Geography and Physical Characteristics
Egyptian Civilization stretched from southern Turkey to the Nile delta. The environment of Egypt was uniquely favourable to early settlement and the development of a centralized state. The long, narrow valley of the Nile, its rich alluvial soil bounded on each side by the arid desert, beginning either with a gentle slope or with a marked escarpment. One of the distinctive forms of the settled zone of Egypt was that towns and villages were strung out over large distances, comprising loosely connected compounds. This region was divided in two parts: the Nile delta known as Lower Egypt and the long Nile valley known as the Upper Egypt. The Nile valley, a narrow strip of alluvial plain boarded by desert, was one of the richest ecological niches.
Above Cairo, the strip varied from 3km to 22km across, with a sharp division between the desert and the alluvium. North of Cairo extended the delta, 165km to 250km across, lush, well watered and fertile. Egypt was uniquely protected from foreign incursions, with but one route from the Red Sea and another into the Eastern Delta.
Unlike many modern stairs which are often lightly built of either wood or steel, ancient Egyptian stairs were generally massive affairs made of bricks or, in temples, of rock. As most towns were built in the plain, there was rarely need for wide public stairs. Town houses sometimes had second or third floors, which could be reached by flights of stairs built of mud bricks or wood and the flat roofs of most houses were accessible and often used for sleeping and cooking.
In the First Dynasty, the more elaborate graves took the appearance of large house with several small rooms, a central one containing the sarcophagus (a stone coffin) and others surrounding it to receive the abundant funerary offerings. The whole was constructed in a broad pit below ground, the wooden roof being supported by wooden posts or crude brick pillars, and the entire area covered by a rectangular, flat-topped mound of the soil from the excavation, retained in place by very thick walls. The outer faces were either serrated with alternate buttresses-like projections and narrow recesses – the so called ‘palace façade’ arrangement – or plain, and sloped backwards at an angle of about 75º.
In the Second and Third Dynasties developed the ‘stairway’ mastaba. The tomb chamber with its attendant magazines was sunk much deeper and cut in the rock below. Steps and ramps led from the north end of the top of the mastaba to connect with a shaft which descended to the level of the tomb chamber. There were two well-space recesses on the long side i.e. the front towards the Nile. The southern most of the two recesses was a false door allowing the spirit of the deceased to enter or leave at will, and in front of it was a table for the daily offerings of fresh food.
In the Fourth Dynasty a small offering chapel developed, tacked on to the mastaba, or an offering room was constructed within the mastaba itself. Tomb chambers were sunk more deeply still, approached by a short horizontal passage from a vertical shaft sunk from the north end of the top of the superstructure; therefore, these were often called as ‘shaft’ mastabas.
In the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty the offering room or chapel at ground level became increasingly elaborate. There might be a group of rooms, within or adjacent to the mastaba mound, including a columned hall, the walls lined with vividly-coloured reliefs, depicting scenes from the daily life of the deceased.
The Egyptians did not know of the pulley, and their principal tool for raising and turning stones blocks was the lever.
Here are the illustrations of how the pyramids are thought to have been constructed using ramps of mud bricks.
The temple had six pairs of Pylons, added by successive rulers, and consists of various courts and halls leading to the sanctuary, and a large ceremonial hall in the rear. A great court 103m x 84m deep, gives entrance to the vast hypostyle hall, some 103 x 52m internally. The roof of enormous slabs of stone is supported by 134 columns in sixteen rows; the central avenues are about 24m in height and have columns 21m high and 3.6m in diameter, with capital of the papyrus-flower or bell type, while, in order to admit light through the clerestory, the side avenues are lower, with columns 13m high and 2.7m in diameter with papyrus-bud capitals.