Environment Linked to the Development of Egyptian Architecture
Egypt has one of the richest architectural histories dating back to the ancient world. As a desert country, she has invented ways of surviving. Her extreme weather is the reason behind her architectural designs and belief system. Egypt revered the gods of nature, who had to be appeased in order for the Egyptians to thrive in the dry land. The country’s architecture is also a reflection of the weather conditions experienced by the country. The specific environmental factors that affect Egypt’s architecture are geographical, geological, social, climatic and religious in nature.
How the Nile and the Sun are Linked to the Development of Egyptian Architecture
In terms of geography, the land of Egypt comprises a narrow strip endowed with alluvial soil along the River Nile (Shaw 420). This fertile area was surrounded by the desert. Egypt’s strategic position to the Red Sea meant that it had control over foreign traders, both those coming into the country, and those going out. The River Nile served as a trade itinerary and facilitated communication. In addition, whenever its waters overflowed, it transformed the sand in the desert into fertile land suitable for cultivation. In this way, it was seen as the lifeline of Egypt. As a result, Egypt started to build cities along its banks. In these cities were built pyramids for the Pharaohs and temples for the priests.
When it comes to geology, Egypt was not well endowed with metals. Therefore, it used limestone, alabaster, syenite, porphyry, sandstone and basalt for construction and beautiful architecture. Household items such as vases and ornaments were also made from these materials. Because of the strength and durability of these materials, Egypt can boast of having its oldest monuments still standing. Limestone was mined from the Mokattam Hills, while sandstone was acquired from the central region of the country (Shaw 370). Syenite was found in Aswan. The methods used to mine, transport and construct architectural work had a huge bearing on the strength of the construction works.
Egypt treated their bricks by sun drying and firing in kilns, resulting in strong houses and palaces. Egypt has seasons of spring and summer. Due to the rare occurrence of phenomena such as rain, fog and storms, the country’s old architecture still stands to date. These elements of weather contribute to faster wearing out of construction works and in their absence, architectural work lasts longer. The constant shining sun penetrated through doors and rooms, negating the necessity for windows. The well-constructed walls protected the houses, and more importantly, provided a good plane for hieroglyphics, an ancient way of Egyptian writing (Shaw 474). The Egyptians were fond of drawing pictures on walls as a form of communication or a part of their rituals.
Egyptians greatly revered religion, and this was manifested in their architectural work. They constructed many beautiful temples to worship Osiri, the man-god. It is believed that this god died and rose again (Faulkner, Carol & James 149). In addition, in the same stride, they too believe that after death, they will come back to life. Therefore, they made for themselves beautiful resting places, called tombs, where they could await their resurrection. Their staunch belief in the after-life is a major reason for construction of long-lasting monuments, particularly the pyramids, where dead bodies were preserved (Shaw 169).
On the social scene, the highly tyrannical government employed a large number of unpaid construction workers, prisoners of war, foreigners and captives to put up the country’s monuments. The story recorded in Exodus 9-11 gives an insight into how oppressive the Egyptian principals were. The Pharaohs forced the Israelites to put up buildings with no pay. The Israelite slaves were expected to mine in the quarries, transport building materials and build. Because of the huge number of slaves and harsh treatment from the Egyptians, the slaves put up many architectural works.
Exploitation of Egypt’s Resources
Egypt has a large stock of natural resources. One of its greatest resources is the River Nile. Being a desert country with very little rainfall, the river sustains all the activities needed for life. It is a source of fish, which is food for the inhabitants. Through its waters, people use boats to move from one place to another. In addition, the river floods annually, spreading silt to the desert sands. As a result, the land becomes conducive for cultivation of crops, another source of food for the inhabitants. Today, Egypt employs the Nile for modern use. The waters are used to produce hydroelectric power to provide energy for households and corporate organizations. The country has a large stock of stones, which it uses in construction. The quarries are worked by drilling holes in a straight line into rocks. Thereafter, the holes are filled with pieces of wood.
The pieces of wood are wetted, and as a result, they expand. After some time, the rocks crack along the holes. Limestone is sourced from quarries in Memphis, sandstone is acquired from Gebel es-Silsila, granite from Aswan and quartzite is found in Gebel el-Ahmar (Shaw 209). In ancient Egypt, copper was the main metal in use. Because it occurs as a mixture of several elements, it had to be heated to extract it. The Egyptians smelted copper ore to obtain pure copper. Here, the ore was placed together with charcoal in a hole in the ground in a windy zone. When the charcoal was lit, the wind fueled the fire to high temperatures necessary for the separation. Later, the bellow system was used to fuel the fire.
Flint is a special type of stone. Found in Egypt in abundant supply, it was used for making sickles, an important tool for harvesting. Furthermore, it was used in making weapons. Steatite is another stone found in the country. It was used mainly for making scarabs, a charm used in religious ceremonies. Flax was an important natural resource. It was cultivated in the fertile regions in the Nile Valley. After its seeds were removed, the plant was soaked in water for a little more than a week. Thereafter, it was crushed into parts that were woven into linen, an important material for clothing.
In present times, Egypt’s main resources are gas and oil. The oilfields of the Mediterranean, just recently discovered, have given the country a place in the oil business. By exporting its oil, mainly to Israel and Turkey, the country earns a lot of revenue, contributing to the growth of its economy. Another natural resource is bees. For the longest time, the bees of Egypt have been reared for the production of honey and beeswax. In ancient Egypt, the wax was used for mummification, and for setting wigs. The honey is used as a medicine, sweetener, and in ancient Egypt, it was used to appease the gods. Lotus honey is the most valued kind of honey in the country (Shaw 156).
Again, the Nile plays an important role in bee keeping in Egypt. Because of the country’s aridity, cultivators developed a new way to enhance the survival of bees. Bees were transported to the Nile’s coastline in beehives. Here, the vegetation provided food for the bees for the production of honey and beeswax. In addition, the Lotus plant imported from India provides good quality pollen for the bees. As a result, Lotus honey, the highest value honey in Egypt, is produced. Egyptians invented the papermaking technique. They made paper from the papyrus plant that grows along the Nile. For a long time, they kept this technique a secret, and ripped huge profits from exporting the paper. In addition, the plant was used for weaving ropes and sails.
Egypt’s Predictable Environment as Reflected in the Belief System and Architecture
Their belief in longevity led them to plan not only for the present life, but for the afterlife as well. Egypt believed in a life after death, and the tombs were a place for one to rest while waiting for the next life. In this respect, tombs were carefully constructed and made as comfortable as possible for the body to rest. For the pharaohs and other members of the elite class, the tombs were decorated with gold, which they would supposedly need in the life to come. Pyramids were also buried in pyramids, the Sphinx for instance. Pyramids were designed to link the dead person’s soul to the gods. In addition, all pyramids in Egypt were constructed on the west of the Nile, the place where the sun sets. This signified the resting of the dead.
However, there is more significance to the pyramids. The inundation of the Nile was a most predictable annual phenomenon. The result was formation of mounds on the land. The Egyptians linked the annual event with creation. According to one of their myths, the first place to be created was a mound of earth, protruding from a universal ocean. The first life to grow on this mound was a lily. The Egyptians linked the lily to Nefertum, the perfect and complete god who brings life to creation (Clark 86). The mound was also seen as a god, and was called Tatjene, translated as “the emerging land”. Thereafter, Egyptians began to construct temples on mounds of earth as a sign of new life.
As the years passed, Egyptians began constructing small blocks in the shape of mounds emerging from the ground. These mounds developed into pyramids as a representation of new life. As mentioned earlier, Egypt experiences two seasons only, that are spring and summer. With the sun shining all year round, Egyptians realized that they do not need windows. Their houses were built with slits in the roof, through which the sun’s rays penetrated. Furthermore, the walls were built with strong material to protect the interior of the houses from the harmful rays of the sun. Because of the predictability and consistency of sunshine, the houses built were permanent structures, suitable for housing throughout they year.
Clark, Rosemary. The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt: The Esoteric Wisdom Revealed. Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2000. Print.
Faulkner, Raymond, Carol Andrews & James Wasserman. The Egyptian Book off the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. California: Chronicle Books, 2008. Print.
Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
The New King James Version. NKJV TRANSLATION. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005. Print.
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