Monumental Architecture in Bronze Age Egypt and Crete

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Monumental Architecture in Bronze Age Egypt and Crete

The significance of monumental architecture lies not only in the function it is built to serve but also in the cultural values it represents. Monumental architecture is aesthetic as well as functional, and in its aesthetic aspects it is a form of cultural expression. In Bronze Age Mediterranean civilizations, the development of monumental architecture was influenced primarily by the political structure of the state. Perhaps the most disparate forms of monumental architecture in this region were developed in Pharaonic Egypt and Minoan Crete, reflecting the differences in their political systems. The socio-political structure of these two cultures can be sharply contrasted through an examination of a predominant type of monumental architecture found in each region.

Monumental architecture in Pharaonic Egypt is represented primarily by the funerary complexes of the pharaohs. The principal function of these elaborate complexes was to ensure that the pharaohs, who were exalted as living gods, would attain the afterlife they desired. This required that two basic conditions be fulfilled: the body had to be preserved from disturbance or destruction; and the material needs of the body and the ka had to be met (Edwards 20). Pharaonic burial complexes were also centers of worship for the god-king interred there and were designed to exalt his memory and deeds.

Egyptian burial complexes evolved from the simple rectangular mastaba to the great pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty. The true pyramid evolved from the mastaba through an intermediary form, the step pyramid, the earliest example of which is Zoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara, which dates to the Third Dynasty (c. 2680 BC). The Step Pyramid was revolutionary for several reasons. It is the earliest known free-standing monument built entirely of stone in Egypt (Fakhry 20); it is also the earliest example of evolutionary architectural development beyond the mastaba. In form the step pyramid is a series of superimposed mastabas and represents the stairway that the spirit of the pharaoh was to climb to reach the sky-realm and join the crew of the solar barque traveling across the heavens (Aldred 47).

The Step Pyramid was designed by Imhotep, the Chancellor of King Zoser, and was originally planned as a stone mastaba 7.0 meters high based on a square ground-plan (Aldred 45-46). However, this design underwent six alterations, and in its final form the Step Pyramid rose in six unequal steps to a height of 62.
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