Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Architecture of the Egyptian Temple

The temples of Luxor and Karnak — dated at the 19th dynasty (c.1,300 BC) — can be considered typical examples of Egyptian temple architecture. The entire area was surrounded by a rectangular wall that delimited a holy court (the temenos). In front, stood a monumental gate or pylon flanked by two tapering towers which formed its jambs. These twin pylons had a truncated pyramid shape, . This pylon led into a colonnaded room (called the hypostyle hall) illuminated by means of small clearstory windows. Through this hypostyle room, the inner court was reached via two other pylons and a series of halls.
At the far end of the inner courtyard was the temple proper (or inner sanctum), dwarfish in comparison to the huge pylons and hypostyle rooms. The layout was monumental in style and developed along a central axis aligned with the Cardinal Directions in most cases. The processions, typical of the Egyptian liturgy, took place along the center axis of the temple. This type of temple developed during the Ramesside period and continued essentially unchanged until the end of ancient Egypt.
The temple of Ramses III built in Medinet Habu. As usual with Egyptian (and Hindu) temples, the complex was built by several succeeding monarchs. It was started by Queen Hatshepsut (at about 1460 BC) and enlarged by Tutmoses III. The former constructions were, however, eclipsed by that of Ramses III, who turned the temple into his mortuary temple.
In this beautiful reconstruction of Ramses’ temple, several features are worth noting. Moving up from the bottom we have the landing stage at the Nile’s bank, the low creneleted walls and the Guard Gate, the lofty towers and the crenelated walls of the Southeastern Gate (formally called Oriental Gate). This gate led to the front of the temple where we have the sacred pool and the small temple of Tutmoses. Next comes the huge pylon of the temple with its four flagstaffs and the outer wall of the temple. This pylon leads into the outer court and, at the left, the Royal Palace (possibly a temporary abode of the King during his stays at the place).
Next we have the second pylon with its two guardians. This pylon leads into the inner court which has, at the rear, the vestibule of the great hypostyle hall. This, in turn, leads into the Inner Sanctum and exits to the great northwestern (formerly western) Gate. The sacred pool was, as we said further above, the invariable feature of Egyptian temples. It was also the counterpart of the Sea of Bronze of Solomon’s temple, and the ghats of Hindu temples. In all probability they were used, as in India and elsewhere, in purificatory ritual ablutions akin to Baptism. Such sacred pools — called ghats in India — are attested from remotest antiquity in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the sites of the mysterious Indus Valley Civilization, one of the oldest known to archeologists.