When we talk about ancient Egypt, we get to see a special connection of the Egyptian people with the gods and afterlife; the pharaohs as they were known. How people focused on the life of the people after they died and things they could do for them. Established in ancient South Africa, along the Nile River, the success of this civilization is measured by its capability to adapt to the changing geographical conditions of the Nile River and agriculture around it.
The architecture was mostly spiritual and for the higher classes; primarily based on the belief that only the privileged people deserved to be with God and have a magnificent afterlife. They used naturally occurring locally available material for constructing pyramids, tombs, temples, and palaces.
Artistic involvement in the decorating of these structures was equally important and mysterious as the pyramids stand. The artistic heads and those ancient masterminds created paintings, images carved out of stones, 3D statues, and also hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs, associated with their sacred beliefs, were inscriptions that were either carved or painted on the walls of the temples, tombs, or on special papyrus sheets for the record.
Everything that they did, their plants, animals, stories of gods, was all depicted in these paintings except for one mystery that still stands – how these grandeur structures were built with minimal tools and resources! Egypt had a series of kingdoms that influenced the architecture of that time. The Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom, all three separated by relatively unstable periods.
The concept of believing that only the kings get to dine with God ranges back to the Old Kingdom. And that’s why; Mastabas were created for the kings to enjoy their afterlife with Gods at the final resting place. These were low lying rectangular structures with flat roofs and were made in locally available brick/stone. Mastabas were massive structures, almost 30×120 feet, and had deep shafts below them, dug as deep as possible, reinforced with stone and covered in wood for the actual burial.
There was a false door carved out with an image of the deceased near the entrance of the shaft. Mastaba means an “eternal house”, derived from an Arabic word meaning “bench”, which also relates to the way a Mastaba looks from far away.
With time, Mastabas evolved and the burial techniques too. Standard rectangular Mastabas became stairway Mastabas, having a similar burial chamber but with stairs leading to the top. Not very soon after, Pyramids came into light and these stairway Mastabas were left behind in history for the use of the commoners.
First introduced during the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, the stepped pyramid was a stairway Mastaba with more pure geometry. It was built for the first King of this Third dynasty – Djoser. He had one of his officials (vizier), who was also an architect and a scholar, Imhotep to get this pyramid ready. It was a 4- sided structure with 6 big tiers. Fun fact- this year in March, the pyramid went over 14 years of restoration and finally opened up for the public!
In the next dynasty, a more refined form was introduced by the Pharaoh Snefru at Dahshur for himself. Now let’s talk about the most famous pyramids we have all known mostly about. It was built by three pharaohs, Khufu (Cheops), Khaphre (Chephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus).
The tallest pyramid- Cheops has an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of limestone blocks and was polished by a special white polish brought from the other side of the river. It was 481 feet tall with a square base of side 756 feet.
It took almost 100,000 men and 20 years to get this gigantic structure ready! As these were solid structures, no structural pillars or walls were required. Inside of the massive pyramids, different chambers were built for the King and the Queen along with a gallery connecting these two. The chambers inside are said to have never completed.
A mysterious feature – the air shaft is found inside of the pyramid, used to ventilate the chambers. But as they were not completed and were not found in the other two pyramids, this function was negated by the experts. The construction of doors towards the chambers as in the Mastabas were also discovered inside the Pyramids. These were limestone doors at the top of the shafts.
The construction of these structures is still a mystery to our historians and experts. But some theories suggest that a ramp was constructed alongside the pyramid and sleds were used to pull up the 2.5-ton blocks with the help of manual labor. There are many other disputed theories like the use of wooden cranes or pulleys, but due to some reasons are precluded.
Apart from the pyramids, Egyptian rulers also got temples built along the river Nile. Thebes was the capital in the New Kingdom where temples were built. Two of the most famous temples are Luxor and Konark on the west bank of Nile. The temples were mostly built to glorify Egyptian Gods but except for one temple, i.e. the Luxor temple. It is younger than the Konark temple and was used to honor the holiness of the Egyptian rulers.
The most significant feature of these temples was the massive colonnade space called the Great Hypostyle Hall with over 30 feet high 134 columns arranged in rows. Significant inscriptions and bearings are seen on all the columns.
All these spectacular structures and awe-inspiring architecture of Egypt has attracted numerous globetrotters to come to get inspiration from their lives. Although time has taken a toll on the structures, they still stand strong and classic in their semi-ruinous states. Get your instinctive bugs going and come join me on this journey to explore some unknown facts!