architectural complex

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Architecture (Part 8): Greco-Roman Temples

A Hellenistic Macedonian family ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BC).  Under their rule, a revival of Egyptian traditions & forms occurred, but with a change – instead of the temples’ previous “public majesty”, they were now darkened and mysterious.  Large building projects were carried out, temples were rebuilt or enlarged, and Egyptian religious beliefs were preserved by the foreigners.

The basic elements of temple construction & room arrangement were still used, with the pronaos and a free-standing central sanctuary (instead of against the back wall) added to them.  Under the later kings of this dynasty, the temples still provided a strong social function, serving as the town’s focus, and giving it administrative & economic value as well as spiritual value.

The Temple of Edfu was built from sandstone on the Nile’s west bank in Edfu, over a period of 180 years.  Its layout was complex, but streamlined.

Temple of Edfu.

Statues of Horus outside the entrance (close-up).

Stairways inside the pylons led to the roof.  The entrance led to a large courtyard, after which was the pronaos, hypostyle hall, small antechamber, and finally a free-standing sanctuary, surrounded by a corridor.

Decorative hieroglyphic texts state that the temple was built according to the ancient ideal, which re-emphasized its dedication to the cult.

Edfu was dedicated to Horus (the falcon god), and displays all the typical major temple elements: broken-lintel doorway (two partial lintels reach only a short way, with a large gap in the middle); elaborate column capitals; a screen wall across the hypostyle hall; and the roof was used for ritual.

A winged sun-disc over the pylon entrance represented Behdet, the creator & protector of the world.  The courtyard is flanked by colonnaded porticoes.  It gave an impressive public aspect to the temple, with elaborate, brightly-decorated capitals, and the large statue of Horus as a falcon at the back.

Courtyard (looking back to the pylons).

The pronaos was also called the Hall before the Great Seat”. This is the temple’s fore-hall (i.e. before the hypostyle hall).  It has three rows of six columns each.  The only light came in through a square aperture in the roof, thus emphasizing the transition between the physical & spiritual worlds.

Behind the first row of columns is a screen wall, to restrict the amount of light entering the pronaos.  This created an environment for cleansing before approaching the sanctuary.  The screen wall is made of thin stone, and is highly-decorated with images of the king & queen, cult themes, and mythological motifs, thus emphasizing the cult of the pharaoh.

In the courtyard, looking to the first row of columns.

Hypostyle hall.

The Temple of Hathor in the Dendera Temple Complex was built during the 00’s BC.  The columns supporting its hypostyle hall were crowned with 4-sided Hathor-head capitals.  The upper part of the capitals depicted the mammisi (birth house), which was identified with divine descent.  Hathor was the goddess of love.

Temple of Hathor.

Columns in the hypostyle hall.

The cornice was a projecting ornamental moulding, on along the top of pylons and temple walls.  It was a standard part of Egyptian decoration.  The earliest designs were simple mud-brick and reed, and later elaborate designs were of detailed cult symbolism, such as the striking cobra and sun-disc.  Cornices gave elegance to monumental structures.