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Ancient Egypt's History

New Kingdom - Architecture



The kings of the 18th through the 20th dynasties were great builders of religious architecture. With the capital reestablished at Thebes, special attention was paid to the local god Amon, who became the most important deity in Egypt. The temple complex at Al Karnak, the cult center of Amon, was added to by virtually every ruler in the New Kingdom, resulting in one of the most impressive religious structures in history. Gigantic pylon gateways, colonnaded courts, and many-columned halls decorated with obelisks (see Obelisk) and statues created an impressive display directly attributable to the power of the king and the state.

On the west bank, near the necropolis of Thebes, temples for the funerary cult of the kings were built. During the New Kingdom the bodies of the rulers weburied in rock-cut tombs in the arid Valley of the Kings, with the mortuary temples at some distance outside the valley. Of these, one of the first and most unusual was the mortuary temple (circa 1478 BC) of Hatshepsut at Dayr el-Bahri, built by the royal architect Senemut (died about 1482 BC). Situated against the Nile cliffs next to the 11th Dynasty temple of Mentuhotep II, and probably inspired by it, the temple is a vast terraced structure with numerous shrines to the gods and reliefs depicting Hatshepsut's accomplishments. Other kings did not follow her precedent; they built their temples at the edge of the cultivated land, away from the cliffside.

The rock-cut tombs were dug deep into the cliffsides of the Valley of the Kings in an effort—not always successful—to conceal the resting places of the royal mummies. The long descending passageways, stairs, and chambers were decorated in relief and painting with scenes from religious texts intended to protect and aid the spirit in the next life.

In the 19th Dynasty, Ramses II, one of the greatest builders of the New Kingdom, created the gigantic rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia to the south. Hewn into the mountainside, with four colossal figures of the king in front, it was saved between 1964 and 1968 from immersion beneath the waters of the new Asw?nAsw?n High Dame and halls of the entire temple were cut out of the mountain and moved to a higher location.

As in all periods, domestic and palace architecture was of perishable mud brick. Enough remains have been preserved, however, to convey an idea of well-planned multiroomed palaces with painted floors, walls, and ceilings. Houses for the upper classes were arranged like small estates, with residential and service buildings in an enclosed compound. Examples of the modest workers' dwellings can even be found, clustered together in villages very much like those of modern Egypt.


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