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and condemned criminals here led a wretched existence under the rule of
some eight or ten overseers, and the brutal surveillance of a company of
Libyan or negro mercenary troops. The least political disturbance in Egypt,
an unsuccessful campaign, or any untoward incident of a troubled reign,
sufficed to break up the precarious stability of these remote
establishments. The Bedawîn at once attacked the colony; the workmen
deserted; the guards, weary of exile, hastened back to the valley of the
Nile, and all was at a standstill.

The choicest materials, as diorite, basalt, black granite, porphyry, and
red and yellow breccia, which are only found in the desert, were rarely
used for architectural purposes. In order to procure them, it was necessary
to organise regular expeditions of soldiers and workmen; therefore they
were reserved for sarcophagi and important works of art. Those quarries
which supplied building materials for temples and funerary monuments, such
as limestone, sandstone, alabaster, and red granite, were all found in the
Nile valley, and were, therefore, easy of access. When the vein which it
was intended to work traversed the lower strata of the rock, the miners
excavated chambers and passages, which were often prolonged to a
considerable distance. Square pillars, left standing at intervals,
supported the superincumbent mass, while tablets sculptured in the most
conspicuous places commemorated the kings and engineers who began or
continued the work. Several exhausted or abandoned quarries have been
transformed into votive chapels; as, for instance, the Speos Artemidos,
which was consecrated by Hatshepsut, Thothmes III. and Seti I. to the local
goddess Pakhet.[9]

[Illustration: Fig. 49. - Quarries of Silsilis.]

[Illustration: Fig. 50. - Draught of Hathor capital in quarry of Gebel

The most important limestone quarries are at Tûrah and Massarah, nearly
opposite Memphis. This stone lends itself admirably to the most delicate
touches of the chisel, hardens when exposed to the air, and acquires a
creamy tone most restful to the eye. Hence it was much in request by
architects and sculptors. The most extensive sandstone formations are at
Silsilis (fig. 49). Here the cliffs were quarried from above, and under the
open sky. Clean cut and absolutely vertical, they rise to a height of from
forty to fifty feet, sometimes presenting a smooth surface from top to
bottom, and sometimes cut in stages accessible by means of steps scarcely
large enough for one man at a time. The walls of these cuttings are covered
with parallel striae, sometimes horizontal, sometimes slanting to the left,
and sometimes to the right, so forming lines of serried chevrons framed, as
it were, between grooves an inch, or an inch and a half, in width, by nine
or ten feet in length. These are the scars left upon the surface by the
tools of the ancient workmen, and they show the method employed in
detaching the blocks. The size was outlined in red ink, and this outline
sometimes indicated the form which the stone was to take in the projected
building. The members of the French Commission, when they visited the
quarries of Gebel Abûfeydeh, copied the diagrams and squared designs of
several capitals, one being of the campaniform pattern, and others prepared
for the Hathor-head pattern (fig. 50).[10] The outline made, the vertical
faces of the block were divided by means of a long iron chisel, which was
driven in perpendicularly or obliquely by heavy blows of the mallet. In
order to detach the horizontal faces, they made use of wooden or bronze
wedges, inserted the way of the natural strata of the stone. Very
frequently the stone was roughly blocked out before being actually
extracted from the bed. Thus at Syene (Asûan) we see a couchant obelisk of
granite, the under side of which is one with the rock itself; and at Tehneh
there are drums of columns but half disengaged. The transport of quarried
stone was effected in various ways. At Syene, at Silsilis, at Gebel Sheikh
Herideh, and at Gebel Abûfeydeh, the quarries are literally washed by the
waters of the Nile, so that the stone was lowered at once into the barges.
At Kasr es Saîd,[11] at Tûrah, and other localities situate at some
distance from the river, canals dug expressly for the purpose conveyed the
transport boats to the foot of the cliffs. When water transit was out of
the question, the stone was placed on sledges drawn by oxen (fig. 51), or
dragged to its destination by gangs of labourers, and by the help of

[Illustration: Fig. 51. - Bas-relief from one of the stelae of Ahmes, at
Tûrrah, Eighteenth Dynasty.]

[4] The bas-relief sculpture from which the illustration, fig. 42, is taken
(outer wall of Hypostyle Hall, Karnak, north end) represents Seti I.
returning in triumph from one of his Syrian campaigns. He is met at
Zarû by the great officers of his court, who bring bouquets of lotus-
blossoms in their hands. Pithom and other frontier forts are depicted
in this tableau, and Pithom is apparently not very far from Zarû.
Zarû, Zalu, is the Selle of the Roman Itineraries. - A.B.E.

[5] See _The Store City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus,_ by Ed.
Naville, with 13 Plates and 2 Maps; published by the Egypt Exploration
Fund. First edition 1885, second edition 1885. Trübner & Co., London.
- A.B.E.

[6] For an account of the explorations at Daphnae (the "Tahpanhes" of the
Bible, the _Tell Defenneh_ of the present day) see Mr. Petrie's
memoir, entitled _Tanis, Part II, (including Nebesheh, Gemayemi,
Defenneh, etc.)_, published by the Egypt Exploration Fund. - A.B.E.

[7] The remains of this gigantic work may yet be seen about two hours'
distance to the southward of Medûm. See Herodotus, book II.; chap.
99. - A.B.E.

[8] See _The Fayûm and Lake Moeris_. Major R.H. Brown, R.E.

[9] Officially, this temple is attributed to Thothmes III., and the
dedicatory inscription dates from the first year of his reign; but the
work was really that of his aunt and predecessor, Queen Hatshepsût.

[10] See also an exact reduction of this design, to scale, in Mr. Petrie's
work _A Season in Egypt_, 1887, Plate XXV.

[11] Chenoboscion. - A.B.E.



In the civil and military architecture of Ancient Egypt brick played the
principal part; but in the religious architecture of the nation it occupied
a very secondary position. The Pharaohs were ambitious of building eternal
dwellings for their deities, and stone was the only material which seemed
sufficiently durable to withstand the ravages of time and man.


It is an error to suppose that the Egyptians employed only large blocks for
building purposes. The size of their materials varied very considerably
according to the uses for which they were destined. Architraves, drums of
columns, lintel-stones, and door-jambs were sometimes of great size. The
longest architraves known - those, namely, which bridge the nave of the
hypostyle hall of Karnak - have a mean length of 30 feet. They each contain
40 cubic yards, and weigh about 65 tons. Ordinarily, however, the blocks
are not much larger than those now used in Europe. They measure, that is to
say, about 2-1/2 to 4 feet in height, from 3 to 8 feet in length, and from
2 to 6 feet in thickness.

Some temples are built of only one kind of stone; but more frequently
materials of different kinds are put together in unequal proportions. Thus
the main part of the temples of Abydos consists of very fine limestone; but
in the temple of Seti I., the columns, architraves, jambs, and lintels, -
all parts, in short, where it might be feared that the limestone would not
offer sufficient resistance, - the architect has had recourse to sandstone;
while in that of Rameses II., sandstone, granite, and alabaster were used.
At Karnak, Luxor, Tanis, and Memphis, similar combinations may be seen. At
the Ramesseum, and in some of the Nubian temples, the columns stand on
massive supports of crude brick. The stones were dressed more or less
carefully, according to the positions they were to occupy. When the walls
were of medium thickness, as in most partition walls, they are well wrought
on all sides. When the wall was thick, the core blocks were roughed out as
nearly cubic as might be, and piled together without much care, the hollows
being filled up with smaller flakes, pebbles, or mortar. Casing stones were
carefully wrought on the faces, and the joints dressed for two-thirds or
three-quarters of the length, the rest being merely picked with a point
(Note 6). The largest blocks were reserved for the lower parts of the
building; and this precaution was the more necessary because the architects
of Pharaonic times sank the foundations of their temples no deeper than
those of their houses. At Karnak, they are not carried lower than from 7 to
10 feet; at Luxor, on the side anciently washed by the river, three courses
of masonry, each measuring about 2-1/2 feet in depth, form a great platform
on which the walls rest; while at the Ramesseum, the brickwork bed on
which the colonnade stands does not seem to be more than 10 feet deep.
These are but slight depths for the foundations of such great buildings,
but the experience of ages proves that they are sufficient. The hard and
compact humus of which the soil of the Nile valley is composed, contracts
every year after the subsidence of the inundation, and thus becomes almost
incompressible. As the building progressed, the weight of the
superincumbent masonry gradually became greater, till the maximum of
pressure was attained, and a solid basis secured. Wherever I have bared the
foundations of the walls, I can testify that they have not shifted.

[Illustration: Fig. 52. - Masonry in temple of Seti I. at Abydos.]

The system of construction in force among the ancient Egyptians resembles
in many respects that of the Greeks. The stones are often placed together
with dry joints, and without the employment of any binding contrivance, the
masons relying on the mere weight of the materials to keep them in place.
Sometimes they are held together by metal cramps, or sometimes - as in the
temple of Seti I., at Abydos - by dovetails of sycamore wood bearing the
cartouche of the founder. Most commonly, they are united by a mortar-joint,
more or less thick. All the mortars of which I have collected samples are
thus far of three kinds: the first is white, and easily reduced to an
impalpable powder, being of lime only; the others are grey, and rough to
the touch, being mixtures of lime and sand; while some are of a reddish
colour, owing to the pounded brick powder with which they are mixed. A
judicious use of these various methods enabled the Egyptians to rival the
Greeks in their treatment of regular courses, equal blocks, and upright
joints in alternate bond. If they did not always work equally well, their
shortcomings must be charged to the imperfect mechanical means at their
disposal. The enclosure walls, partitions, and secondary façades were
upright; and they raised the materials by means of a rude kind of crane
planted on the top. The pylon walls and the principal façades (and
sometimes even the secondary façades) were sloped at an angle which varied
according to the taste of the architect. In order to build these, they
formed inclined planes, the slopes of which were lengthened as the
structure rose in height. These two methods were equally perilous; for,
however carefully the blocks might be protected while being raised, they
were constantly in danger of losing their edges or corners, or of being
fractured before they reached the top (Note 7). Thus it was almost always
necessary to re-work them; and the object being to sacrifice as little as
possible of the stone, the workmen often left them of most abnormal shapes
(fig. 52). They would level off one of the side faces, and then the joint,
instead of being vertical, leaned askew. If the block had neither height
nor length to spare, they made up the loss by means of a supplementary
slip. Sometimes even they left a projection which fitted into a
corresponding hollow in the next upper or lower course. Being first of all
expedients designed to remedy accidents, these methods degenerated into
habitually careless ways of working. The masons who had inadvertently
hoisted too large a block, no longer troubled themselves to lower it back
again, but worked it into the building in one or other of the ways before
mentioned. The architect neglected to duly supervise the dressing and
placing of the blocks. He allowed the courses to vary, and the vertical
joints, two or three deep, to come one over the other. The rough work done,
the masons dressed down the stone, reworked the joints, and overlaid the
whole with a coat of cement or stucco, coloured to match the material,
which concealed the faults of the real work. The walls rarely end with a
sharp edge. Bordered with a torus, around which a sculptured riband is
entwined, they are crowned by the _cavetto_ cornice surmounted by a flat
band (fig. 53); or, as at Semneh, by a square cornice; or, as at Medinet
Habu, by a line of battlements. Thus framed in, the walls looked like
enormous panels, each panel complete in itself, without projections and
almost without openings. Windows, always rare in Egyptian architecture, are
mere ventilators when introduced into the walls of temples, being intended
to light the staircases, as in the second pylon of Horemheb at Karnak, or
else to support decorative woodwork on festival days. The doorways project
but slightly from the body of the buildings (fig. 54), except where the
lintel is over-shadowed by a projecting cornice. Real windows occur only in
the pavilion of Medinet Habu; but that building was constructed on the
model of a fortress, and must rank as an exception among religious

[Illustration: Fig. 53. - Temple wall with cornice.]

[Illustration: Fig. 54. - Niche and doorway in temple of Seti I. at Abydos.]

[Illustration: Fig. 55. - Pavement of the portico of Osiris in the temple of
Seti I. at Abydos.]

The ground-level of the courts and halls was flagged with rectangular
paving stones, well enough fitted, except in the intercolumniations, where
the architects, hopeless of harmonising the lines of the pavement with the
curved bases of the columns, have filled in the space with small pieces,
set without order or method (fig. 55). Contrary to their practice when
house building, they have scarcely ever employed the vault or arch in
temple architecture. We nowhere meet with it, except at Deir el Baharî, and
in the seven parallel sanctuaries of Abydos. Even in these instances, the
arch is produced by "corbelling"; that is to say, the curve is formed by
three or four superimposed horizontal courses of stone, chiselled out to
the form required (fig. 56). The ordinary roofing consists of flat paving
slabs. When the space between the walls was not too wide, these slabs
bridged it over at a single stretch; otherwise the roof had to be supported
at intervals, and the wider the space the more these supports needed to be
multiplied. The supports were connected by immense stone architraves, on
which the roofing slabs rested.

[Illustration: Fig. 56. - "Corbelled" arch, temple of Seti I. at Abydos.]

The supports are of two types, - the pillar and the column. Some are cut
from single blocks. Thus, the monolithic pillars of the temple of the
sphinx (Note 8), the oldest hitherto found, measure 16 feet in height by 4-
1/2 feet in width. Monolithic columns of red granite are also found among
the ruins of Alexandria, Bubastis,[12] and Memphis, which date from the
reigns of Horemheb and Rameses II., and measure some 20 to 26 feet in
height. But columns and pillars are commonly built in courses, which are
often unequal and irregular, like those of the walls which surround them.
The great columns of Luxor are not even solid, two-thirds of the diameter
being filled up with yellow cement, which has lost its strength, and
crumbles between the fingers. The capital of the column of Taharka at
Karnak contains three courses, each about 48 inches high. The last and most
projecting course is made up of twenty-six convergent stones, which are
held in place by merely the weight of the abacus. The same carelessness
which we have already noted in the workmanship of the walls is found in
the workmanship of the columns.

[Illustration: Fig. 57. - Hathor pillar, Abû Simbel.]

[Illustration: Fig. 58. - Pillar of Amenhotep III., Karnak.]

The quadrangular pillar, with parallel or slightly inclined sides, and
generally without either base or capital, frequently occurs in tombs of the
ancient empire. It reappears later at Medinet Habû, in the temple of
Thothmes III., and again at Karnak, in what is known as the processional
hall. The sides of these square pillars are often covered with painted
scenes, while the front faces were more decoratively treated, being
sculptured with lotus or papyrus stems in high relief, as on the pillar-
stelae of Karnak, or adorned with a head of Hathor crowned with the
sistrum, as in the small speos of Abû Simbel (fig. 57), or sculptured with
a full-length standing figure of Osiris, as in the second court of Medinet
Habû; or, as at Denderah and Gebel Barkal, with the figure of the god Bes.
At Karnak, in an edifice which was probably erected by Horemheb with
building material taken from the ruins of a sanctuary of Amenhotep II. and
III., the pillar is capped by a cornice, separated from the architrave by a
thin abacus (fig. 58). By cutting away its four edges, the square pillar
becomes an octagonal prism, and further, by cutting off the eight new
edges, it becomes a sixteen-sided prism. Some pillars in the tombs of Asûan
and Beni Hasan, and in the processional hall at Karnak (fig. 59), as well
as in the chapels of Deir el Baharî, are of this type. Besides the forms
thus regularly evolved, there are others of irregular derivation, with
six, twelve, fifteen, or twenty sides, or verging almost upon a perfect
circle. The portico pillars of the temple of Osiris at Abydos come last in
the series; the drum is curved, but not round, the curve being interrupted
at both extremities of the same diameter by a flat stripe. More frequently
the sides are slightly channelled; and sometimes, as at Kalabsheh, the
flutings are divided into four groups of five each by four vertical flat
stripes (fig. 60). The polygonal pillar has always a large, shallow plinth,
in the form of a rounded disc. At El Kab it bears the head of Hathor,
sculptured in relief upon the front (fig. 61); but almost everywhere else
it is crowned with a simple square abacus, which joins it to the
architrave. Thus treated, it bears a certain family likeness to the Doric
column; and one understands how Jomard and Champollion, in the first ardour
of discovery, were tempted to give it the scarcely justifiable name of

[Illustration: Fig. 59. - Sixteen-sided pillars, Karnak.]

The column does not rest immediately upon the soil. It is always furnished
with a base like that of the polygonal pillar, sometimes square with the
ground, and sometimes slightly rounded. This base is either plain, or
ornamented only with a line of hieroglyphs. The principal forms fall into
three types: (1) the column with campaniform, or lotus-flower capital; (2)
the column with lotus-bud capital; (3) the column with Hathor-head capital.

[Illustration: Fig. 60. - Fluted pillar, Kalabsheh.]

[Illustration: Fig. 61. - Polygonal Hathor-headed pillar, El Kab.]

I. _Columns with Campaniform Capitals_. - The shaft is generally plain, or
merely engraved with inscriptions or bas-reliefs. Sometimes, however, as at
Medamot, it is formed of six large and six small colonnettes in
alternation. In Pharaonic times, it is bulbous, being curved inward at the
base, and ornamented with triangles one within another, imitating the large
leaves which sheathe the sprouting plant. The curve is so regulated that
the diameter at the base and the top shall be about equal. In the Ptolemaic
period, the bulb often disappears, owing probably to Greek influences. The
columns which surround the first court at Edfû rise straight from their
plinths. The shaft always tapers towards the top. It is finished by three
or five flat bands, one above the other. At Medamot, where the shaft is
clustered, the architect has doubtless thought that one tie at the top
appeared insufficient to hold in a dozen colonnettes; he has therefore
marked two other rings of bands at regular intervals. The campaniform
capital is decorated from the spring of the curve with a row of leaves,
like those which sheathe the base. Between these are figured shoots of
lotus and papyrus in flower and bud. The height of the capital, and the
extent of its projection beyond the line of the shaft, varied with the
taste of the architect. At Luxor, the campaniform capitals are eleven and a
half feet in diameter at the neck, eighteen feet in diameter at the top,
and eleven and a half feet in height. At Karnak, in the hypostyle hall, the
height of the capital is twelve and a quarter feet, and the greatest
diameter twenty-one feet. A square die surmounts the whole. This die is
almost hidden by the curve of the capital, though occasionally, as at
Denderah, it is higher, and bears on each face a figure of the god Bes
(fig. 62).

[Illustration: Fig. 62. - Column with square die, Contra Esneh.]

[Illustration: Fig. 63. - Column with campaniform capital, Ramesseum.]

The column with campaniform capital is mostly employed in the middle avenue
of hypostyle halls, as at Karnak, the Ramesseum, and Luxor (fig. 63); but
it was not restricted to this position, for we also find it in porticoes,
as at Medinet Habû, Edfû, and Philae. The processional hall[13] of
Thothmes III., at Karnak, contains one most curious variety (fig. 64); the
flower is inverted like a bell, and the shaft is turned upside down, the
smaller end being sunk in the plinth, while the larger is fitted to the
wide part of the overturned bell. This ungraceful innovation achieved no
success, and is found nowhere else. Other novelties were happier,
especially those which enabled the artist to introduce decorative elements
taken from the flora of the country. In the earlier examples at Soleb,
Sesebeh, Bubastis, and Memphis, we find a crown of palm branches springing
from the band, their heads being curved beneath the weight of the abacus
(fig. 65). Later on, as we approach the Ptolemaic period, the date and the
half-unfolded lotus were added to the palm-branches (fig. 66).

[Illustration: Fig. 64. - Inverted campaniform capital, Karnak.]

[Illustration: Fig. 65. - Palm capital, Bubastis.]

[Illustration: Fig. 66. - Compound capital.]

Under the Ptolemies and the Caesars the capital became a complete basket of
flowers and leaves, ranged row above row, and painted in the brightest
colours (fig. 67.) At Edfû, Ombos, and Philae one would fancy that the
designer had vowed never to repeat the same pattern in the same portico.

[Illustration: Fig. 67. - Ornate capitals, Ptolemaic.]

[Illustration: Fig. 68. - Lotus-bud column, Beni Hasan.]

[Illustration: Fig. 69. - Lotus-bud column, processional hall, Thothmes
III., Karnak.]

[Illustration: Fig. 70. - Column in the aisles of the hypostyle hall at

II. _Columns with Lotus-bud Capitals_. - Originally these may perhaps have
represented a bunch of lotus plants, the buds being bound together at the
neck to form the capital. The columns of Beni Hasan consist of four rounded
stems (fig. 68). Those of the Labyrinth, of the processional hall of
Thothmes III., and of Medamot, consist of eight stems, each presenting a
sharp edge on the outer side (fig. 69). The bottom of the column is
bulbous, and set round with triangular leaves. The top is surrounded by
three or five bands. A moulding composed of groups of three vertical
stripes hangs like a fringe from the lowest band in the space between
every two stems. So varied a surface does not admit of hieroglyphic
decoration; therefore the projections were by degrees suppressed, and the
whole shaft was made smooth. In the hypostyle hall at Gûrneh, the shaft is
divided in three parts, the middle one being smooth and covered with
sculptures, while the upper and lower divisions are formed of clustered
stems. In the temple of Khonsû, in the aisles of the hypostyle hall of
Karnak, and in the portico of Medinet Habû, the shaft is quite smooth, the

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Online LibraryGaston Camille Charles MasperoManual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt → online text (page 4 of 21)