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By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

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The ancient Egyptian civilization is considered to be one of the most influential civilizations that developed many sciences and arts, including architecture.

Many of the most prominent structures, built over 4,000 years ago, still stand and conserve the detailed hieroglyphs that vividly tell the history of this empire.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture

So, if I would have practiced as an architect in ancient Egypt, I would have…

1. Been Chief of Construction

My title would have been “Chief of Construction,” and I would have been skilled in designing great religious, funerary, and public buildings.

2. An Elite

I would have been part of the elite and would have had a really close relationship with the pharaoh.

3. Drawn on Papyrus

My plans would have been drawn on papyrus or flakes of stone, and the change orders sketches (design changes during construction) would have been drawn on the project’s walls.

4. Built with mud and stones

Due to a scarcity of wood in the desert, my two predominant construction materials would have been sun-baked mud bricks and stones (primarily limestone, but sandstone and granite stones were also commonly used).

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
One of the pyramids of Giza – Khafre’s Pyramid. Here you can see the limestone structure, covered with “polished” limestone to create a smooth surface.

5. But, stones were only for some building

If I were living during the Old Kingdom and forward, stones would have been reserved only for funerary buildings and temples, while mud bricks would have been used generally on royal palaces, fortresses, town walls, and other secondary buildings. 

Houses would have been made out of mud brick too, but that would not have been a job I would take care of.

6. Practiced along the Nile River

Most of my most important buildings would have been close to the Nile valley since it is the source of life (water).

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
Capitels at Karnak Temple showing the shape of an open Papyrus flower.

7. Been Symbolic

My buildings would have had a lot of symbolic ornamentation, such as the scarab beetle, solar disks, other sacred animals such as Anubis the jackal and Horus the falcon, and plants like the papyrus and lotus (often represented in the column capitels).

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8. Used Post and Lintel

Although I would have known about the existence of the arch (from the fourth dynasty forward), all my monumental buildings would have been built with the post and lintel system.

Everything would have had flat roofs made of huge stone blocks supported by external walls and closely spaced columns.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
Hieroglyphs inside Ramesses II temple in Abu Simbel. This is a scene depicting Ramesses showing no mercy towards his enemies.

9. Done Art

My monuments would have been like pieces of art and literature.  Most surfaces, including columns, would have been covered with hieroglyphs, pictorial frescoes, and carvings painted with vivid colors. 

Hieroglyphs were not only for decoration; they were also used to record historical events, cast spells, or give instructions to help the deceased pharaoh navigate the underworld safely.

10. Practiced Astronomy

Many of my temples would have been aligned with astronomically significant events such as solstices, equinoxes, and even the pharaoh’s birth, among other dates. 

For this, the pharaoh would have been my aide, and we would have taken all measurements in a sacred ceremony.

11. Done Pyramids and More

During the Old Kingdom, my greatest challenges and masterpieces would have been in the shape of pyramids. During the Middle Kingdom, I would not have developed the architecture field too much, so no major masterpieces for me (a lot of beautiful art, though).

But, during the New Kingdom, I would have made my comeback with the grand temples and funerary complexes in Aswan, Luxor, and other places.

(Between the Old and New Kingdoms, the construction of pyramids stopped, not because of grave robbers, as it is popularly believed, but because of construction costs.)

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
Hatshepsut’s Temple in Luxor. One of the examples of New Kingdom temple architecture.

12. Used Slaves

My builders would have probably been slaves or farmer who badly needed a job during the farming off-season.

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13. Designed my Pharaohs Tomb

As soon as my pharaoh was named, I would have started designing and building his tomb. Construction would not have stopped until his death. This is why old pharaohs who reigned for a long time have bigger tombs and larger treasures buried with them.

14. Been a Master of Optical Illusions

I would have been a master of measurements and optical illusions. Many of my temples, like Luxor Temple, would have been tweaked to make them feel bigger, smaller, or taller than they really are.

15. Figured out Material Transportation Challenges

Transportation of materials would have been quite a challenge.  All blocks would have been accurately cut by stonemasons at the quarry and left there until the flood season. 

Then, barges would have transported them along the Nile. When at the site, the blocks would have been hauled up with ropes and levers over a mud brick and dirt ramp. Phew, that’s labor-intensive!

16. Had a Doctor on Site

Accidents did happen often during construction, so I would have had a doctor at the construction site to help with any injury.  Hey, I would have needed them as healthy as possible to do a good job, even if they were slaves.

17. Used no Mortar

My buildings would have had no mortar. I had to plan everything carefully so every stone would fit perfectly in the design.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
A sample of the mud brick ramps that was left at Karnak Temple. This pylon was left unfinished, so we can still see the ancient Egyptian construction method.

18. Built tall buildings without a Crane

Ever wonder how I would have built tall structures without cranes? 

My workers would have piled the stones from the base, and as the wall or column got taller, a mud brick ramp would have been built around it to allow workers to reach and carry stones up to the new height.

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Then, when finished, the ramp would have been slowly dismantled, with artists carving and painting hieroglyphs from top to bottom.

19. Built Perfectly Balanced

Since I would have used no mortar, all my buildings would have needed to be perfectly balanced and strong. 

For this reason, the square and the plumb-line would have been my main tools, and most of my designs would have been perpendicular in plan with slightly inclined walls (to make them more balanced by lowering their center of gravity).

20. Might have been Immortalized

Maybe I would have joined the list of “immortalized” architects, like: Imhotep of the Step Pyramid complex, Hem-iunu of the Great Giza Pyramid, Senenmut of Deir el-Bahari, and a few others.

21. Had no Competition

Oh, and there was no competition in my field back then, so I would have been considered pretty exclusive and in some cases even commemorated with hieroglyphs and statues.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture
Luxor Temple – Here are three of the main elements often found in New Kingdom Temples: obelisk, pharaoh’s statue, and pylon entrance.

Do you have a favorite Ancient Egyptian monument?

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    1. Thanks Pamela! Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote it this way. To make these architectural details and information more enjoyable and easy to understand. I love sharing what I know about architecture. 🙂

    1. So cool right?! Oh, the privileges I’ve been missing for not being an architect back then! 😉

    1. Thanks Amanda! That’s my intention with this post’s perspective, to make it informative yet interesting to read. 🙂

  1. ow wow that’s really so amazing i can’t believe that… also i like your words!
    you should be an ancient Egyptian writer lol
    thanks for your nice post

  2. Was there a particular symbol or hieroglyph to indicate “architect,builder,etc” in those times?

    1. Gary, I’m not sure if it existed, but as far as I know, Imhotep is considered to be the earliest known architect. Maybe the word architect did not exist in that form back then, but it’s possible there could have been other words like “builder” (as you mentioned).

  3. I find ancient Egyptian architecture brutal and inhuman in scale. Perhaps it goes with the thousands of naked slaves employed in their construction