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Egyptian Architecture

Abhishek K. Venkitaraman

Assistant Professor

natural determinants
topography (location)
natural resources, building materials and technology

man-made determinants
political power



Egypt Timeline
1. Prehistoric Period, B.C. 23000-4777.
2. The Ancient Empire (Dynasties I.-X.), B.C. 4777-2821. The capital being at Memphis, the tombs of this period are at
Abydos, Nakadeh, Memphis, Sakkara, Giza and Abusir.
3. The Middle Empire (Dynasties XI.-XVI.), B.C. 2821-1738. A prosperous period which includes the dynasties of the
Hyskos or shepherd kings.
4. The New Empire (Dynasties XVII.-XX.), B.C. 1738-950. This period had Thebes as the capital, and many imposing
buildings were erected at Karnak, Luxor, and elsewhere.
5. Period of Foreign Domination and the Late Egyptian Period (Dynasties XXVL--XXX.), B.C. 663 332 B.C. This period
includes the Persian Domination.
6. The Graeco-Roman Period, B.C. 332 640 A.D:
i. Alexander the Great and Ptolemaic Period, B.C. 332-30.

ii. The Roman Period, B.C. 3O-A.D. 395.

iii. The Byzantine Period, A.D. 395-640.
8. Medieval Egypt (Mohammedan Period), A.D. 640-1517.
9. Modem Egypt

The Ten Commandments


O v e r v i e w of A n c i e n t E g y p t i a n C i v i l i z a t i o n

LOCATION: Along the river Nile up to the Mediterranean Sea A desert with a strip of fertile country

The areas were unified into one territory by the first Pharaoh around 3000 BCE.

Pharaoh was considered as a part God himself

The Pharaoh had absolute power over all political and religious decisions in the country, including complete control over the

They favoured the execution of monumental works more than anything else.

The period of unification in Egypt can be split into three different kingdoms; the Old, Middle, and New.

Memphis was the capital of the Old Kingdom, while Thebes was the capital of the Middle and New Kingdoms

The Extents of Egyptian Civilization




All the main settlements developed in a linear pattern along the River Nile, which was the
primary resource.

Just as life arose from the waters of the

primeval sea, so the waters of
the Nile gave birth to the pharaonic
A gift to the people of Egypt
Its flood plain was an extensive oasis, a

magnet for life -- human, plant and

animal. Humans were drawn there
because they could grow crops and settle
into permanent villages. The annual
flooding of the Nile deposited nutrient rich
silt on the land, creating all the ingredients
needed to support life and the growth of a
great civilization.

The settlement of a town had to take two main

considerations into mind The proximity to a
water source and the height it was built above
the flooding of the Nile.

ANCIENT EMPIRE - Pre and early dynastic Egypt

(5500 - 305 0 BC )


Different tribes evolved and hence cultures developed.

Naqada culture had developed as a very strong civilization in the Nile Valley

Made high quality ceramics, stone tools, and used copper.

Manufactured societal personal-use items, such as combs, small statues, painted pottery, high
quality decorative stone vases and jewellery made of gold, lapis lazuli and ivory

Use of written symbols that eventually developed into a full system of hieroglyphs for writing
the ancient Egyptian language

Royal tombs of first dynasty
Simple brick-lined rooms with wooden roof
Foods, wines bearing official seal were kept for after life
3 chambers for family members.
9 other chambers for servants.

Plan of Royal Tomb at Abydos (3200 BC)

Egyptian Society

Bureaucrats were in charge of tracks of

land on which poorer people or farmers
The bureaucrats were considerably richer
than the peasants.
Farmers were taxed by the bureaucrats.
Peasants made up a large portion of the
All foreigners were considered enemies.

Influenced the city
planning & Architecture

Egyptian Society
The Nile River flooded the fields every year at the same time, after harvesting
season, and when it receded, it left behind fine silt Cultivation by farmers
Domesticated animals were used to pull ploughs
Crops like barley were planted because they would withstand the harsh sun.
Irrigation canals were dug from the river to the fields as well
Grain and other non-perishable goods were stored for drought
Dikes were built on the sides of the Nile to protect villages and farmland from
Papyrus plants that grew on the coast were used to make sails, ropes, and paper
They were also hunters and fishermen.
Specialized in crafts such as tool-making, architecture, and trades.
The Egyptians developed stone tools, and made bricks out of mud and clay
The creation of the Pyramids, Sphinx, and other fantastic temples not only
represented the amazing advances in technology and science made by the
Egyptians, but art as well

People believed that life was made up of continuous cycles, like
the flooding of the river
Their religion was based on nature around them, and the Pharaoh
was their link to the gods
Religion stressed preparing for the afterlife; those who could
afford it were wrapped in linens (called mummification) and buried
in elaborately decorated sarcophaguses - tombs filled with their
possessions and wealth.
The Pharaohs were buried beneath the most elaborate
archaeological tombs

Each successive Pharaoh

was free to spend his
reigning life on earth
preparing his tomb for the
life after death in a
different location from
that of his predecessor.

A close connection between religion and architecture.
The priesthood was powerful, possessed of almost unlimited authority,
and equipped with all the learning possible
The religious rites were traditional, unchangeable and mysterious
A very high degree of learning in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy
The remains of their literature have been preserved in the papyrus scrolls
Monotheistic in theory but polytheistic in practice
A multiplicity of gods was created by personifying natural phenomena,
such as the sun, moon, and stars, as well as the creation
Strong beliefs in an afterlife; hence preservation of the dead, and the
building of everlasting monuments like the Pyramids


No real money

Trading system based on grain and coins made of silver and copper.

Trade routes were developed between neighbors like Aegean islands, Nubia and Canaan.

Good timber was obtained from Lebanon.

Minerals such as Obsidian and lapis lazuli were imported from Anatolia and Afghanistan.



The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semiisolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development
of one of the world's great civilizations.

Didnt continue to occupy the same site

No economic necessity, to take advantage of the enormous economic capital investment of

Each successive Pharaoh had the freedom to spend his reigning life on earth
preparing his tomb for after-life.
Less time to settle down in each place
Most permanent building materials were used in temple or tomb construction


ANCIENT EMPIRE - Pre and early dynastic Egypt

(5500 - 305 0 BC )

Tombs consisted of a main chamber surrounded by storage rooms with provisions for a lavish life
after death

The Old Kingdom (3050 -2086 B.C.E)

The Old Kingdom

(3050-2686 B.C.E)


Capital city was at Memphis

Large work force having a population of several millions

Abundance of stones like red granite, white marble, black basalt and
sand stone

41 meters high Obelisk near Aswan
Material used is Red Granite

National capitals Memphis and Thebes

National capital / administrative centres

most important towns
Memphis Capital of Northern Egypt
Thebes Capital of Southern Egypt

On the fertile west bank of Nile

Numerous temples and palaces, and
pyramid complex of Sakkara (step
pyramid os Djoser)

On east bank of Nile, houses

Temple of Luxor, Temple complex
at Karnak with the great temple of
Amun (c.1991-785 BC)
Right across on west bank, was the
Necropolis of Thebes Tomb of










Thebes. General plan showing principal

urban areas.

The Old Kingdom - Architecture



Mortuary Complex

Mastabas and evolution of Pyramids from them


Mud, reeds, palm trunks, bricks and stone, mainly Limestone (in
northern region)
Sandstone and granite was available in abundance in central and
southern regions respectively.

A very distinct reminiscence of the primitive reeds tied together at

intervals, and crowned with the lotus bud, is found in the later granite
column and capital.

To m b s d u r i n g M i d d l e E m p i r e M a s t a b a s a n d R oc k C u t To m b s

In the Middle Empire tombs were either of the Pyramidal form, as at Abydos, or were rock-cut, as in the vertical cliffs
bounding the Nile valley.

3 1 0 0 BC
Dwelling house Mere temporary lodging ; Tomb Permanent abode
Mummy Embalmed corpse wrapped in linen bandages for burial
The Ka was a spiritual double, born with every man and lived on after he died as
long as it had a place to live. Hence tombs had a statue of Ka.

Ancient form of Tombs Flat roofed rectangular structure

with sloping sides
Mastaba Arabic word for bench of mud
Probably derived from heaps of stones piled up over
earlier mummy holes
Design and decoration on the tombs
Standard type of tombs for the Pharaohs and also the
social elite


At first priests & high ranking officials came to be buried in tombs that were known as
mastabas. Most of them had many storage chambers for storing all types of goods needed
in the next life. However, due to frequent thefts, an under ground tomb known as the
stairway mastaba came to be preferred. The picture above shows the early mastabas at
Giza with false doors & other safety devices.

Mastaba Further evolution

These were rectangular structures, with sides sloping
at an angle of 75 degrees, and having flat roofs
They were divided into three parts:
I. The outer chamber, in which were placed
the offerings to Ka, having its walls
decorated with representations of festival
and other scenes
II. Inner secret chamber, known as the
serdab, containing statue of Ka and other
items- grains, clothes, jewellery, etc
III. A shaft of great depth, leading to the
chamber containing the sarcophagus with
its mummy

E x a m p l e - M a s t a b a o f T h y, S a k k a ra

Well preserved and restored.

Thy was a royal architect and manager of pyramids in 5th dynasty.
It consists of a small vestibule, beyond which is a large court
where offerings to the deceased took place, and from which a
mummy shaft led through a passage to a tomb chamber
The masonry of this tomb is carefully jointed and covered with flat
The decorative reliefs represent harvest operations, shipbuilding
scenes, scenes representing the arts and crafts of the period, the
slaughtering of sacrificial animals, and Thy himself sailing through
the marshes in a boat with papyrus plants surrounding

M o r t u a r y C o m p l e x o f D j o s e r ( a t S a k k a ra )

Pharaoh Djoser capital city of Memphis

Burial site changed from Abydos to Sakkara

Imhotep Architect, Astronomer, High Priest

Low Mastabas were no longer considered to be worthy

of Pharaohs

Hence- Original Mastaba was covered with a stone super


Expanded again into a 60 m high structure (6 steps)

Complex consisted of courtyards and temples

Arou n d 263 0 B.C.E

Mortuary Complex of Djoser

The temple is situated at the north face of the step pyramid,

whereas in later pyramids it is on the east side.

Orientation to 4 cardinal directions

Light Tura limestone

Roofed colonnade leading to court

Fluted stone columns


The step pyramid of pharaoh Zoser was an

intermediate stage in the evolution of the
pyramid. Its architect Imhotep built it in stages.
It was started as a square, solid mastaba, but a
series of extensions made it into a six stepped
pyramid with a rectangular ground-plan.

The Zoser complex is rectangular in plan

& the enclosure wall measuring 549m x
274m &rises to a height of 9m. The old
structure was an under ground burial
chamber, which was extended to a 25ht
rectangular base. In the 2nd stage it grew
into a step pyramid with 4stages. Later 2
more stages were added to make it a 6
tiered pyramid. The entire complex is built
of tura limestone including the offering

S te p P y ra m i d a t S a k k a ra

Arou n d 263 0 B.C.E

Ka statue of Djoser

P y ra m i d a t M e y d u m

Snefru 4th Dynasty, 2613 2589 BCE

Started a step faced faced pyramid at Meydum

Influenced by the Step Pyramid of Djoser

The first Egyptian pyramid with an above ground burial

The structure of this pyramid represents the efforts to
raise the chamber to be closer to the Sun God Ra

The burial chamber could be accessed through a sloping

Interior structure of arch-like walls within the burial
Now collapsed under its own weight

Work was abandoned after 15 years

Ap prox i m atel y 25 00 B.C.E

T h e B en t P y ra m i d , D a h s h u r

Constructed at Dahshur

Originally planned to be 150 m high

The ground started giving away under part of it

The angle of the slop had to be change and hence the bend

2 chambers with separate entrances

After this failure, Snerfu asked the builders to return to the Meydum
Step Pyramid

A layer was added to transform it into a true pyramid

T h e B en t P y ra m i d , D a h s h u r

C o m p a r i s o n o f S c a l e s o f P y ra m i d s


The Giza pyramid complex, on the outskirts of Cairo is considered to be the only
remaining monument of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It consists of the great
pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), the pyramid of Chephren (Khafre), the smaller pyramid of
Mykerinus (Menkaure), the great Sphinx & other valley pyramids & offering chapels.
These 3 pyramids are a testimony to the engineering skills of the ancient Egyptians.

The Great pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) is the largest & about 760 square in plan, rising
to a height of 480, & covers an area of 13 acres. The 4 sides facing the cardinal points
of the compass are nearly equilateral triangles, making an angle of 52 deg. with the
ground. Of the 3 pyramids the original polished limestone casing is seen at the base of
the Cheops pyramid, the top of the Chephren pyramid, but not on the Mykerinus.

The most astonishing fact in the construction of the pyramids is - how did the Egyptians
manage to raise these enormous blocks of stone, weighing 2.5 tons & measuring 8x8x8
each, to a height of 480 ?. One of the theories is that ramps were built of mud brick &
rubble on which the stone blocks were dragged on sledges to the required height. Another
theory suggests that first a step pyramid was carved out of an existing mountain to form
the core, around which the ramps were built in a concentric fashion to raise the stone
blocks to each stage & fill up the steps to form the pyramidical shape. Finally the pyramid
was finished off by adding a casing of tura limestone, as shown below.

The entrance on the north side is 47 6 above the ground (Z), opens into a passage that
descends downwards leading to the subterranean chamber, about 60 below GL, which was
subsequently abandoned as a burial chamber. Midway from the descending passage an
ascending passage was cut into the rock that leveled off after a certain height, leading to
the Queens chamber, which was discarded. Finally a grand gallery of about 7 width,
tapering by corbelled courses of stone to a width of 3 6 at a height of 28, was built that
led to the Kings chamber, entirely constructed with granite. It measures 34 6x 17x 19 ht,
is roofed by 5 enormous blocks of stone & capped by 2 stones in an embryonic arch. The
chamber is sealed off by stone portcullises, weighing 50 tons each, fitted into recesses cut
in the rock. An air shaft of 8x8 connects to the exterior for the Ka (spirit) to escape.

The section above clearly shows the descending corridor leading to the subterranean
chamber, the ascending corridor leading to the Queens chamber & the grand gallery
leading to the Kings chamber in the Great pyramid of Cheops.
The section on the right is through the Kings chamber showing the roofing by massive
slabs of stone at 6 levels. The grand gallery & the ante chamber that would seal the
entrance by accommodating the portcullises can also be seen.

The external casing of limestone has entirely disappeared in the Cheops pyramid,
excepting some parts around the base. The smaller pyramids of the nobility can be seen
in the background & Idus tomb can be seen in the fore ground.

The pyramid of Chephren (Khafre) is built next to the Great pyramid of Cheops, as he is
the son & successor. The Chephren pyramid is actually 10 shorter & 46 more narrow
at the base than the Cheops pyramid. But it looks taller than the great pyramid because
it is built on higher ground. The slope of the pyramid is 53 degrees.

The top of the Chephren pyramid has retained the original limestone casing. There are 2
entrances located one above the other at a height of 50, that lead to a large limestone
chamber through a descending passageway. The lower corridor directly below the upper
corridor joins after a distance & leads to the inner chamber which is lined with granite.

This is a reconstructed
diagram of the pyramid of
Chephren with its causeway
connecting to the valley
temple, the pyramid of
Cheops & the surrounding


An Egyptian Sphinx had the head of a king, a hawk, a ram (or

more rarely a woman) on the body of a lion
The Great Sphinx, which represents a recumbent lion with the
head of a man, was excavated in 1816 in Pyramid complex of
Giza, near Cairo
Exact date unknown
Height 64 ft
Length 188 ft
Face is 13 ft 6 inches wide
Mouth is 8 ft 6 inches long

The walls in the tomb were painted in Egyptian art and can be seen in
modern Museums on tiles and pottery
The writing system developed by the Egyptians was called Hieroglyphics,
which consisted of a variety of pictograms and some phonetic syllables.
In Egypt, women had more rights than their Mesopotamian counterparts.
They were able to own business' and were not bound to men.

Temple districts
Temple districts were better planned.
The outlay of individual temples was basically
Walls surrounded them.
At hotep-senusret :a) the brick wall was on three sides of the
Was 12 metres thick and lined with limestone.
Avenues leading through the city to the temple
district were wide, suitable for processions.

Temple districts

The temple complexes had extensive storage space

The thickness of the brick wall lined with limestone hotep

senusret (kahun) was about 12 metres .

Its height must have been correspondingly great.

When walls were built completely of stone, their thickness

could be reduced, but they were still quite massive.

Paved street five metres wide was discovered.

Pavement of streets was restricted to the temple complexes

Temples were surrounded by an empty space

Over time houses were built right up to the outer temple walls.
Houses decayed and were rebuilt many times , result that the ground level of the
residential area rose

The temples which, being built of stone, were not periodically rebuilt, seemingly sank into the

The detail plan of the Ammon temple shows the 4 pylons leading to the sanctuary, which
has been mostly destroyed. However, the plan shows the 6 pairs of central columns in the
hypostyle hall with 126 (9 rows x 7 lines x 2 sides) shorter columns on either side.

The top view shows the view of the

great court with the temple of Seti I.
The bottom view shows another part
of the court with the north gate in
the middle.
The row of columns near the
enclosure wall have bud capitals &
the 2nd pylon can be partially seen
on the right.

The great hypostyle hall is about 320 x 160 internally & is roofed by enormous slabs of
stone, supported by 138 columns. The roof of the central avenue is raised to a height of
80 with the columns itself rising to 69 ht & having a diameter of 11 9 with lotus
bloom capitals. The side avenues are lower in order to admit light through clear storey
windows with the columns rising to 42 ht and 9 diameter, having lotus bud capitals.
The effect produced by this forest of columns is most awe-inspiring.

The 2 views above show the columns of the central avenue with lotus bloom capitals &
the columns of the side avenues with lotus bud capitals. The clear storey windows
through which light was brought to the interior of the temple can also be seen.

This picture clearly shows the clear storey windows made of stone located above the
roofing of the side avenues & the columns of the central avenue with hieroglyphics.

Not much of the actual sanctuary

remains today as can be observed
from the picture on the top.
However all the walls & columns
were covered with incised
inscriptions in colour giving the
history of the temple, the names of
the gods to whom it was dedicated &
the royal people who contributed to
its grandeur.
The picture below shows the festival
hall of Thutmose III, which was
constructed during the last period.
The column capitals & shafts
resemble bundled reeds of papyrus
and look more elegant. They are also
considered to be the fore runners of
the fluted columns of the Greek.

The awesome effect of perspective & monumental scale produced by the forest of
columns in the hypostyle hall can be observed from the picture on the left. The obelisk
of Queen Hatshepsut, located between the 4th & 5th pylon rises to height of 30m.

This is the view of the Ammon temple from across the sacred lake that shows the
ruined condition of the sanctuary. The obelisks erected by Thutmose I & queen
Hatshepsut can also be seen.

The great temple at Abu simbel is one of the most stupendous of Egyptian rock-cut
tombs. The impressive faade, 119 wide & 100 high, is formed as a pylon with 4
colossal statues of Ramesses II, who built it. The vestibule beyond has 8 Osiris pillars &
vividly colored wall relief's. Eight small chambers used for storage adjoin this vestibule.
Beyond it is a small hypostyle hall with 4 pillars that leads to the sanctuary having altar.

The Temple at Edfu is the best preserved since it was built during the last period. The
massive entrance pylons with relief sculptures leading to the colonnaded great court &
the hypostyle hall with its faade of pillars can be seen in these 4 pictures.

The whole compound was enclosed and separate from the rest of the capital,
Albeit close to suppliers of services, temples and the seat of the administration

Workers' dwellings
The houses of the workmen had two to four
rooms on the ground floor (44 and 60 m)
access to the flat roof, which was used as
living and storing space.
The houses abutting the inner wall on the
eastern side were bigger, having up to seven
Some of the dwellings had conical granaries on
the ground floor. The doorways were arched
Traces of brick barrel-vaulting have been
found on supporting walls.
Roofs were made of wooden planks supported
by beams and plastered over with mud.

Deir-el-medina: Workers villages

Comparative Plans of

The Great Houses

The Great Houses covered about
2700 m each and served as offices
and living quarters for the high
officials in charge of the construction
work and their families. There were
four almost identical houses and one
differently built one north of the street
and another three with a completely
different ground plan south of it.
After the pyramid had been built and
the officials had left, people began to
take over their houses, adapting them to
their own needs by walling up entrances
and creating new walls and passages.

The Great Houses

The layout of one of the northern Great Houses
1 Main entrance
2 Doorkeeper's lodge
3 Offices, guest rooms
4 Pillared hall
5 Private quarters
6 The mandara, i.e. reception room for strangers
7 Open courtyard
8 Best hall, with columns and tank
9 Private rooms
10 Visitors' passage to the mandara
11 Women's hall
12 Women's quarters
13 Store rooms

What was meant to be the Home

for the Pharaoh after his death is
One of the major tourist
attractions today.

Thank You