids and temples. In this article we talk about the generalities of this building model and the main architectural works of the Egyptians.

Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.

General characteristics

The material most used by the Egyptians is stone, since thanks to it the most important buildings were imperishable. In the beginning, they also used other components such as wood or adobe, but from the Old Empire they were relegated to less important constructions.

The architecture was architraved or adintelada. This means that, although they knew them, they did not use the arch and the vault. They made straight figures that rested on pillars or columns. Otherwise, they could not achieve the monumentality they wanted. The walls were thick, which increased the colossalism of the buildings.

The most used support was the column. Although they designed different types, the most used was the protodoric column. The characteristics of this type are as follows:

  • Fuste (central part) square
  • Abacus-shaped capital (upper part)
  • Simple base, no decoration

The first known architect in history was Imhotep, who was born in Egypt in 2,690 BC. He was also a high priest of Heliopolis, a scientist and doctor. He designed the step pyramid of Zoser, the first of which is recorded.

Thanks to the architectural elements, shapes and construction systems used, much of Egyptian architecture has reached our times. If you want to know other contributions of this civilization, we recommend you read the following article: Contributions of the ancient Egyptian civilization to humanity.

Religious architecture

Religion was a fundamental part of the society of ancient Egypt. Therefore, the great religious constructions that they elaborated over the years were numerous.

Temple

The temple was the building used to honor the gods. The majority had a similar distribution, which was divided into the following parts:

Sphinx Avenue
a walk that led to the temple and was full of sphinxes, figures with a lion's body and a human head.
Pylon
it was the entrance, formed by a great wall before which obelisks or representations of the pharaoh were placed.
Hípetra Room
An open courtyard surrounded by columns. Inside there were a lot of sculptures. Anyone could enter.
Hypostyle Hall
He was inside. It was a room with giant columns that only Pharaoh, priests and senior officials could access.
Sanctuaries
They were the most important rooms. Known as Sancta Sanctorum It was the one dedicated to the main god. In another room was the boat that was taken in the processions by the river. Only Pharaoh and the chief priest could enter.

Among the most important temples are Karnak, considered the largest complex in Egypt. It also highlights the Temple of Luxor, in ancient Thebes, thanks to its optimal state of conservation.

On the other hand, there was another type of temple, the funeral home, whose function was to commemorate an already deceased person. One model is the Ramesseum, ordered to be built by Ramses II.

Obelisk

The obelisk was another of the most prominent religious representations. It consisted of an elongated quadrangular column that rose on a larger base.

In it hieroglyphic inscriptions were sculpted that indicated the pharaoh who had commissioned him and the god to whom he was dedicated. If you are interested in knowing the hieroglyphic writing, you will find more information in this article: Egyptian writing and hieroglyphs: meaning and characteristics.

The tip was shaped like a small pyramid and was known as pyramidion. This used to be coated with gold, bronze or some metal alloy. The tallest obelisks came to measure 28 meters.

Since the appearance of the Roman Empire, most of the obelisks built by the Egyptians were transported to the great cities of other cultures. At present, only six are preserved in Egypt.

Funeral constructions

The Egyptians believed in eternal life after death. To guarantee it, they designed large buildings that continue to amaze today.

Mastaba

The mastaba was the first model from a tomb to pharaohs and prominent people who made the Egyptians during the Archaic Period and the Ancient Empire. It was rectangular and had an underground chamber in which they left the body through a well.

He also had a chapel for people to make offerings. Another room was the serdab, where a statue of the deceased was placed in which it was thought that the ka, a part of the human spirit.

One of the most famous examples is the Mastaba de Idu, in Giza. Idu was an important official of the VI dynasty. One of the peculiarities of this building is that it has a false door.

Pyramid

The pyramids are the most recognized funerary monument of this civilization. They began to be developed in Dynasty III as an exclusive funeral construction of the pharaohs. The first was the Pyramid of Zoser, from 2,700 B.C., which you can see in this image:

This model is staggered, since it is formed by an overlap of mastabas. The following were built with a double slope, as is the case of Pharaoh Seneferu. Later, the smooth pyramids were designed.

Inside these were hallways and chambers that were closed after the burial of the pharaoh. In this way, their body and their wealth were protected so that they were maintained throughout eternity.

The most prominent pyramids are those of Giza, three models that belong to the pharaohs Cheops, Chephren and Micerinos. The one of Cheops has a height of 145 meters and in its interior it has a main gallery of 37 meters, in which there are two conduits so that the soul of the pharaoh could leave.

Hypogeum

After the time of the pyramids, that of the hypogea arrived. These were tombs carved into the rock that reached their splendor in the New Kingdom.

This change was due to the continuous looting suffered by the pyramids. In this way, they tried hide to the maximum possible the tombs of the pharaohs and the riches that were in them.

The most important hypogeum is that of the Valley of the Kings, in Luxor, the ancient Thebes. In this location we found a total of 28 pharaohs buried over 420 years.

A similar type of grave was the speos, which was a combination between temple and hypogeum. On the other hand, the hemispheres they had a decorated facade and a part excavated in the rock, as is the case of the Temple of Ramses II, in Abu Simbel.

Civil architecture

Civil architecture is the least transcended of Egyptian history, since there are few preserved examples that we can find today.

living place

Domestic construction, unlike religious monuments, was a type of building perishable, since materials such as adobe and brick were used. As a result, there are no remains left today and the information that is possessed comes from the reliefs of other buildings.

The houses had a quadrangular structure and only had one entrance. Normally, they had a maximum of three rooms, although the upper classes had larger homes that included an exclusive part for the service.

Some of these had an inner courtyard from which they took advantage of the light. The noblemen's villas were located outside the cities. Also, around the pyramids, workers' cities were formed.

Palace

The royal palace was the residence of Pharaoh and his family. It was located on the outskirts of the city and, sometimes, to communicate with it, it had an avenue. They were built with more resistant materials.

Between the different rooms, was the reception hall. An element of some palaces that called attention was the window of the apparitions, from which the pharaoh looked out so that the subjects could see him.

This official home used to also have large gardens where animals could even be found. One of the most prominent palaces is the North Palace, in Amarna, in which it is thought that Queen Nefertiti lived.

If you want to know more about the lifestyle of the pharaohs, in the following article you will find all the details: Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.

Artworks

The works of art that accompanied the great buildings did not go unnoticed, because they were also characterized by their monumentalism. The sculpture that is most repeated in this culture is that of the pharaoh with arms attached to the body, although there were also gods and animals.

Also, the figure that most attracts attention is that of the sphinx: a creature that has a lion's body and a human head, although there are also models with the head of another animal, such as Karnak's sphinxes.

Among those that are preserved, the sphinx of Giza stands out. This reaches a length of 73 meters and a height of 20 m. The face is that of Pharaoh Kephren and it is thought that it was painted. The purpose of these creations was the protection of temples and tombs.

As for the painting, frescoes were made on the walls of the buildings. The theme was varied and we found religious representations, of everyday life, etc. Pharaohs and important people were represented larger than the rest.

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