Engineering and Construction Management
Ancient Egyptian Built and Rock Cut Temple and Tomb Construction
Egypt’s legacy has always been linked to their development of the pyramids, however the rock cut tombs and temples were also extraordinary and masterful works of engineering and design. It can be argued that theme tombs have had a stronger influence on future technologies and techniques in the field of construction than the early pyramid developments. Ancient Egypt began around 3100 B.C and lasted for almost 30 centuries when it ended in 332 B.C. (History.com) The civilization was a large influence in the Mediterranean world and had an impact on surrounding geographical areas such as Italy and Greece. Ancient Egyptians thrived partly through their construction and engineering projects. These advancements were crucial to their development and longevity because they represented monumentality and hierarchal presence as an ancient civilization as well as ensuring their use of natural resources. Abu Simbel, two temples in southern Egypt, encompass how Ancient Egyptians used specific and revolutionary building techniques while also showing their dominance as a civilization. The main function of these temples was to celebrate and honor Ramesses II and his wife, Nefertari while also to assert dominance over the countries bordering southern Egypt. (Britannica) (Mark)
Egyptian temple design and the civilization’s religious practices and cosmic connections can be recognized as a strong partnership. The design of many Egyptian temples was strongly influenced by their geographical location, their honoree and their religious practices. When designing any structure, planning and location are key to a successful design. This idea can also be applied to the design and construction of many Egyptian temples, specifically Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. The rock cut temples, Abu Simbel, were originally located in the ancient area of Wawat, Nubia boarding Sudan which is currently present day southern Egypt. (Sullivan) The temples were designed to be inset in solid rock. This design intention can be seen carried out in Abu Simbel specifically to both show dominance to bordering countries but to obtain an elevation to take advantage of sun patterns and geography. The temples were carved out of solid rock formations that ran along the west bank of the Nile river. This site was specifically sacred to Hathor, a goddess who was thought to be the mother of the sun God Ra. (Witcombe) This association would have been important to Ramses II because he wanted to pay tribute to the sun gods, as they were a key figure in Egyptian religion. The location and area were determined by two large brick walls that ran along the north and south between sandstone cliffs and the Nile river. The temples were then cut into the face of the cliffs followed by a series of steps accessed by a terrace in the middle of the façade. Monumental sized statues would then be added to create a framed entry. This detail of statues of various figures in large scales was a key tool in the design process of these temples. This tool allowed for a method of wayfinding as well as portraying these figures as being so large they had a physical and conceptual connection to the heavens. One of the most interesting design elements of Abu Simbel, which adds to the idea of a partnership of design and religious traditions, is the detail that the orientation of the temple was designed so that twice a year in February and October the morning sun shines the complete length of the temple’s cave. This sun illuminates the back wall containing a shrine and large statues of various Egyptian gods. This element would prove to make a statement and influence other designers of religious spaces. We can see this influence in the design of a cave in Ireland called Newgrange. This cave also utilized planning of orientation to use the sun to illuminate and draw attention to the space. (Witcombe) Rock temples, specifically Abu Simbel, are examples of how architectural design and funerary art combine to create sacred spaces that symbolize the cultural importance of the civilization. (Bains)
When dealing with the design, the construction process as well as materials are significant to the design intention’s success. Ancient Egyptian design, specifically temple design, relies heavily on selection of materials and construction techniques to ensure the stability of their civilization. The role of the designers and contractors of these temples were unique in the way that instead of picking block sizes or types of stones, they had to engineer a cliff or mountain which would have to be then manipulated to fit the requirements of the design. The fact that many of these temples remain today show how the Ancient Egyptians processed a large knowledge of geology. The construction process began with a series of rituals. These rituals were necessary because these temples were believed to be works of the pharaoh who was a direct connection to their deities. Although the temples were images of the pharaohs, the construction was possible because hundreds of people contributed to the building. Excavation began on these mountains to carve out spaces for chambers, storage rooms, statues, halls, pools, hallways, shrines, and fortifying walls. Interior walls were usually left in a rougher state while the outside facades had a priority to be precise and smooth. To carve out the rocks and stones of these mountains and cliffs tools made of bronze were often using to chip and carve the natural material. (Egyptian Government) Once construction was completed, another set of rituals would take place. (Dollinger) All phases of the process in creating these temples revolved around religion and the nobility of the civilization.
Ancient Egyptian temples had an extreme social and political influence on the civilization. The temples could be thought of smaller organisms with their own internal functions that effected the civilization that surrounded. They consisted of a workforce including priests, craftsmen, and people who were meant to oversee day to day activity. Temples were also a priority in the social and political realm, they received goods from military conquests and pharaohs would often designate land and other goods solely for the temple’s day to day activities and maintenance. (The Temples of Ancient Egypt) Temples would be used for many reasons including, honoring deities by providing them a shelter, religious rituals, sacrifices, offerings, prayer, religious festivals, funerary services, and tombs. The political purpose partnered with the religious services made temple structures and complexes the most influential to their society and daily life because of their dedication to the pharaohs and the gods. (Baines)
The rock cut temple and tomb design, engineering, and construction had a major influence in many aspects of ancient Egyptian society. Temple construction acted as a way for political powers to express their authority as divine figures as well as show to their enemies their control through the creation of these monumental structures. Religion partnered with the design and construction of these tombs and temples created a successful sanctuary space for the society that would influence everyone through creating jobs, providing spaces for worship, and spaces for celebration. These temples benefited from combining elements of architectural and artful design, knowledge of science, and advancements in technology to for fill their completion. The ancient Egyptians created a great precedent for how to approach design and construction projects. Often disciplines such as architects, planners, and contractors believe their job responsibilities and tasks are segregation, however from ancient Egypt we can observe that when many disciplines come together, and cohesive design is completed and benefits a large majority of society.
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