1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Ancient Egyptian Architecture: Temples

(Part 11)

Ancient Egyptian Architecture (cont.)


The Egyptian Temples range from the time that Thebes became the capital (about 2000 B.C.) down to the time of the Caesars’.

Of all the temples, the most remarkable is perhaps the rock-cut one of Aboosimbel [Abu Simbel], in Nubia, supposed to have been excavated in the 4th century B.C. the façade was cut in the steep face of a rock, the entrance doorway being flanked by two gigantic statues (66 feet high) on each side. The main feature internally was a grand hall supported by two rows of detached piers, in front of each of which statue 17 feet 8 inches high. Another remarkable temple exist at Ghizeh, built up within a great excavation in the rock; he was found the statue of Chephren before mentioned. The temple is lined with immense blocks of polished granite, as are also the piers, each of these being of one stone about 15 feet high, 5 feet wide, and 3.2 think. Over this structure there was clearly another, above ground, as extensive remains of fine stonewalling still exist. This singular edifice is without inscription of any kind, and evidently was connected in some way with sepulture, as tomb-chambers lead out of it. The apparently great antiquity of these and other excavations lent countenance to the theory to which we have before alluded, viz., that the origin of Egyptian art is to be found in them. But the evidence before us distinctly shows that all forms used in the great excavation at Aboosimbel [Abu Simbel], Thebes, Beni Hassan, and other places are clearly copied from built buildings. Thus, we have the ceiling arched out of the solid rock, or formed with clear imitations of beams, squared or round, also cut out of the rock, just as square beams or round logs were used in ordinary building; and so with the other parts of the excavations.

The grandest architectural efforts of the Egyptians are shown in their built temples, whose construction ranges from the time at which Thebes became the chief capital (about 2000 B.C.) down to so late even as the time of the Caesars. Sir Gardner Wilkinson, in his Architecture of Ancient Egypt, gives a very full account of these edifices and classifies them thus:-1. Sanctuary Temples, or those with only one single chamber. 2. Peripteral Temples, or the like, but surrounded with columns. 3. Temples in Antis, with a portico of two or four columns in front. 4. Those with porticos of many columns, as Esne, Dendera, &c., and many inner chambers. 5. Those with large courts, and with pyramidal towers or propylons in front. The earliest temple were small, consisting of a simple chamber to hold the statue of deity, with one opening of doorway in front, through which the votary might look, and with an altar for sacrifice. They were sanctuaries into which only priest might enter. The building is surrounded with a wall of brick forming a court or temenos, which was entered by a tall stone gateway or propylon, and was often planted with trees. In process of time these temples were enlarged, and there were added chambers for the priest, and large doorways flanked by towers with sloping sides (Plate VII. Fig. 5), and sometimes by portico or pronaos (fig.2) supported by columns. The vestibule, or court-yard, was surrounded by a colonnade (fig. 4); the propylon was gigantic proportions, and full of chambers (figs. 1m 4). The sanctuary, adytum, or sekos [Gk.] (fig. 4) still contained the idol and its altar. Across the court, and, in fact, sometimes for immense distance outside, there was a dromos [Gk.], or avenue of sphinxes, through which processions defiled. At the commencement of this avenue there was frequently an open or hypaethral building, or peristyle of columns, where it is supposed the processions assembled and were marshalled. This building is called a canopy by Sir Gardner Wilkinson.

The pyramidal form of the propylaea, peculiar to Egyptian temples, may have been suggested by the pyramids, as neither that form nor those adjuncts to a temple appear to have been used before the period at which it is supposed the former were constructed. The grandeur and dignity inherent in that form would indeed hardly be suspected till its appearance in the pyramids themselves; and certainly the impression of its effect must have been strong, to induce men to seek it in a truncated pyramid under a very acute angle, as in the propylaea, relying on the effect of its outline alone. It was gradually, too, that this tendency was generally applied, for in the earliest Pharaonic structures the vertical outline is most common, except in the propylaea, where they exist; and in the structures of the Ptolemies the inclined outline pervades everything. The larger and more perfect structures do not externally present the appearance of being columned, a boundary wall or peribolus girding the whole, and preventing the view of any part of the interior,- except perhaps the towering magnificence of some inner pylons; of the lofty tops of extraordinary avenue columns, with their superimposed terrace; of the tampering obelisk which occupy, at times, some of the courts; or of dense mass of structures, which is the body of the temple itself, enclosing the thickly columned halls. The immense magnitude of these edifices may perhaps have made them, in their perfect state, independent of considerations which have weight in architectural composition at the present time, and on which indeed its harmony depends. The various portion at of the same temple differ in size and proportion; whence it happens that the cornices of the lower parts abut indefinitely against the walls of the higher, while the latter are not at all in accordance among themselves.

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