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Terminologies in Egyptian Architecture

Updated on December 18, 2015

List of terms covering in this hub are.

Mastaba, Stepped pyramid, Obelisks , Serdab, Battered Walls, Pylon towers, Propylon , Pyramids, Covetto , Cornices, Lotus , papyrus palm and other capitals , Hathor headed, Osirian column , Hypostyle halls, courts, vast processional axes ( Dromos) , Sphinx, Syrinx , Uraeus, Hieroglyphs, Pyramidia, Trabeation, Stylobates, Stelae, Mammisis, Benben, Pyramidion, Egyptian sun temples, Sarcophagus, False door


A mastaba (meaning "house for eternity" or "eternal house" in Ancient Egyptian), is a type of ancient Egyptian tomb in the form of a flat-roofed, rectangular structure with outward sloping sides, constructed out of mud-bricks (from the Nile River) or stone. Mastabas marked the burial sites of many eminent Egyptians during Egypt's Early Dynastic Period and Old Kingdom. During the Old Kingdom, kings began to be buried in pyramids instead of mastabas, although non-royal use of mastabas continued for more than a thousand years.

Egyptian pyramids

The ancient Egyptians built pyramids as tombs for thepharaohs and their queens. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes from before the beginning of the Old Kingdom to the end of the Middle Kingdom.

The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found at Saqqara, northwest of Memphis. The earliest among these is the Pyramid of Djoser (constructed 2630 BC–2611 BC) which was built during the third dynasty. This pyramid and its surrounding complex were designed by the architect Imhotep, and are generally considered to be the world's oldest monumental structures constructed of dressed masonry.

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Step pyramid

A step pyramid or stepped pyramid is an architectural structure that uses flat platforms, or steps, receding from the ground up, to achieve a completed shape similar to a geometric pyramid. Step pyramids are structures which characterized several cultures throughout history, in several locations throughout the world. These pyramids typically are large and made of several layers of stone. The term refers to pyramids of similar design that emerged separately from one another, as there are no firmly established connections between the different civilizations that built them.

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An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion at the top. These were originally called "tekhenu" by the builders, the Ancient Egyptians. The Greeks who saw them used the Greek 'obeliskos' to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and then English. Ancient obelisks were often monolithic (that is, built with a single stone), whereas most modern obelisks are made of several stones and can have interior spaces.


A serdab , literally meaning "cold water", which became a loanword in Arabic for 'cellar') is an ancient Egyptian tomb structure that served as a chamber for the Ka statue of a deceased individual. Used during the Old Kingdom, the serdab was a sealed chamber with a small slit or hole to allow the soul of the deceased to move about freely. These holes also let in the smells of the offerings presented to the statue.The word serdab is also used for a type of undecorated chamber found in many pyramids.

Battered Walls

Batter in construction is a receding slope of a wall, structure, or earthwork. A wall sloping in the opposite direction is said to overhang. The term is used with buildings and non-building structures to identify when a wall is intentionally built with an inward slope. A battered corner is an architectural feature using batters. A batter is sometimes used in foundations, retaining walls,dry stone walls, dams, lighthouses, and fortifications.

Pylon towers

Pylon is the Greek term (Greek: πυλών) for a monumental gateway of an Egyptian temple . It consists of two tapering towers, each surmounted by a cornice, joined by a less elevated section which enclosed the entrance between them. The entrance was generally about half the height of the towers. Contemporary paintings of pylons show them with long poles flying banners.

In ancient Egyptian theology, the pylon mirrored the hieroglyph for 'horizon' or akhet, which was a depiction of two hills "between which the sun rose and set.


an outer monumental gateway standing before a main gateway (as of a temple)


a concave molding having a curve that approximates a quarter circle

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A narrow channel cut in rock, especially in ancient Egyptian tombs.In ancient Egypt, a narrow and deep rockcut channel or tunnel forming a characteristic feature of Egyptian tombs of the New Empire.


a representation of a sacred serpent as an emblem of supreme power, worn on the headdresses of ancient Egyptian deities and sovereigns.

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Mask of Tutankhamun's mummy featuring a uraeus, from the eighteenth dynasty. The cobra image of Wadjet with the vulture image of Nekhbet representing of the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt
Mask of Tutankhamun's mummy featuring a uraeus, from the eighteenth dynasty. The cobra image of Wadjet with the vulture image of Nekhbet representing of the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt
Mask of Tutankhamun's mummy featuring a uraeus, from the eighteenth dynasty. The cobra image of Wadjet with the vulture image of Nekhbet representing of the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt


Mammisi (Mamisi) is a term used for a small chapel attached to a larger temple, and associated with the nativity of a god. The word is derived from Coptic. Its usage is attributed to Jean-François Champollion. The most important surviving examples are from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods in Egypt.

Osirian column

In ancient Egypt, a type of column in which a standing figure of Osiris is placed before a square pier; it differs from the classical caryatid in that the pier, and not the figure,supports the entablature.

The two earliest Egyptian capitals of importance are those based on the lotus and papyrus plants respectively, and these, with thepalm tree capital, were the chief types employed by the Egyptians, until under the Ptolemies in the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, various other river plants were also employed, and the conventional lotus capital went through various modifications.

Fluted Column

Palmiform Columns

Lotiform Columns

Papyriform Columns

Coniform Columns

Tent Pole Columns

Campaniform Columns

Composite Columns

No Plant Style Columns

Hathoric Columns

Osiride Pillars

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Hathor headed

Hathor is an Ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. Hathor was worshiped by royalty and common people alike in whose tombs she is depicted as "Mistress of the West" welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands and fertility who helped women in childbirth, as well as the patron goddess of miners.

Hypostyle hall

In architecture, a hypostyle (/ˈhaɪpəˌstaɪlˌ ˈhɪpə-/) hall has a roof which is supported by columns.Hypostyle hall, in architecture, interior space whose roof rests on pillars or columns. The word means literally “under pillars,” and the design allows for the construction of large spaces—as in temples, palaces, or public buildings—without the need for arches. It was used extensively in ancient Egypt—where the Temple of Amon at Karnak provides a good example—and in Persia—where the ruins at Persepolis give evidence of outstanding examples of hypostyle construction.

The Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak, located within the Karnak temple complex, in the Precinct of Amon-Re, is one of the most visited monuments of Ancient Egypt. It was built around the 19th Egyptian Dynasty (c. 1290–1224 BC).[1] The design was initially instituted by Hatshepsut, at the North-west chapel to Amun in the upper terrace of Deir el-Bahri. The name refers to hypostyle architectural pattern.


The sphinx (Greek: Σφίγξ [sfiŋks], Bœotian: Φίξ [pʰiks], Arabic: أبو الهول,) is a mythical creature with, as a minimum, the head of a human and the body of a lion.a winged monster of Thebes, having a woman's head and a lion's body. It propounded a riddle about the three ages of man, killing those who failed to solve it, until Oedipus was successful, whereupon the Sphinx committed suicide.

Sphinxes are generally associated with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples. The oldest known sphinx was found near Gobekli Tepe at another site, Nevali Çori,or possibly 120 miles to the east at Kortik Tepe, Turkey, and was dated to 9,500 BCE.

The largest and most famous sphinx is the Great Sphinx of Giza, situated on the Giza Plateau adjacent to the Great Pyramids of Gizaon the west bank of the Nile River and facing east . The sphinx is located southeast of the pyramids. Although the date of its construction is uncertain, the head of the Great Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.

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Egyptian hieroglyphs

A hieroglyph (Greek for "sacred writing") is a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system. Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancient Egyptian are also sometimes called "hieroglyphs".In Neoplatonism, especially during the Renaissance, a "hieroglyph" was an artistic representation of an esoteric idea, which Neoplatonists believed actual Egyptian hieroglyphs to be. The word hieroglyphics (τὰ ἱερογλυφικά [γράμματα]) may refer to a hieroglyphic script.

Egyptian hieroglyphs(Egyptian: mdw·w-nṯr, "god's words") were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combinedlogographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood. Hieroglyphs are related to two other Egyptian scripts, hieratic and demotic. Early hieroglyphs date back as far as 3,300 BCE, and continued to be used up until the end of the fourth century CE, when non-Christian temples were closed and their monumental use was no longer necessary.

A section of the Papyrus of Ani showing cursive hieroglyphs.
A section of the Papyrus of Ani showing cursive hieroglyphs.


Benben was the mound that arose from the primordial waters Nu upon which the creator god Atum settled in the creation story of the Heliopolitan form of Ancient Egyptian religion. The Benben stone (also known as a pyramidion) is the top stone of the Egyptian pyramid. It is also related to the obelisk.

Benben stone from the Pyramid of Amenemhat III, 12th Dynasty. Egyptian museum, Cairo.
Benben stone from the Pyramid of Amenemhat III, 12th Dynasty. Egyptian museum, Cairo.
Pyramidion-like stone found at the pyramid at Hawara. The function is unknown, it might have been a model of a pyramid.
Pyramidion-like stone found at the pyramid at Hawara. The function is unknown, it might have been a model of a pyramid.


A pyramidion (plural pyramidia) is the uppermost piece or capstone of an Egyptian pyramid or obelisk in archaeological parlance.They were called benbenet in the Ancient Egyptian language, which associated the pyramid as a whole with the sacred benben stone. In Egypt's Old Kingdom, pyramidia were generally made of diorite, granite, or finelimestone, which were then covered in gold or electrum; during the Middle Kingdom and through the end of the pyramid-building era, they were built from granite.A pyramidion was "covered in gold leaf to reflect the rays of the sun"; during Egypt's Middle Kingdom, they were often "inscribed with royal titles and religious symbols."

Very few pyramidia have survived into modern times. Most of those that have are made of polished black granite, inscribed with the name of the pyramid's owner. A total of four pyramidia – the world's largest collection – is housed in the main hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Among them are the pyramidia from the so-called Black Pyramid ofAmenemhat III at Dahshur and of the Pyramid of Khendjer at Saqqara.


In architecture, post and lintel (also called prop and lintel or a trabeated system) is system with a lintel, header, or architrave as the horizontal member over a building void supported at its ends by two vertical columns, pillars, or posts. A "fundamental principle" of Ancient Greek architecture,builders continue to use this method to support the weight of the structure above the openings for windows and doors in a bearing wall.The principle architecture of ancient Egypt was developed mainly on post (columns) and lintel construction. This system of construction (columns and lintel) was known as trabeated construction which was later followed by nearly all the countries and religion to get that solid foundation and strength for the building.

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Egyptian Palettes and Stele. Home. Stele or plural:stelae, is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerary or commemorative purposes. It is often inscribed, carved in relief or painted onto the slab.

Egypt: The Sun Temples at Abu Ghurab
Egypt: The Sun Temples at Abu Ghurab

Egyptian sun temples

Egyptian sun temples were Egyptian temples that were first created by the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom at Abu Gorab and Abusir. The Fifth Dynastywas marked by an especially strong devotion to the sun cult, which was based at Heliopolis. The founder of this dynasty, Userkaf started the fashion of attaching sun temples with his mortuary temple and pyramid complexes at Abusir. This practice was followed by most of his Fifth Dynasty successors particularly Sahure and Nyuserre Ini. Only the solar temples of Userkaf and Nyuserre survive today, but Nyuserre's temple contains a large catalogue of invaluable inscriptions and reliefs from this king's reign. The city of Abu Gorab is located on the western bank of the Nile, in the pyramid fields of the north. It lies between Abusir and Giza.


A sarcophagus (plural, sarcophagi; sarcophaguses) is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and displayed above ground, though it may also be buried. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σάρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγεῖν phagein meaning "to eat", hence sarcophagus means "flesh-eating"; from the phrase lithos sarkophagos (λίθος σαρκοφάγος). Since lithos is Greek for "stone", lithos sarcophagos means "flesh-eating stone". The word also came to refer to a particular kind of limestone that was thought to decompose the flesh of corpses interred within it.

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False door

A false door is an artistic representation of a door which does not function like a real door. They can be carved in a wall or painted on it. They are a common architectural element in the tombs of Ancient Egypt and Pre-Nuragic Sardinia. Later they also occur in Etruscan tombs and in the time of Ancient Rome they were used in both the interiors of houses and tombs.

Lapis lazuli

Lapis lazuli also made its way across the Mediterranean to ancient Egypt, where it was a favorite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs; Lapis jewelry has been found at excavations of the Predynastic Egyptian site Naqada (3300–3100 BCE). At Karnak, the relief carvings of Thutmose III (1479-1429 BCE) show fragments and barrel-shaped pieces of lapis lazuli being delivered to him as tribute. Powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra.

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Ring from tomb of Tutankhamun; a shank composed of three bands, the central one set with lapis lazuli, all three are wrapped with gold wire below a motif of three flowers:
Ring from tomb of Tutankhamun; a shank composed of three bands, the central one set with lapis lazuli, all three are wrapped with gold wire below a motif of three flowers:
Ring from tomb of Tutankhamun; a shank composed of three bands, the central one set with lapis lazuli, all three are wrapped with gold wire below a motif of three flowers:

Thanks for reading....

  • Fletcher, Banister; Cruickshank, Dan, Sir Banister Fletcher's a History of Architecture, Architectural Press, 20th edition, 1996 (first published 1896). ISBN 0-7506-2267-9. Cf. Part One, Chapter 3.
  • Bard, KA (1999). Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. NY, NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-18589-0.
  • Billing, Egyptens pyramider, 2009. Page 236
  • Batter v.2. def. 1 and 2. and "Batter n.2". Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) © Oxford University Press 2009
  • Whitney, William Dwight. "Batter 2." The Century Dictionary. New York: Century, 1889. 476-77. Print.
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  • "Spotlights on the Exploitation and Use of Minerals and Rocks through the Egyptian Civilization". Egypt State Information Service. 2005. Archived from the original on November 20, 2008. Retrieved 2010-04-20
  • McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  • WordInfo etymology. As a noun the Greek term was further adopted to mean "coffin" and was carried over into LATIN, where it was used in the phrase lapis sarcophagus, "flesh-eating stone", referring to those same properties of limestone.
  • Robert G Morkot, The Egyptians: An Introduction. pp. 223
  • "Is The Sphinx 12 000 Years Old?". 2011-01-27. Retrieved2014-05-15.
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Lorna Oakes, Southwater, pp. 157–159, ISBN 1-84476-279-3
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  • University of Memphis' Great Hypostyle Hall Project
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  • editors Regine Schulz and Matthias Seidel (w/34 contributing Authors), Egypt, The World of the Pharaohs, Konemann, Germany: 1998. Amenemhat III, 1842–1797 BC


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