Egyptian civilization was a civilization of firsts and lasts. It was the first civilization to free itself from the constrictions of fundamental post-and-lintel construction and stone-age tools. It was the first civilization to devise complex engineering solutions to the problems presented by its megalithic projects. 

That a civilization so recently emerged from primitive life could create the Great Pyramid’s nearly perfect geometry is astounding. 

Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Ancient Egypt Architecture:

1. The pyramids were not built by slaves

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More evidence has been found that Pyramids were not built by Slaves_©https://www.weinerelementary.org

The life of a pyramid builder undoubtedly wasn’t simple or effortless — found skeletons of workers showed signs of arthritis and other ailments — but evidence suggests that the massive tombs were built by paid labourers. These ancient construction workers were a mixture of skilled artisans and temporary hands, and a few appear to have taken great pride in their craft. 

Graffiti found near the monuments suggests they often assigned humorous names to their crews just like the “Drunkards of Menkaure” or the “Friends of Khufu.” The thought that slaves built the pyramids at the crack of a whip was first conjured by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., but most historians now dismiss it as a myth. 

While the traditional Egyptians were never averse to keeping slaves, they seem to have mostly used them as field hands and domestic servants. An inscription from c. 2520 BCE relates how Menkaure came to examine his pyramid and assigned 50 of the workers to the new task of building a tomb for his official, Debhen. 

Part of the inscription reads, “His majesty commanded that no man should be taken for any forced labour”, which rubbish should be cleared from the location for construction.

2. Egyptian Architecture is strongly associated with Astronomy

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Astronomy governed Egyptian Architecture_ ©https://upload.wikimedia.org

They believed that the best way to design meaningful structures was to align their buildings with the important stars they discovered at that time. For instance, the air shafts in the king’s chamber were positioned to align with the Thuban also known today as the Pole Star. 

Furthermore, temples were astronomically connected to significant events such as Equinoxes and Solstices. It required such precise measurements and yet they managed to do it effortlessly back then.  

3. Each pyramid had only one true entrance

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One true entrance was given_©https://cdn.kastatic.org

Because the pyramids were the burial places of kings, they were full of treasures as Egyptians believed in an afterlife. All the king’s riches and belongings were buried with him to keep him happy in the hereafter. It was common enough knowledge for people and that is why Robbers tried to break into the pyramids to steal the treasure. 

So, to fool the robbers the architects gave Each pyramid had only one true entrance and several other entrances were false. There were lots of false doors and false passages which led to rooms filled with rubble or blank walls inside of the pyramid. 

The doors were almost impossible to move and were built of granite. There were good chances even if the robbers managed to open a door, that they might find a blank wall behind it.

4. Pyramids are not the apex of ancient Egyptian architecture

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There are other striking monuments besides pyramids_©https://www.ancient.eu

Perhaps the most recognized symbol of Ancient Egyptian Architecture The pyramids are the most impressive monuments even thousands of years after they were built. Even though other civilizations also employed this form, the pyramid is synonymous in most people’s minds with Egypt. 

The knowledge and skill with which they were constructed were gathered over many centuries before their construction. Yet the pyramids are not the apex of ancient Egyptian architecture; they are only the earliest and best-known expressions of an intriguing culture which made buildings, monuments, and temples as the marvels that they are.

5. Columns were an important aspect of the symbolism of a temple complex

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Columns in Ancient Egyptian Architecture_©https://i.pinimg.com

Columns were not only an important aspect of the symbolism of the temple complex and they certainly were not only designed to support the roof. They contribute their meaning to the whole work of the structure. 

Some of the many different designs were the papyrus bundle, the lotus design, with a capital opening like a lotus flower; the column whose capital appears to be an unopened flower called the bud, and the Djed column which is probably most famous from the Heb Sed Court at Djoser’s pyramid complex and was so widely used in Egyptian architecture that it can be found everywhere in Egypt. 

The Djed was an ancient stability symbol and was frequently used in columns either at the capital (so it appears the Djed is holding up the sky), at the base, or as an entire column.

6. Celestial alignment was the key

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Celestial Alignment_©https://i.pinimg.com

Twice a year on 21 February and 21 October, the sun shines directly into the inner sanctum to illuminate statues of Ramesses II and the god Amun and this happens because Abu Simbel is perfectly aligned with the east. Celestial alignment is another aspect of ancient Egyptian architecture which is applied to, if not all, of the great temples and monuments. 

From the pyramids to the Temples, the Egyptians oriented their buildings with the cardinal points and in accordance with celestial events. The pyramid’s Egyptian name was Mer, meaning “Place of Ascension” as it was believed that structure’ shape in itself would enable the dead king to rise toward the horizon and more easily begin the afterlife. 

In this same way, temples were oriented and designed to invite the god to the inner sanctum and also provide access for when they wanted to ascend back to their own higher realms.

7. Concept of Harmony (ma’at)

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Ma’at_©https://i.pinimg.com

Ma’at is a symbol of truth, justice, and order. It was often represented as a goddess and translated important concepts as gods or goddesses due to the religion-centric nature of their society. The symmetry of the structures, the inscriptions, the interior design, all reflects the concept of harmony (ma’at) which was central to the ancient Egyptian value system. 

The presence of ma’at is essential to Ancient Egyptian religion, and thus Ancient Egyptian life. Palaces were even built with two entrances, two receiving halls, two throne rooms to maintain balance and symmetry in representing both Upper and Lower Egypt.

8. The Egyptian Architecture reflected the relationship between the gods and the people

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Relationship between the Gods and the people_©https://study.com

Among the most perfect examples of Egyptian architecture that reflect the relationship between the gods and the people are the Egyptian obelisk, as they were always raised in pairs and it was thought that the two created on earth were mirrored by two identical pieces raised in the heavens at the same time because as it is in heavens so it is on the earth. 

The pyramids and the temples were also designed to cater to this relationship. 

9. Labyrinth

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Labyrinth in Pyramid Complex_©https://www.ancient-origins.net

The pyramid complex of Amenemhat III was enormous which featured twelve big separate courts which faced one another across an expanse of columned halls and interior hallways so intricate that it was called “the labyrinth”. The courts and hallways were further connected by shafts and corridors and colonnades so that someone might walk down a familiar hall but take an entirely unfamiliar turn and end up in a completely different section of the complex than the one they had intended. 

Criss-crossing alleys sealed by stone plugs and false doors served to confuse and protect the central burial chamber of the pyramid of the king. This labyrinth was created to protect the tomb and the goods that it contained from the king but, unfortunately, it failed to keep out ancient grave robbers and the tomb was looted at some point in antiquity. 

10. Statues were the symbol of power

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Statues at the Temple_©https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com

Royal people served to proclaim the power and grandeur of the king as a ritual. Most of the architecture done at that time was stylised and symbolised. Symbolism meant order and statues served the purpose. 

The Temple of Abu Simbel showcases the statues as the symbol of power, for example pretty well.

Ilma Nafees
Author

Ilma Nafees is a bachelor's student pursuing Architecture from Jamia Millia Islamia. She has a deep interest in the conservation of the built heritage and the mysteries of Ancient Egypt. She believes writing an architectural content would enhance the understanding of the discipline better as architecture is the art of changing people’s life.

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