Study Aid 3: The Architecture of Ancient Egypt

Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of the culture of ancient Egypt was its continuity. Although the Egyptian Empire endured many wars and changes in government, its artistic tradition and religion were relatively stable throughout its 3000+ year history. Even alien conquerers became thoroughly egyptianized. The system of trabeated construction and standardized motifs (e.g. axial alignment and huge columns with papyrus and lotus capitals) were used throughout its long history. Nevertheless, significant variations or innovations can be discerned.

Ancient Egyptian history is roughly divided by historians into three periods which contain the eras when the country was at its most independent and culturally advanced. "Old Kingdom" (c. 2700-2160 BC) architecture is best known by the construction of the pyramids that had evolved from earlier mud brick tombs called mastabas. The earliest pyramid is found in the funerary complex of Pharaoh Djoser (Zoser) in Saqqara (c.2680-2630 BC). The complex was designed by history's earliest recorded architect, Imhotep, and constitutes the oldest monumental, finely cut-stone complex on earth. The Great Pyramids at Giza built for the burials of the Pharaohs Khufu (aka Cheops), Khafre (aka Chefren), and Menkaure (aka Mycerinus), circa 2585-2500 BC, represent the apogee of pyramid construction in the Old Kingdom with its emphasis on perfect geometry. Attached to these pyramids were temples that contained the germ of architectural programs to come.

Architecture of the "Middle Kingdom" (2134-1786 BC) and "New Kingdom" (c.1550-1085 BC) witnessed a shift away from the building of monumental pyramids. Pharoanic tombs initially were cut into cliff walls and aggrandized with monumental entrances and gardens, e.g. Mortuary Temple of Nedhepetre Mentuhotep, c.2050 BC; and the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, c.1470 BC, Deir el-Bahari, architect: Senenmut. Eventually, the royal tombs were hidden from view completely, e.g. Tomb of King Tutankhamun, c.1327 BC, Valley of the Kings. The New Kingdom also witnessed the creation of large temple complexes (often expanded over time) used for religious rituals (e.g. Temple of Amun-Re, Karnak, Thebes, c.1530-1230 BC). Processions move through pylon gates, courtyards and hypostyle halls to dark recessed chambers housing the statues of deities. Participation in these rituals was strictly limited according to social status.


Mortuary Complex of Djoser (Zoser)

Date: 2680-2630 BC
Location: Saqqara, Eqypt
Architect: Imhotep
Patron: Pharaoh Djoser (Zoser)


Reconstruction - Birds-Eye View

Aerial View


Stepped Pyramid


Reconstructed Perimeter Wall


Stepped Pyramid and Reconstructed Devotional Chapels

Heb Sed Court - Chapel

South Court - Cobra Wall

House of the North - Engaged Papyrus Columns


Pseudo-Doric Columns

The Great Pyramids at Giza

Date: 2585-2500 BC
Location: Giza, Egypt
Architect: Unknown
Patrons: Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure



Aerial View - The Great Pyramids and Associated Structures

View of Pyramids

The Great Sphinx

The Pyramid of Khufu


Cut-Away/Construction Illustration

Aerial View

Khafre's Pyramid

Mortuary Temple Plan

View of Pyramid and Valley Temple

Valley Temple Interior

Khafre Pyramid

Menkaure's Pyramid


View of the Base with Original Facing Stones

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut & Mentuhotep

Date: c.1470 BC
Location: Deir el-Bahari, Egypt
Architect: Senenmut
Patron: Pharaoh Hatshepsut


Plan and Birds-eye Reconstruction View of Site

Aerial View

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut

Date: c.1470 BC
Location: Deir el-Bahari, Egypt
Architect: Senenmut
Patron: Pharaoh Hatshepsut




Anubis Chapel and North Colonnade


View of Reconstructed Site

Chapel of Anubis at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut - Painted Reliefs

Temple of Amun-Re

Date: 1530-1230 BC
Location: Karnak, Egypt
Architect: Unknown
Patrons: Assorted Pharaohs


Site Plan

Temple Plan

Reconstruction - Birds-eye View

Entrance Lined with Sphinxes

Reconstruction View - First Courtyard

First Courtyard

Northern Perimeter Wall


Perspective Section Reconstruction - View of the Great Hypostyle Hall


Reconstructed Interior View of the Great Hypostyle Hall

Center Aisle of The Great Hypostyle Hall

Great Hall - Roof Skylights

7th Pylon showing Thutmosis Defeating Enemies

Obelisk of Hatshepsut

Heiroglyphic Inscription