Arches and vaults
Friezes and cornices
Window of Appearances
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Known at least since the 3rd dynasty, true arches were rarely used in early Ancient Egypt. Only when the building material was mud bricks and building corbelled vaults was impractical, were true arches erected.
Mud brick vaults at the Ramesseum
Bricks used in arches were thinner, lighter and at times wedge shaped. Holes scored into them with fingers during production improved their bonding together when they were laid.
False door, tomb of Mereruka, Sakkara;
Source: Jon Bodsworth
In tombs and temples for the dead there were niches for offerings, the back walls of which were given the form of
doors. They served as a pathway between the living and the dead by which the Ka and the other spiritual parts of the deceased could communicate with the world of the living. The nourishment that was offered to the dead, could be real food placed on an offering slab or symbolic food carved into a stela. The earlier three dimensional execution of these doors gave way to a simpler painted form during the New Kingdom.
Flagpoles at Akhetaten
The pavement in the Osiris temple at Tell Tebilla was laid on a 20 cm thick layer of sand . At Karnak wall foundations never go deeper than two to three metres. At Luxor close to the river, walls were built on three layers of stone blocks each about 80 cm high and the brick foundations of the colonnades at the Ramesseum were less than two metres thick.
The relative weakness of these foundations, rising water-tables and other causes led to the collapse of most ancient buildings: The alkaline groundwater at Karnak had dissolved the sandstone base of eleven huge pillars which crumbled on the 3rd October 1899. That they had endured for so long was thanks to the virtual absence of rain, the composition of the soil and the sun which bakes the Egyptian earth above the high-water line of the Nile almost to the hardness of rock.
Friezes, sculpted or painted horizontal decorative bands rather than the Greek and Roman entablature between architrave and cornice, were occasionally used to mark the upper limit of a wall. Animals like cobras were depicted (middle picture) as were kheker signs (on the right), abstractions of knots with which plant stalks were tied to wooden frames in order to create a wall.
Click on the picture excerpts for full size pictures.
Photos courtesy Jon Bodsworth
Gargoyle at the Edfu temple.
The spouts were given the shape of lions as protective magic: the fierce animals were hoped to guard the buildings from the god Seth and his storms by getting rid of the rain water.
The obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut
Source: Tulane University website
Base plate of obelisk with groove
Re, the oldest on a natural hill north of Heliopolis. During the 5th Dynasty the obelisk became the centre of the sun temple, later they are to be found standing in pairs by temple entrances. Their tips had the form of pyramidions and seem to have been covered by gilded copper sheets or the like.
She made (it) as her monument for her father Amon, lord of Thebes, erecting for him two great obelisks at the august gate (named): "Amon-is-Great-in-Terror," wrought with very much electrum; which illuminate the Two Lands like the sun......Obelisks were generally erected in pairs on either side of a passage. But Thutmose IV, after finishing an obelisk begun by his grandfather Thutmose III, raised it as a
...... single obelisk in the forecourt of the temple over against Karnak, as the first beginning of erecting a single obelisk in Thebes .....
The Heliopolis obelisks measured about 20.75 metres, those at Luxor somewhat more than 23 metres. Hatshepsut's Karnak obelisk was 33 metres tall. They weighed often more than 250 tons. The biggest obelisk ever attempted was abandoned at the quarry when it cracked.
Made of granite, a rock harder than the metal tools available, obelisks had to be shaped and carved with the help of dolerite hammer stones.
Various theories of how they were erected have been proposed. They generally include an earthen ramp up which the obelisk would have been dragged base first, lowered slowly onto the foundation plate and then pulled upright.
Empty the space that has been filled with sand beneath the monument of thy Lord, so that the monument may be established in its place.However it was done, it was a major achievement. Hatshepsut boasted of having her obelisks cut, transported and erected in seven months.
Insufficient foundations, earthquakes and conquerors have caused the downfall of all but two obelisks. Since Imperial Roman times they have been collector's items and many have been shipped all over the world.
Courtyard floor at the RamesseumIbe who restored the palace of Nitocris wrote about what he had done in the pure house of her father, Amon, which her father, Re, made for her
..... Its ... was of stone, its pavement was of stone .....Roads were, apart from a few cases which belonged to temple complexes or where heavy loads were routinely moved along them, made of compacted earth, dried almost as hard as stone by the sun.
stone plants: trunks of palm trees and bundles of lotus plants,
reeds or papyrus, often used side by side. Under Ramses II monumental forests of pillars were erected. The 5000 m² Hypostyle
Hall contained 134 sandstone pillars, the tallest of which were 23 metres tall and had a diameter of 3.5 m.
Because of their size, they had to be put together from half cylinders instead of the usual full cylinders. The columns were seemingly given their final shape in situ.
Pillars were either free-standing or engaged, sometimes they were purely ornamental, never more so than in the case of pillar reliefs carved into walls.
Pillars had also a symbolic role denoting stability and duration. Djed pillars, perhaps originating in posts to which ears of corn were tied, symbolized fertility. They became Osiris pillars which were the backbone of the god, supporting the sky and appeared first in Djoser's pyramid complex. Later they took the form of Osiris himself. Often the Djed pillars were just decorative without any structural
Introduced at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, pylons were towerlike structures flanking temple entrances reminiscent of the mountains on the horizon between which the sun rose every morning. They were often solid structures with their interiors filled with rubble (the Amarna talatat on which scenes of life in Akhenaten's capital are depicted, survived thanks to being reused in this way), but many enclosed rooms and stairways. The tops of the pylon ended often in cavetto cornices. Flagpoles were attached to their fronts, and the flags could be attached to the poles through small windows. Pylons were often decorated with painted reliefs depicting the destruction of enemies of Egypt, reminding the temple visitors of the power of the king. The number of pylons differed from temple to temple, many having just one but the Amen temple at Karnak as many as ten.
Pyramidion at the Louvre Museum, Paris
Pyramidion, Egyptian benbenet - bnbn.t, is the name given to the tip of the obelisks and to the capstone placed on top of pyramids. It had the form of the pyramid which it capped and was covered with electrum or gold. It stood for the benben stone, according to the Egyptian mythology the primeval mound which emerged from the waters of chaos at Heliopolis and was the first firm object on which the rays of the sun fell.
Source: Jon Bodsworth
4] or, in temples, of rock. As most towns were built in the plain, there was rarely need for wide public stairs of the kind found at Kahun.
Town houses sometimes had second or third floors, which could be reached by flights of stairs built of mud bricks or wood and the flat roofs of most houses were accessible and often used for sleeping and cooking.
Temples contained at times stairs
I filled his (Amon's) temple with august vases, in order to offer libations /////// I built their temples, wrought their stairways, restored their gates ...Stairs lent themselves to impressive appearances
I put on thy crown with my own two hands, when thou appearest upon the great double staircase
By their very nature, tombs frequently contained staircases. Kheti II described his tomb
I had a lofty tomb with a wide stair before the chamberAn extreme, symbolic form of stairs may be Djoser's step pyramid, built perhaps to facilitate the deceased king's ascent to heaven. (Only, if that was their purpose one may well wonder why this form of pyramid was abandoned)
Stela in Horemheb's tomb at Saqqara
|above) supporting decorated architraves symbolizing the sky.|
Gold of Honour, but generally preferred to keep their distance. A solution was the use of the window of appearance let into the façade of the palace.|
Source: BMFA 1964, No.328In the above relief from Amarna the window is topped by a frieze of uraei, and above it, as sometimes happened in Egyptian depictions where objects, of which one was hidden behind the other, were pictured as one being above the other, is shown the columned hall which could be glimpsed by the populace through the window.
 The Lexikon der Ägyptologie translates aS as fir, lat. Abies Cilica, rather than cedar as did Breasted:
I inspected the great monuments which he made ////// great pylons on its either side of fine limestone of Ayan; august flagstaves were erected at the double façade of the temple of new cedar of the best of the Terraces (i.e. Mountain of Lebanon); their tops were of electrum.According to the Lexikon the tips of the masts were covered with electron, and the flags themselves were red, green and blue.
 Precious metal was seemingly also used in some parts of the temples:
This great god appeared upon the pavement of silver in the house of Amon at the morning hour. An early Ptolemaic account recording the supply of 15,840 bricks, more than would have been needed to build a workman's house. Cf brickmaking
For the stairway ---- (bricks) [Epeiph]. Katheryn A. Bard, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.392
 Stairways (or possibly ramps) to heaven are mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, e.g. in the Unas Pyramid:
A stairway to heaven shall be built for him, so that he may ascend to heaven on it. Emery, Virginia L., 2011, "Mud-Brick Architecture." In Willeke Wendrich (ed.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. accessed at http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz0026w9hb on 28th February 2011
 Andreas Effland, "Sprechende Wasserspeier und die Regenwasser Ableitung im Alten Ägypten" in Fachliche Berichte 2/00, Hamburger Wasserwerke, 2000
Ian Shaw, Paul Nicholson, Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press 1995, p.162
Bibliography for this and related pages
|Building: Planning, materials, tools|
|Walls and ramparts|
|Index of Topics|
|Main Index and Search Page|
|Offsite links||(Opening in a new window)|
|These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content of these sites|
| Archaeological Excavations in Egypt - SEPE: Survey and Excavation Projects in Egypt: Tell Tebilla Project - Part V|
|Egyptian Obelisk Website|
|The columns of ancient Egypt (Tour Egypt site)|
|Raising the obelisk (PBS site: NOVA online adventure)|
|Raising the obelisk - Mark Lehner answers questions (PBS site: NOVA online adventure).|
|Karnak Temple: Great Hypostyle Hall (PBS site: NOVA online adventure)|
|Under "Bauwerke": A number of temples with related material (in German)|
|The Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser|
|The lithographs of David Roberts|
|Columns & pillars: the Visual Story by Sjef Willockx|
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