Ancient Egyptian Architecture: History, Characteristics & Influences

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Ancient Egyptian Architecture

Most Egyptian buildings had flat roofs supported by external walls and columns

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ancient Egypt? For most people, it's the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx of Giza. Ancient Egyptian architecture displays some of the most impressive and exquisite works of art in history. Understanding the motivation behind the construction of these monumental structures is imperative to understanding the culture of the ancient Egyptians.

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Giza PyramidCcomplex | Cairo| Egypt

Much of the art and architecture in ancient Egypt represents the belief in life after death and veneration of the gods. Because there was very little wood available, stone and mud brick were used to construct of the most buildings. Stone was generally preferred for temples and pyramids. Houses were usually made out of mud brick.

Most buildings contain flat roofs supported by external walls and columns. Walls and columns were often covered in hieroglyphics, the writing system used in ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphics consisted of pictures that represented sounds or words.

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Great Sphinx of Giza | Cairo| Egypt
The Old Kingdom

A mastaba was built above a burial tomb and contained a chapel and statue of the dead

Ancient Egyptian culture can be divided into several time periods, although historians often disagree on the exact dates. We will now examine some architectural qualities from a few of these time periods. The first is referred to as the Old Kingdom and spans from around 2649 BCE to 2150 BCE. It was during this time that some of the most famous structures were constructed, setting a standard for Egyptian art and for centuries to come. It was during this time period that the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx were built.

Structures called mastabas were built above underground burial tombs. These structures were a single story with a flat top. Mastabas also contained a chapel and a statue of the dead it housed. These buildings would eventually be replaced by intricate pyramids to house the remains of the dead.
An architect named Imhotep created the first version of a pyramid. This pyramid is known as a step pyramid. It was designed as several mastabas stacked on top of each other. Step pyramids eventually developed into geometric pyramids.

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Saqqara| Egypt

Giza held three pyramids: the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The Great Pyramid was the largest of the three. The Sphinx is situated on the east side of the complex.

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Saqqara| Egypt

The Middle Kingdom

Many Egyptian temples contained courtyards, hallways and other pathways

The Middle Kingdom refers to the years around 2030 BCE to 1640 BCE. During this time, pyramid-building remained popular. Pharaohs, the ruling kings over Egypt, built pyramids to hold their elaborate tombs. Like all Egyptians, pharaohs wanted to ensure they would be able to sustain their life in the afterlife.

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The New Kingdom

The New Kingdom time period spanned from about 1550 BCE to 1070 BCE. As Egypt gained more control over its landholdings, prosperity inspired the construction of monuments. Much of this construction occurred in the current capital city of Thebes. The most popular structure was the temple, as it represented the power of the priest class.

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