Architecture of ancient Egypt

The pyramids are the most famous symbol of ancient Egyptians idea about life after death. The most important period of pyramids history was the reign of the 4th dynasty, which three rulers let build the famous pyramids in Giza. Other great pyramids were built up to 12th dynasty, this time from bricks not stone. Starting from the 18th dynasty the pyramids lost their exclusive position as the ruler’s last rest place. A change of royal tomb’s building shape happened in the beginning of the New Kingdom and the pyramid began to be used as a symbol for funeral place of dignitaries.

The rulers let build deep rock tombs in the Valley of the Kings on the western Nile bank since Thutmose I. reign and rich Egyptians built their graves in the manner of them in the rocks and some of the graves had an outside chapel. There was a pyramidion (pointed top) on the top of the graves, a niche with a portrayal of the deceased on the front side, where he worships the Sun. The ruler of the Nubian Empire – Piye, the black Pharaoh of the 25th dynasty, returned to stony pyramids of his ancestors, but the magnificence of the Giza pyramids was never imitated.

From clay bricks to stone

The mastabas on Umm el-Qa’ab necropolis are built from clay bricks and their above-ground part was in easy barrow, which represented the initial mound, where the life arose according to the Egyptians. Imhotep suggested to his King Djoser an unparalleled project up to that time – multiply the conventional mastabas, so the first step pyramid arose in Saqqara. Its walls were covered with fine limestone. Later, Sneferu was enthused by the pyramids as the eternity dwellings as well and he let build just three pyramids. A pyramid of new shape occurred, the bent pyramid in Dashur. It was the first attempt of an ideal shape of the pyramid, which wasn’t successfully realized until the pyramids in Giza.

Giza – a synonym for perfection

A capital progress came by the pyramids building under the Pharaohs of the 4th dynasty rule - Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure. Their three tombs in a real pyramid shape had completely smooth walls, which converged in a pyramidion pointing to heavens. This place was the nearest to the Sun and the Pharaoh could join his heavenly father. The pyramids symbolized the initial mound, which the Sun ascended to heavens. The burial complex represented a significant religious and administrative centre and it consisted of Pharaoh’s pyramid, mortuary temple and courtiers‘ tombs. Its building form was influenced by the perception of the world up to the Middle Kingdom period.

The rulers returned to smaller pyramids from the Middle Kingdom period. The pyramids were built from bricks, but were less durable than the stone pyramids. The core of these pyramids was made of diagonal stone blocks framework, which strengthened the whole building. The pyramid itself was formed from dried bricks or limestone fragments and building debris. The walls were covered by limestone boards on the outer side. The size of the mortuary temple was modified and the tombs of royal family members became the part of the burial complexes.

Main shapes of pyramids

  • Step pyramid – in a shape of a staircase; originally they were mastabas with different bases built on each other. The Djoser’s pyramid has 6 steps and is 60 meters high and the measures of the base are 109 x 121 meters. The pyramid was built with a technique of inclined wall layers, which increased its stability and durability. The angle of layers inclination is 16 degrees.

  • Bent pyramid – with two different wall inclinations. The angle between pyramid walls and the base is 58 degrees up to approximately the half of the building’s height. The inclination is decreasing distinctly then up to 43°22´. Such a change of inclination is a consequence of architects’ effort to reduce the mass of the walls, because cracks occurred in the inner premises.

  • Real pyramid – with four straight walls, covered with very fine limestone for to be smooth. The pyramids in Giza are the perfect example of this type of pyramids. The Great pyramid (Khufu pyramid) was 146 meters high (138 meters today), the side length is 230 meters and the inclination is 51°50´. The Khafra pyramid has the inclination of 53°7´, is 143.5 meters high and its side length is 215 meters. The Menkaure pyramid was 66 meters high, the side length was 105 meters and the inclination was 51°20´.

  • Tomb in sarcophagus shape – although the sign „pyramid“ occurred behind its name in contemporary texts, it can’t be considered a pyramid according to the scientists opinion. You can download a pyramids list of Egyptian rulers in PDF.

Message from the Nile

  • History of Czech institution of egyptology

    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

  • Abusir - outstation of Czech egyptology expedition

    Abusir is an archaeological locality in Egypt named after nearby recent village Abusir. It is situated on western Nile bank on the edge of Libyan tableland approximately 20 kilometers to the south-west of Cairo. The name of this locality is derived from ancient Egypt god Osiris, from Per Usir (Busiris), "(cult) place of Osiris" (Busiris in Greek).

  • Researches in Western desert

    Czech egyptology is successful in researching not only on pyramidal fields in Abusir recently, but also in supporting and organizing smaller expeditions into egyptian Western desert. Czech expedition has been working even in slowly evanescent oasis El-Hajez since 2003, which is situated about 400 km to the south-west from Cairo.

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