2. building materials of egypt and mesopotamia in Egypt settlements appeared later, around 3400 bc. Settlements had fortification walls with dwellings accessed by narrow alleys and courtyards or sometimes by way of roofs

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In Egypt settlements appeared later, around 3400 BC. Settlements had fortification walls with dwellings accessed by narrow alleys and courtyards or sometimes by way of roofs. Houses were mostly single roomed with flat roofs of timber, walls of mud and stones plastered internally and painted in earth colors. During Neolithic period multi-roomed thin walled houses of mud brick were being constructed. There also was an emergence of non-residential buildings for work, storage and ritual purposes, culminating in monumental temple architecture. The towns had more open form of layout with streets and defense walls. Around 5000 BC, the temple was first noticeable at Eridu indicating control by the ruling elite. The temple which was relatively accessible to the populace gradually came under the control of the ruler.
Stone and timber were rare in Mesopotamia so soil was the main building material. Mud mixed with straw was poured into moulds or sun-dried or kiln fired bricks were used. Kiln-fired bricks were used mainly for drains, pavements and as facing for major buildings such as ziggurats (at Ur). Kiln-fired bricks became standard after the 6th century BC. Bitumen was used for water proofing. In pre-dynastic Egypt and the Sumerian south, reeds, papyrus and palm branch ribs plastered with clay were the common building materials.
Timber for the roofs was not available locally so cedar was imported by Egypt from Lebanon while Mesopotamia brought wood from the Amanus range (NE area of the Mediterranean). Stone blocks were transported by raft down the Nile. Egypt lagged behind Mesopotamia in metallurgy and building technology.
Free standing columns were not much used in Mesopotamia due to the lack of the right quality and size of building stones. They tended to build thick mud or brick walls and vaults, although there are evidences of the use of massive columns as early as mid 4th millennium BC. In Egypt cut stone was used only for the finest religious buildings, otherwise mud brick walls were used even for the palaces. The walls were battered ,i.e., diminishing in size at the top and were reinforced by layers of fiber or reed mats.
Pyramids were built on leveled bedrock with sides oriented to the cardinal points. The pyramids were built in step-like tiers and the steps were filled with packing blocks with finely dressed facing done at the chosen inclination. The stone blocks were hauled up sand or earth ramps to their desired level. Copper chisels and saws were used to cut and dress the stones as iron or bronze was not available. Corbelling as well as flat stone beams were used to cover interior chambers.
Greece had good quality building stones: limestone and marble. Timber was more scarce. For the important buildings, walls were usually built of single block ashlars. Ashlar blocks of uniform height (isodomic) were normally used in classical temples but alternating high and low courses of ashlar (pseudisodomic) were also used. Stone blocks were lifted by cranes and pulleys and levered into position with crowbars. Iron clamps held the blocks together while molten lead was poured around the clamps.
In Hellenistic period walls had thin inner and outer ashlar facing and the hollow inner space was filled with dry rubble. The upright facing stone course was alternated with a layer of low throughstones. Roofs had wooden beams and rafters cut to square sections. Tiles were not nailed but rested under their own weight at a slope of 13-17 degrees. The decorative mouldings were initially of roughened shape and were finished in situ after construction was more or less complete. The hairline joints were hardly visible from the outside, however, the inside sections had less finely worked surfaces.



Egyptian civilization was completely defined by the Nile river which provided transportation and enriched the land. The rocky highlands and Red Sea to the east and the desert to the west provided protection and allowed a stable political entity to emerge. Egypt was ruled by the Pharaohs. The dynasty began with Menes, first king of the First Dynasty who unified Upper and Lower Egypt and after 30 dynasties ended with the Ptolemys (Cleopatra was the last).

Old Kingdom 3200 – 2158 BC

Middle Kingdom 2134 – 1786 BC

New Kingdom 1570 – 1085 BC
Egyptian civilization flourished during the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. These were separated by periods of decline called the First Intermediate Period and the Second Intermediate Period. The last period of decline was known as the Late Period.
Little is known of Menes’ successors until the reign of King Zoser at the end of the 3rd dynasty who set up his capital at Memphis. The stepped pyramid of Zoser marks the first monumental construction and the beginning of the pyramid age. The Old Kingdom was a period of peace and splendor. The pharaoh was worshipped as the son of Ra, the great sun-god. The Old Kingdom came to an end after nobles became independent and the country was split into many warring states. Irrigation systems fell into disrepair and thieves broke into the pyramids and robbed them of their treasures.
In the Middle Kingdom, the rulers of Thebes subdued their enemies and once again united Egypt into a single state. Large irrigation projects were begun and trading with Nubia and Mediterranean countries flourished. Construction began on one of the biggest temples of all times, the Temple of Amun at El Karnak.
After about two centuries of peace and prosperity, Egypt once again entered the dark ages when foreign invaders took over the country. Hykos, a barbarian people from the north, who had superior bows and used the horse and chariot in combat, occupied Lower Egypt.
The Egyptians learned the new forms of warfare and drove away the Hykos to begin the period of the New Kingdom. The once peaceful Egyptians embarked on foreign conquest and extended Egypt’s rule to the Euphrates. Slaves and tribute poured into Egypt from the conquered nations. The Egyptians used this new wealth and slaves to repair and rebuild. Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first great queen enlarged the Temple of Amun and built her own temple at Deir el Bahri.
The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom built modest brick pyramids for their tombs. The kings of the New Kingdom broke away from this tradition and began to build tombs cut deep into the cliffs of an isolated valley west of Thebes. The Valley of the Kings contains the tombs of about 40 kings.
The Late period marks the final decline of Egypt’s power. The treasury was drained by the large construction projects and the upkeep of the large army. Hungry workers resorted to strikes to get their wages in grain. The central government weakened and the country again split up into small states. A period of continuing invasions began, first by the Ethiopians in about 730 BC, the Persians in 525 BC and Alexander the Great in 332 BC. After Alexander’s death, his general Ptolemy seized the throne and introduced Greek manners and ideas into Egypt. Queen Cleopatra was last in the line of the Ptolemies. In 30 BC Egypt was proclaimed a province of Rome.


Egyptian architecture was driven by the limitless building ambition of the monarchy and priesthood who attempted to create an architecture to match the scale and grandeur of the river, mountains and the desert. The vastness of the desert inspired the Egyptians to build pyramids and temples to transcend time while the linear fluid image of the life giving river was translated into the linear or axial composition of their architecture. The pyramids at Memphis were erected at the edge of the desert. They separated the living world, the fertile Nile Valley, from the hostile and inert world of the desert to the west.

Religion and elaborate rituals were obsessed with the after-life. Life on earth was believed to be a short transient passage while the other side of death was an eternal extension of the joys of the earth life. The spirit called “ba” survived death but needed a body. The problem was solved through the process of mummification.
The monumental architecture of the dead associated with the pyramids went through a slow evolution. The early sandpit burial was succeeded by the above ground tombs which were relatively small constructions known as mastabas. Mastaba is derived from the Arabic word meaning bench. These bench-like structures rose to a height of not less than 30 ft, and were built of sun-baked mud bricks with battered or sloping walls filled in with excavated earth to form a flat top. The walls were painted with geometric designs in brilliant colors. Later mastabas were faced with stone and articulated with paneled recessions.
The basic design of a mastaba tomb consisted of an underground pit simulating a house plan with the central room to contain the sarcophagus and the surrounding storage rooms to receive the funerary offerings of clothing, food, wine, furniture, weapons and even lavatories. The wooden roof of the chambers was supported by wooden pillars or rough brick pillars. The entire construction was covered by a rectangular flat topped mound of excavated soil held in place by thick brick walls with a batter of about 75 degrees.. The entire structure protruded as a rectangular block. Later mastabas were cut deep into bed-rock. The subterranean crypts were connected through narrow shafts or stairways. After burial heavy stone blocks or portcullises covered the entrance which was filled over to remove all traces of the tombs. Portcullises were also dropped from the top through shafts to block the passages at various points. This earliest form of Egyptian tomb provided the embryonic model for the later pyramids. On the Nile (east) side recesses resembled doors and windows and a false door allowed the spirit of the dead to enter and leave the tomb. A table was placed for daily offerings of fresh food. By the 4th Dynasty a small offering chapel was attached to the mastaba or was built along with it. The majority of the mastabas also tended to be built of limestone and vertical shafts provided entrance to the tombs. Later chapels tended to be increasingly elaborate.
The jump from the mastaba to the pyramid began with the pyramid of King Zoser built of stone in 2750 BC at Sakkara. The first recorded architect Imhotep was involved. It began as a mastaba but was enlarged successfully in no less than five stages to arrive at the stepped pyramid of a rectangular shape 411 ft. by 358 ft. and 204 ft. high. The tomb, however, was laid below ground as in a mastaba. The surrounding wall had projections and recessions. A doorway led to a hall with half columns attached to piers supporting massive stone ceiling. This was the first evidence of monumental columnar form in the history of architecture. The architect did not yet dare to build free-standing columns and columns did not take abstract form but imitated bundles of reed. This was the beginning of copying natural forms, which has continued until modern times.
The stepped pyramid also symbolized a stairway to heaven to join the sun god Re, ruler of the world and chief divinity of Egypt at the time. The other important gods were Osiris, ruler of the netherworld, his wife Isis, their hawk-headed son Horus (also depicted as the sun god), the jackal-headed Anubis, lord of the cemeteries etc. The construction of pyramids in the Old Kingdom is very much related to the sun cult of Heliopolis. It was presumed that after the death of the pharaoh, he would be called to join the sun in the sky. The pharaoh would ride from the east to west during the day with Re and return to the original site through the netherworld at night with Osiris. An attempt was made to represent the sun by reproducing the primordial hill, manifested by the pyramid, which received the first rays of the sun at the time of the creation of the world. Pyramids faced the cardinal points with the entrance generally to the north and were laid on a stone base prepared for the superstructure. The change to the pure geometric shape of the pyramid should have been an easy transition but took a long time because of the peculiar Egyptian method of building pyramids not as continuous horizontal layers of diminishing size, but as narrow vertical piles abutting each other in ascending steps towards the massive core around which they were built. The stepped mass was then finished from top to bottom by slanting blocks to give a pure geometric form. Initially they faced many failures as the great internal pressure of the stone piles caused outer layers to collapse. The stone blocks were brought down the Nile in barges and according to widely held but as yet unproven belief were transported on wooden sledges over ramps with or without the aid of rollers in front of the sledges.
Pyramids did not stand alone but were part of a complex of buildings. They were surrounded by a walled enclosure and had an offering chapel with a stele, usually on the east side towards the river. There was a mortuary temple of the dead and deified pharaoh which was connected by a raised and enclosed causeway to the valley temple where the embalming and other rites were performed. A canal connected the valley temple to the river to enable the grand funeral procession to arrive at the site.
The stepped pyramid of Pharaoh Zoser was followed by the sharper steps of the pyramid at Meydum, then the bent pyramid at Dahshur by Seneferu (2723 BC). The inclination of the Dahshur pyramid changes midway from 54° 15’ to 43° in the upper part. This appears to be done hastily to lighten the load as cracks developed in the walls of the burial chamber and the passages.
The building of pyramids was perfected during the construction of the great pyramid of Khufu (better known by the Greek name of Cheops) the son of Seneferu. The sides of the pyramid formed an equilateral triangle with an inclination of 52º. The pyramid was 760 ft. square and 482 ft. high. A subterranean burial chamber, referred to as the Queens Chamber, was built but this scheme was later abandoned for a burial chamber within the pyramid itself. Roughly at the center was the King’s Chamber 34½ ft. by 17 ft. in plan and 19 ft. high, containing the granite sarcophagus. Because of the immense load above, roofing was a problem which was resolved through the principle of megalithic construction. They took no chances and built five separate layers of megalithic stone slabs laid across the shorter side of the chamber (nine slabs in each layer). On top was a primitive but effective triangular arch to deflect the upper load. It was assumed that if the arch failed, the lower slabs would not.
The burial procession began from the banks of the Nile, from the valley temple, proceeded along the passage meant to lead to the original subterranean chamber, then up along the inclined Grand Gallery. The Grand Gallery was 153 ft. long and 28 ft. high. The base was 7 ft. wide which was reduced through corbelling to a safe 4 ft. at the roof level, a technique in use in Neolithic tombs. After the mummified body of the king was put in the King’s Chamber, it was sealed forever by a 50 ton portcullis which was lowered into a recess. The portcullis was lowered by the use of self-destructive props – sacks of sand from which sand was allowed to slowly empty or timber props which were set aflame. Two narrow shafts 8” by 6” connected the interiors to the outside, perhaps for ventilation or passage of spirits.
The pyramids were the perfect response to the Pharaoh’s will for immortality in the vast landscape. The surface was carved in smooth limestone (currently much of it has been stripped away) and the apex was capped with a sheath of gold (unfortunately, these were the first to be stolen).

The adjoining pyramids at Giza next to Cheops are those of Khufu’s successors, Khafre (Chephren – 2530 BC) and Menkure (2500 BC) set at 45° angle to the north although the smallest pyramid is set at a slight offset. To compensate for vast differences in size, the visual angle has been arranged with the smaller pyramid in the foreground. Because of the gradual economic and political decline after Menkure, pyramids became smaller, were even constructed of bricks and died out altogether.

New Thinking?

Quest for Lost Civilization – Graham Hancock

Precession – axis of earth takes 26000 years for one revolution and constellations rotate accordingly. 1° = 72 years

Orientation of pyramids at 45° to north and slight offset of Menkure pyramid copy of the position of the stars on Orion constellation. Similar orientation of Orion with the pole star would have occurred about 10,500 years ago. The shafts would also have been in perfect alignment to view the stars of goddesses.

The assertion that the great pyramid belonged to Khufu is based on a graffiti in the tomb so its age is indeterminate.

The Sphinx representing Leo should have faced the constellation of Leo. Correcting for precession, this would have occurred about 10,500 years ago.

Angkor Wat and its attending structures, pathways and waterways are a perfect replica of the Draco constellation. Its alignment to the current siting of Angkor Wat would have occurred 10,500 years ago.

The Stonehenge believed to be a sophisticated calendar to predict the seasons and even the eclipses. The layout of the vast pyramids of the Mayas designed to mark the change of seasons. The Easter island figures probably markers for navigation. A straight cut in an underwater rock aligned perfectly to the equator.

The angle between Maya pyramids, Gizeh and Angkor Wat are 2° or 144 years.

All this points to the existence of a highly evolved civilization 10,500 years ago who were seafarers and depended greatly on star positioning for navigation. Their skills in astronomy were spread to all the different locations. Did this civilization get drowned out by the rise in sea levels after the thawing of the ice age?

Middle and New Kingdom Burial Chambers

Exposed tombs above ground was abandoned and the Egyptian tombs returned to earth in the succeeding Middle (1800 BC) and New (1500 BC) Kingdom. Tombs were hollowed out in the cliffs of the Nile. The best examples are at Beni-Hasan 125 miles upstream of Giza on the east bank of the Nile. The burial chambers consist of three elements: 1) a colonnaded portico for public worship 2) behind it a columnar hall serving as a combined chapel and effigy hall and 3) a recessed tomb. The exterior pillars were beveled to 8-16 sided prism with a square capital. This form is often referred to as Proto-Doric because of its resemblance to the later Greek order. The inner columns were lotiform, i.e. copy of lotus plants.

Because of the problem of tomb raiders, the rulers of the New Kingdom decided to abandon monumentality for greater security and began to deliberately hide their tombs. Long underground corridors and chambers were hollowed out of cliffs as at Thebes. The tunneling was begun early in the reign and would end at the Pharaoh’s death. After his burial, the entrance was sealed and concealed. Architecturally, these tombs were not of much significance. Rock-cut Tomb of Kings at Thebes goes 210m into the mountainside and is upto 96m deep. The sarcophagus was placed in rock columned hall at the end whose walls were painted with funerary scenes. The most important tombs were those of Seti I, Rameses III, IV and IX.

Mortuary Temples

Temples were mainly of two types: those dedicated to cult gods and those of deified Pharaohs (mortuary temples). The mortuary temples developed from the offering chapels of the royal mastabas and comprised of 3 interconnected units: 1) a valley temple near the river where the king’s body was embalmed 2) a temple at the foot of the pyramid dedicated to the Pharaoh and associated deities and 3) a long narrow causeway between thick high walls interconnecting the two. The temple of Chephren at Gizeh is a good example.

The valley temple had on guard the Sphinx immediately to the north. The entry was through twin entrances connected by a cross vestibule. This led to a T-shaped double aisle and triple aisle chapel with square pillars and granite beams. A 600 yards causeway ascended northwest to Khafre’s mortuary temple. The route went through a series of cross vestibule and narrowing vestibule. A narrow door led to a triple aisle passage which ended in another narrow door. The door opened out to a large rectangular cross-axial court surrounded by an aisle which led to a series of chapels.
The mortuary temple complex of Mentuhotep and Queen Hatshepsut (who reigned as regent and continued to rule as Pharaoh and was even represented with a beard) is one of the finest examples of mortuary temples. In the Middle Kingdom, in the funerary monument of Mentuhotep at Dier-el-Bahari, a completely new interpretation of the tomb complex was begun. Here a small pyramid built of stone was used to crown and unify a larger complex. A lower pillared portico covered the retaining wall and framed the access, while the upper terrace had a pillared portico surrounding the pyramid. The verticality of the pillars was balanced by the horizontality of the architrave with the pyramid providing a stately crown. This complex inspired the construction of the temple of Hatshepsut five centuries later and also led to the design of the hypostyle halls in the New Kingdom temples.
The temples consisted of a series of ramps, terraces, courts and galleries that rose from the flat plain of the valley to the craggy uplands. The actual burial chambers would be hidden deep in the rocks beyond, approached through an aisled hall connected to a court carved at the base of the cliff.
The Deir-el-Bahri complex lay on the same axis as the temple of Amun at Karnak, across the river. The orientation of such an important temple to that of the queen’s temple suggests the supreme power wielded by the queen. The valley temple and the causeway such as that of the mortuary temples of the pyramid of Giza have now disappeared. The mortuary temples of Mentuhotep and Queen Hatshepsut are set against the cliff walls. The temple of Queen Hatshepsut stands on a terrace cut out of the rock. The temple is a square building faced externally with colonnades except on the cliff side. In the center of the temple was a solid stone platform that probably supported a pyramid. Behind the temple was a small court with a hypostyle hall at the back. The tunnel to the tomb began from the court and went under the 80 column hypostyle hall at the back. The hall is a forerunner of the transverse hypostyle hall in the New Kingdom temples. The colonnaded temple of Queen Hatshepsut was the closest Egyptian architecture came to classical architecture for its clarity of detail, elegance of proportion, openness and lightness.
The Great Temple at Abu-Simbel (1301 BC), the grandest rock-cut temple with four statues of Rameses II on the outside, hall with 8 Osiris pillars followed by 8 asymmetrical chambers and 3 main sanctuaries at the back is another fine example of a mortuary temple. Because of the rise in water level after the construction of the Aswan dam, the entire temple was shifted to a new location 200 ft. higher.

New Kingdom Temples

Many of the elements of mortuary temples of the Middle Kingdom are found in the New Kingdom temples at Thebes and elsewhere – the long approaches, guardian sphinxes, colonnaded vestibules, inner courts, dark shrines and intricate linear progression of spaces. They exemplified the controlled series of architectural experience, from exterior openness and light to interior closure and darkness. The worshippers were drawn axially towards more constricted, pulled deeper and deeper to the core of the divinity. The projection of psychology of inaccessibility was deliberate for only the Pharaoh and the priests were allowed to enter the sanctuary proper.

During the New Kingdom, Egypt became powerful and extended her empire from Nubia to the Euphrates. Tributes brought great wealth to Egypt which the pharaohs used to build temples and other projects. Earlier the tombs and royal (mortuary) temples bore praises of the kings of the Old Kingdom. In the New Kingdom, praises of the pharaohs were inscribed in the cult temple itself, raising the pharaohs to the status of the gods. Whereas, in the earlier times, the sun god was worshipped, in the New Kingdom, a new aspect of worshipping the hidden and mysterious god was begun. This was translated in the design of temples with leading avenue of sphinxes and obelisks, pylons, successions of courts, giving importance to the role of the sun and the dark, enclosed, restricted sanctuary harboring the hidden god. Thus was born the cult of Amun Re – Amun (the Hidden One) and Re (the Sun God).
The New Kingdom temples were surrounded by long walls of unbaked bricks. Besides the temple, there were store houses, silos, poultry yards, cowsheds etc. Workshops were erected for the maintenance of the buildings and offices for the administrators. The temples also served as centers of intellectual activities where scribes were trained, manuscripts copied and new works of theology were written. Temples, thus, fulfilled religious, economic and intellectual functions just as in the temples of the Near East.
The temple of Khons, son of Amun-Re, set within the larger enclosure of the temple dedicated to his father at Karnak, (1198 BC) is a typical example of the New Kingdom temple showing all the essential components in its elementary form. At the entrance were the imposing battered pylons in symmetrical order. The batter of the pylons is a direct derivative of the battered sun-dried brick walls, which were built in this manner for greater strength and stability. The pylons separated the inner and the outer world with the rows of sphinxes leading the way to the temple. The pylons led to the peristyle court with one or more rows of columns on two or more sides. The columns were lotiform and often framed statues of the king. From the openness of the peristyle court the worshippers were led to the hypostyle hall, a rectangular transverse hall with rows of columns. The columns were huge and the aisles narrow and light was provided through clerestory windows between the taller central columns and the shorter side columns. The columns were incised with the deeds of the kings who contributed to the grandeur of the temple as well as praise of the gods. The space was oppressive and dim and this was the furthest the people were allowed in the temple. The shrine was further behind and the Pharaoh and the priests entered in semi-darkness a claustrophobic set of low confined spaces, consisting of the sanctuary with the circumambulatory space, chapels and the priest’s chambers. The sanctuary was in total darkness except in the morning when the sun’s ray struck the image through the gates of the pylon and the hypostyle hall which lay along a central axis. The common man got to see the gods only during processions when they were carried on boat-like structures during specific festivals to visit other temples or royal mortuary sites.
Later temples followed the same sequence of spaces and masses. Only the scale and refinement of details changed. The Great Temple of Amun at Karnak located in the same complex as the temple of Khons is the grandest of all the temples and was built by many kings over a period of 1530-323 BC. It was 1215 ft. by 376 ft. and the main pylons were 50 ft. thick and 146 ft. high. There were a second and an inner third pylon. The hypostyle hall of Set I and his son Ramesses II had two rows of central columns 12 ft. in diameter and 69 ft. high with open papyrus tops. The 7 rows of columns on each side were 9 ft. thick and 42 ft. high. The columns bore figures and hieroglyphs and formed 3 central processional aisles lighted by narrow slits from the clerestory. The temple was set on an axis in perfect alignment with the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut across the Nile river. The side entrance led to the temple of Luxor, dedicated to the Amun’s consort. The temple of Luxor has a rhombus like peristyle in the front to adjust for the bent axis of approach from the temple at Karnak.

Secular Architecture

Egyptian secular architecture was built of perishable materials so there are no remains but as depicted in paintings and temple columns, Egyptian life was not somber and gloomy but lively and colorful. Egyptian residences were built of bundles of reed or palm leaf ribs lashed together and plastered with mud. Roof was also built of reed and mud. Later sun-dried bricks mixed with straw and sand was used for residential buildings and even for palaces. Only the finest religious buildings employed stone.

Thebes was set out on a linear pattern on the west side of the Nile, between the river and the row of funerary temples. The houses were of variable sizes and set as row houses along the street, built around a court which served as the main living area. The kitchen was to the rear. The bedrooms were on the second floor. Wealthier families might have basements for looms. Storage bins were placed on the roof terrace. The houses were brightly painted. Lattice windows protected the interior from the searing sun. Some of the grander rooms had columnar supports.
The royal palace at Tell el Amarna built in 1370 BC by Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) has a regular plan seen in monumental temple architecture. It had a symmetrical design with open courts and colonnaded halls, almost like that of the later classical period. The town of Tell el Amarna was built by Akhenaten but abandoned by his successor. The city was composed of large estates of the rich interspersed with smaller houses of the poor. By the time it was abandoned, large areas had already begun to develop into slums. Many varieties of public and private architecture existed. The merchants had a rather modern looking houses facing narrow streets with plenty of interior spaces, roof terraces and loggias suitable for hot climate.

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