Ancient Egypt Architecture
The noblest of the ancient arts
Ancient Egypt Architecture was the noblest of the ancient arts, because it combined in imposing form mass and duration, beauty and use.
Ancient Egypt Architecture began humbly in the adornment of tombs and the external decoration of homes.
Dwellings were mostly of mud, with here and there some pretty woodwork (a Japanese lattice, a well-carved portal), and a roof strengthened with the tough and pliable trunks of the palm.
Around the house, normally, was a wall enclosing a court; from the court steps led to the roof; from this the tenants passed down into the rooms.
The well-to-do had private gardens, carefully landscaped; the cities provided public gardens for the poor, and hardly a home but had its ornament of flowers.
Ancient Egypt Architecture Inside the house the walls were hung with colored mattings, and the floors, if the mastei could afford it, were covered with rugs.
People sat on these rugs rathei than on chairs; the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom squatted for their meals at tables six inches high, in the fashion of the Japanese; and ate with their fingers, like Shakespeare.
Under the Empire, when slaves were cheap, the upper classes sat on high cushioned chairs, and had their servants hand them course after course.
Stone for building was too costly for homes; it was a luxury reserved for priests and kings.
Even the nobles, ambitious though they were, left the greatest wealth and the best building materials to the temples;
in consequence the palaces that overlooked almost every mile of the river in the days of Amenhotep III crumbled into oblivion, while the abodes of the gods and the tombs of the dead remained.
By the Twelfth Dynasty the pyramid architecture had ceased to be the fashionable form of sepulture.
Khnumhotep (ca. 2180 B.C.) chose at Beni-Hasan the quieter form of a colonnade built into the mountainside; and this theme, once established, played a thousand variations among the hills on the western slope of the Nile.
From the time of the Pyramids to the Temple of Hathor at Denderah, for some three thousand years there rose out of the sands of Egypt such a succession of architectural achievements as no civilization has ever surpassed.
At Karnak and Luxor a riot of columns raised by Thutmose I and III, Amenhotep III, Seti I, Rameses II and other monarchs from the Twelfth to the Twenty-second Dynasty.
At Medinet-Habu (ca. 1300 B.C.) a vast but less distinguished edifice, on whose columns an Arab village rested for centuries.
Ancient Egypt Architecture At Abydos the Temple of Seti I, dark and sombre in its massive ruins; at Elephantine the little Temple of Khnum (ca. 1400 B.C.), "posi¬tively Greek in its precision and elegance";
At Der-el-Bahri the stately colonnades Architecture of Queen Hatshepsut.
Near it the Ramesseum, another forest of colossal columns and statues reared by the architects and slaves of Rameses II;
at Philse the lovely Temple of Isis (ca. 240 B.C.) desolate and abandoned now that the damming of the Nile at Assuan has submerged the bases of its perfect columns—these are sample fragments of the many monuments that still adorn the valley of the Nile, and attest even in their ruins the strength and courage of the race that reared them.
Here, perhaps, is an excess of pillars, a crowding of columns against the tyranny of the sun, a Far-Eastern aversion to symmetry, a lack of unity, a barbaric-modern adoration of size.
But here, too, are grandeur, sublimity, majesty and power;
here are the arch and the vault, used sparingly because not needed, but ready to pass on their principles to Greece and Rome and modern Europe;
here are decorative designs never surpassed; here are papyriform columns, lotiform columns, "proto-Doric" columns, Caryatid columns, Hathor capitals, palm capitals, clerestories, and magnificent architraves full of the strength and stability that are the very soul of architecture powerful appeal.
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