Friday, August 31, 2012

Artistic Spectacle: Egyptian Temples

One of the most beautiful and impressive aspects of architecture of an Egyptian temple are the spectacular columns, resembling groves of stone trees. These columns, especially at Karnak and Luxor, dwarf human beings and bear inscriptions, carved relieves, and a weighty majesty unequaled anywhere else in the world. 

Columns held special significance for the Egyptians, representing as they did the expanses of nature. Columns alluded to the times when vast forests dotted the land, forests that disappeared as the climate changed and civilization took its toll upon the Egyptian environment. They also represented the Nile reed marshes. The columns were introduced in order to simulate nature, and to identify man again with the earth. The first tentative columns are still visible in the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, but they are engaged columns, attached to walls for support and unable to stand on their own. Imhotep designed rows of such pillars at the entrance to various buildings and incorporated them into corridors for Djoser's shrine (2600 B.C.E.).

In the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 B.C.E.) masons experimented with columns as a separate architectural entity. In one royal tomb built in GIZA in the reign of Khufu (2551-2465 B.C.E.) limestone columns were used effectively. In the tomb of Sahure (2458-2446 B.C.E.) of the Fifth Dynasty, the columns were made of granite, evincing a more assured style and level of skill. Wooden columns graced a site in the reign of Kakai (2446-2426 B.C.E.) in that same dynasty, and another king of the royal line, Nisuerre (2416-2392 B.C.E.), had limestone columns installed in his Abusir necropolis complex. 

At Beni Hasan in the Eleventh Dynasty (2134-2140 B.C.E.) local nomarchs, or provincial chiefs, built their own tombs with wooden columns. The same type of columns was installed in tombs in the Twelfth Dynasty (1991-1773 B.C.E.), but they were made of wood set into stone bases. With the coming of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.E.) the columns become part of the architectural splendor that marked the capital at Thebes and at the later capital of Per-Ramesses in the eastern Delta. Extensive colonnades stood on terraces, or in the recesses of temples, opening onto courts and shrines. Most people who have some interests in ancient Egyptians will identify immediately the shape of Lotus and Papyrus style columns, but actually no less the about 30 different column forms have been isolated from temples of the various periods!!


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