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The Ancient World (8000 BC - 500 BC)

Origins --- Belief System --- The Fertile Crescent--- Ancient Architecture

Megaliths------Stonehenge___Avebury, Silbury, and West Kennet

Mesopotamia -- ----------Ishtar Gate ___---------------
Persepolis----_--Hall of 100 Columns_--Sundisk ---_Gate of All Nations

Egypt_---Zoser ----Karnak --- - Hatshepsut ---- Ra

Minoan-------Palace of Knossos -------Columns
Mycenean _____- Palace at Tiryns _____ Lion's Gate _____- Cyclopean

Troglodytes_---Les Baux de Province----Syracuse --- -


Recent studies have proven that the first homo erectus originated in central Africa 7 million years ago. By 1 million BC, Homo erectus had traveled as far as China. By 500,000 BC, Homo sapiens had replaced Homo erectus, these having sufficiently similar skulls to be classified as "our species". There are traces of early man in Africa, the Far East and Europe by 500,000 BC. America started being populated in 11,000 BC.

The story of architecture begins when primitive man found he could improve upon his hunting and gathering culture by establishing settlements. Traces of villages can be found in many parts of the world as early as 8,000 BC

During the period before the birth of Christ there were five great building centres:

Asia Persia, Iraq, Syria, and the Tigro-Euphrates valley otherwise known as Mesopotamia.

Mediterranean Basin Near East, Egypt, North Africa, Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, Crete, the Aegean, towards Spain and Portugal.

Central and North Europe Danube Valley, the Black Sea, northwest through Scandinavia.

Eastern Asia China and Japan

The Americas; Central primarily, then northern South and southern North.

Belief System

To understand ancient architecture, its purpose and its power, we must first acknowledge a huge contrast in perception between Ancient Man and Modern Man. Since the Age of Enlightenment (1700), Western man has disconnected himself increasingly from interpretations of the Universe and Life on Earth.

It is only in recent history that Western man has seen himself as the only being within the world possessing a determinative consciousness. The world view of people in the Western world is that they are an oddity of consciousness, studying, affecting, and controlling all of the other creatures and scientific phenomenon in the physical world, but not subject to influences that cannot be measured, documented and ultimately controlled.

Modern man has seen the empowerment of the self, free and powerful yet defined within a universe that is of no importance to him. Man is the causal factor. The rest of the world is static. Modern man sees no importance in the correlations of non-harnessed phenomena.

Ancient civilizations were quite the opposite. They saw man as a part of the overall cosmic universe. The stars, the sun, the moon, and all the birds and beasts of the world provided patterns of meaning. They saw the world as being saturated with purposes and meanings and man existing as part of this world. A sophisticated study of planetary transits lead to an understanding of man within a matrix of interconnected living organisms, all connected to an even greater mathematical matrix

which included the heavenly bodies. Ancient man beleived that the study of the stars and the birds and beasts of the world lead to a psycho-spiritual awakening.

This awareness of the world as a whole is reflected in ancient architecture which is built in harmony with the sun and wind, and reflecting the souls of the inhabitants of the world who are not human.

Modern man sees the universe as impersonal, distant, and disaffected. There is no capacity for purpose or meaning in the stars or the birds and animals that live here. Modern building reflects a view of a universe centered on financial profit. Forests are seen by most as just trees ready to be cut, animals are to be owned and slaughtered for the benefit of the captor. All motives are utilitarian, the only thing that counts is the next quarterly profit. Consumerism has replaced spirituality.

There is no purpose for the modern universe other than what man projects onto it. In ancient times, and even up to and through the Renaissance, the sun and moon were a major consideration for an architect. Instead of the dome of the universe which offers insight into the power of the sun, the cycles of the stars have become the random outcome of a meaningless universal movement. Only in the twenty-first century with the return to Green Architecture has Modern Man realized the potential of the heavenly bodies as catalysts for design.

The Fertile Crescent

The Fertile Crescent, a term coined by James Henry Breasted, comprises the lands north of the Arabian desert which allow for agriculture water by rain, without the need for irrigation systems. The area extends from The Levant to Mesopotamia- the eastern Mediterranean coast to the Euphrates-Tigris delta in southern Iraq. The Fertile crescent is considered to be the origin of the "Neolithic Revolution" with plant domestication. For the history of Western architecture, as we will see, the differences between Egypt and Mesopotamia are quite profound. Plant domestication, animal husbandry, writing, metallurgy, the wheel, and many other technological advancements came from the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent remained the most progressive and innovative area for human development for many centuries.

"Until the proliferation of water mills in around 900 AD, Europe west or north of the Alps contributed nothing of significance to Old World technology or civilization. Even from AD 1000 to 1450 the flow of science and technology was predominantly into Europe from the Islamic societies stretching from India to North Africa, rather than vice versa."( Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, p. 409.)

Ancient Architecture

For the history of Western architecture, the ancient sites built in the few millennia before the birth of Christ were largely built with stone or fired or sun dried brick, and are generally found in the Fertile Crescent. The large buildings that remain are usually indicative of the belief system of the culture which is usually quite different than that of modern Western culture.

Megaliths and Stone Calendars - 3100 - 2000 BC


There is no perfect movement of heavenly bodies to correspond with an earthly year. The Greeks and Babylonians started calculating their years based on the cycles of the moon. The Egyptians escaped the temptations of the moon and started calculations around the cycles of the sun. Had it been possible to calculate the seasons and months simply by multiplying the cycles of the moon, mankind would have been saved a lot of trouble. As it is, most civilizations have chosen one particular heavenly body to follow.

The Celts, among others, built large megalithic monuments dedicated to understanding the movements of the sun. Stonehenge is the most intact and easily accessable of these. It is is luni-solar. Rotations of both sun and moon can be calculated by it.

Stonehenge is located on the chalk flats of the Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, southern England. It is the largest and best known of a series of megalithic monuments found throughout the United Kingdom. All of these are oriented to align with the sun and moon.

The monument was built in many stages. The first stage, Stonehenge I, was the outer ring of holes, that are most necessary for lunar and solar calculations. The holes were first documented by

John Aubrey thus the term "Aubrey Holes" is generally used for them. In conjunction with the four station stones and the large heel stone, these holes were used to calculate solstices and equinoxes.

Later developments include the Bluestone Trilithons in the central area and the Sarcen circle which once completely surrounded them. The stones for these early structures were brought from a distance of at least 30 kilometers. The later Bluestones, 82 of them, were brought from the Prescelly Mountains in Wales, a distance of 250 miles. There has been much speculation about how this feat was accomplished.

Gerald Hawkins has asserted that because it can also calculate eclipses, Stonehenge is not simply a calendar, but also an astronomical calculator.

Stonehenge was begun in the same millennium as the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, 2000 years before the Mayan monuments of Central America.

Like most Celtic and Pagan sites, Stonehenge was largely ignored, and partly dismembered, during the early Christian era. Many theories concerning its use and origins have been advanced since the 17th century. Research is still being done.

Stonehenge 3000 BC

Scholars believe Stonehenge was used as both a calendar or clock and a religious structure for sacrifices and ceremonies. The outer ring of the structure was in place by 3000 BC It is a perfect circle of Aubrey holes, 285 feet in diameter, divided into 56 equal segments. The holes are straight sided, flat-bottomed, circular, and up to six feet in diameter. The holes are between two and four feet deep. The holes were hollowed out, then refilled with rubble, human cremains, and chalk objects.


Aerial View of Stonehenge


Once a child has built a wall with building blocks, it is only a matter of time before a block is placed horizontally across the top so as to span the two blocks, creating the most fundamental form in building; the post and lintel. This is used in buildings throughout the world.

Here we see trilithons, two large stone structures supporting a third horizontal stone. Any rocks of this size are referred to as megaliths.


Bluestone Trilithons


Many of the rocks have fallen over time and some have been stolen. Research is still being done to try to determine the exact dates of the building process. In 2008 another excavation is taking place on a few buried stones to provide new information.

Bluestone Trilithons


The Druids, like many cultural and religious groups, sought to harness the power of the sun and the planets and thereby master the secrets of the universe.

The megaliths of Stonehenge provide a gateway for the beams of the rising and setting sun. During the summer and winter solstices, the stones line up perfectly with the main heel stone.


Stoenhenge - Sarcen Circle


The Sarcen circle, shown here on the left, was once a complete circle of megaliths with huge stone lintels creating a continuous level circle. The ceremonies - probably performed by Druids - took place within the circle.

The best description of what these ceremonies might be like is in a book called Sarum by Edward Rutherford. Sacrifice was a likely part of the ritual.



Two thousand years before Hadrian's Wall, the early Celts, possibly Druids, classified as Barbarians by the Romans, had a proven engineering knowledge equal to that of the Romans.

Inigo Jones, among others, speculated during the 17th century that the monument must have been of Roman origin due to its technical excellence.

The monument is no longer accessible to the public except by special appointment or on Druidic festival days.



Avebury Circle
2600-2400 BC

About 75 kilometers from Stonehenge are the monuments of Neolithic Avebury. As at Stonehenge, the people in this area started farming about 3600 BC, and the monuments were constructed shortly thereafter.

The Avebury Circle is similar to stonehenge in that it is a large circle of monoliths, probably used as a calendar.

Vaison le Romain

Avebury Circle
2600-2400 BC

Two concentric circles were constructed on a white chalk plane. Around the outer circle was a large ditch encircle by an equally large and imposing bank. The crest of the bank was originally 6.7 m (18 ft). The span of the ditch and the bank surrounding it was 15m (50ft), made all the more impressive by the original bright white colour of the chalk.

Vaison le Romain


The Avebury Circle with its surrounding ditch and bank covers an area of 11.5 ha (28.5 acres). It was constructed of local stone which, unlike Stonehenge, was unworked. The stones were placed upright in the chalk at regular intervals to form a circle. The stones vary in length from 3m (10 ft) to 6m (20 ft).

The standing stones are sarcen, a type of hard sandstone rock that is found in the surrounding downs. The rock was broken into large chunks during geological upheavals. These chunks were dragged onto the Avebury plain to make the Circle and the nearby West Kennet Long Barrow as well as being dragged down to Stonehenge.

Most of the stones remained in their original places until the 1700s when people started breaking them up to make stone chunks for houses.

Vaison le Romain

Silbury Hill 2700 BC

Within easy walking distance of Avebury Circle is Silbury Hill, the largest man made mound in Europe. At 39.50 m (130 ft) it is the size of some of the smaller Egyptian pyramids. The inner chalk formation is in a ziggurat style as seen in the diagram below.

The purpose of the mound has not been determined, but scholars have calculated the building time as eighteen million man hours (700 men for 10 years). This suggests that there was a relatively sophisticated social structure with organisational skills not unlike the Egyptians of the same time.


Vaison le Romain

West Kennet Long Barrow - 3700 BC

A barrow is a sort of chambered tomb dug into the earth and built of stone corbelled up to a roof cap. The West Kenner Long Barrow was in use for over 1500 years beginning in 3700 BC. The barrow is 100m (328 feet) in length and once contained over 45 skeletons.

From a historical perspective, it is interesting to note that the burial of certain humans was an important aspect of the life of the community.

Vaison le Romain

Stone Calendar
Vaison le Roman France

There are many other sites throughout Europe that have stone calendars that date from approximately the same time period. Stonehenge is the most outstanding of these.


Vaison le Romain


Mesopotamia (4000 BC - 300 BC)

For more images see Achaemenid

The plains of Mesopotamia were so situated as to make them the meeting place of a wide variety of tribes seeking lands for settlement. Unlike Egypt, it lacked natural defensive boundaries. After farming, the chief business was war. As a result, Mesopotamia was quick to develop fortified cities and towns so people could band together for defense. Jericho, found here, is the oldest recorded city in the world. The stories documenting the strife and conflict of this and the other towns and cities that grew in the surrounding area are well documented in the Bible in addition to many other sources.

Known to the Greeks as Mesopotamia, this area is identified in the Bible as Land of Shinar. The valley for the Tigrus and Euphrates rivers, currently the area of Iraq and Iran as well as parts of Syria and Turkey, and extending down towards the Persian Gulf, was said to be the site of the Garden of Eden, where the Bible said that all life began.

This land is now desolate and barren, but was once the most fertile land on earth. From the fifth to the first century BC, this was the center of civilized life and the meeting place of tribal groups from the Far East, Africa, the Mediterranean and the north.

From before 4000 BC until the conquests of Alexander in the 4th century BC, there was unbroken economic primacy in this area with large

cities, much trade, wealth, and many technological advancements. Writing was invented in Sumer in the 4th millennium BC.

Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress outlines the "progress traps" that befell this great civilization and he, like many others, describes well the rich alluvial delta, teeming with fish and wildlife, that has now become a desolate wasteland. Many modern economic powers are diligently following the same path.

The heat of the sun and relative lack of precipitation made mud-brick a viable building material. Constantly threatened by rival states and tribal wars, Mesopotamian builders used these these bricks to create massive fortifications. In south Mesopotamia, mud bricks were used exclusively. Archeologists were slow to discover that large mounds in the desert were actually mud brick cities that had simply collapsed and returned to the soil.

In the north, Persepolis being one excellent example, stone was used in conjunction with the mud-brick to construct fortifications that held large, sophisticated cities and trading markets. Because of the accessibility of Mesopotamia from all directions, it was the meeting place of people from the Far East, Africa, Egypt, parts of Europe and the north and the entire Mediterranean basin. The influence of all these peoples can be seen in the architecture in this area.

Ishtar Gate
604- 562 BC

The Ishtar Gate, now reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, was one of the eight gates of the inner city of Babylon. It was built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II .

The gate is 47 feet high, constructed of fired brick and faced with glazed bricks, predominantly blue from lapis lazuli tint. It is resplendent with 152 almost lifesize golden beasts. Palaces and mosques of Islamic architecture often use the same colour scheme.

Many of the animals are bulls, lions and dragons. Others are mythological figures such as the 'sirrush, which had the back legs of an eagle, the front legs of a lynx, and the head and tail of a snake.

Babylon was a very attractive city for the time. It has been suggested that the Israelites were reluctant to go back to Israel when Nebuchadnezzar set them free.


Ishtar Gate


Persepolis was an ancient capital of the Second Iranian Dynasty. It was started during the reign of Darius the Great, mostly completed during that of Xerxes I and finished by Artaxerxes, during the fifth and sixth centuries BC.

Where Egypt remained a homogeneous architectural form for 3000 years, Persepolis shows most poignantly the influence of cultures from throughout the Fertile Crescent, Africa, and the Far East.


Persepolis column cornice relief

Hall of 100 Columns

Only the bases of the 100 columns of Xerxes throne room survive. Like Greek columns, the columns in Persepolis were originally of wood. Stone was used when the wooden ones were not long enough.

There were large staircases and huge plazas leading to each of the palaces, this one being that of Xerxes I. In Darius I's audience hall, the capitals of the columns are the forefront of animals. The columns have all been stolen and used in other buildings.

Hall of 100 Columns Base doorsurround


The residential palace had much smaller rooms that were constricted of clay brick covered with plaster and painted in earth colours as shown below.

The clay brick decomposed over the years and all that remains are the door surrounds and fire places.

Either out of respect, fear or because the stone cornices and door surrounds were too heavy to move, these doorways and windows have remained largely intact. Note that there are no arches here, it is all trabeated: post and lintel.



Stone and Claybrick

The museum at the Persepolis site is reconstructed in the original method. The stone door surround has a relief of Xerxes killing a lion. The wall has been filled with clay brick and painted with light Burnt Sienna pigment.


Bas Releif

Bas Relief of Xerxes 1

The bas relief of Xerxes I and one of his wives is typical of the period. The King and Queen were not just political leaders, they were considered to be higher beings, divine beings. The figures below are smaller, less important people and thus are shown as a smaller size. This minimalizing of figures is often found in Egyptian art, and can be found in medieval European and Christian art as well.

Other good pictures can be seen here.



Bas Releif

Sun Disk

Above the figures on the base relief below is a winged solar disk, the symbol of the Sun God. There are sun symbols all over Persepolis. The one contains the figure of Ahnra Mazda, the 'wise god'. It symbolizes the connection between the kingdom and light.




The solar disk appears in Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, royal seals, on obelisks and, as in this case, in a lintel. Its use continues well past the age of Alexander the Great.


Bas Releif

Xerxes and the Griffin

A great many of the remaining bas reliefs are heroic scenes of Xerxes slaying either lions or amalgams of animals including lions, serpents and eagles.

The slaying of these beasts was symbolic both of his strength in the natural world and his strength in the spiritual world where the beasts had supernatural powers. Here the beast has the head of an eagle and the body of a lion, a griffin. These beasts combined the power of the king of beasts and the king of lions. Griffins are very common in Celtic legend as well. Griffins in both cultures were the keepers of divine power.


Bas Releif

Xerxes Slaying Lion

The detailing on these reliefs is beautifully done and remains remarkably intact. Here is the griffins paws accosting Xerxes' leg.


Bas Releif

Xerxes and lion/serpent/bird

This is a detail of the feathers of the griffins wings.


Bas Releif

Xerxes, Gate of All Nations

The Gate of All Nations is protected by Lamassus, Mesopotamian spiritual guardians with bull's bodies, eagles wings, and the heads of men. This creature combines the strength of a bull, the freedom of an eagle and the intelligence of man and acts as a guardian angel.

Xerxes acknowledged, by the name of the gate, the large variety of peoples who would be requesting an audience at his throne.


Gate of All Nations

Xerxes, Gate of All Nations

The thick mud brick of the walls has eroded while this stone is still intact. here we see the front doorway leading into the palace enclosure.

Pivoting devices on the door frame indicate a door that was probably of wood, covered with ornamental metal sheets.

Gate of All Nations

Temple Lion

The Eastern influence can be seen in this Temple Lion, a common figure found in the front of temples, civic buildings and important residences. The lion is symbol of strength and courage and guards the buildings and its inhabitants from evil. In this case the lion is a column capital.

In addition to strength, the lion is symbolic of the sun in Celtic, Persian, Egyptian, Chaldian and Hindu traditions. It is no coincidence that Leo is a Sun sign

Recent scholarship suggests that Moses got the idea of monotheism from Egypt and the Sun God.

Temple Lion


Egypt (10000 BC - 500 BC)

Egypt developed because of the Nile River. When the snow from the mountains surrounding its sources melted, the water flooded the Nile valley carved into the rock bed of the Egyptian desert and provided the rich soil for growing crops. The river rises from 20 to 30 feet annually during the spring thaws fromo the distant mountains.

In contrast to Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley was remote, isolated by desert, and thus provided a relatively serene environment for the building of a splendid and mysterious culture. This is not to say that the Egyptians were peace loving. Far from it. The military was an important part of their culture and they made forages into the Levant and across the Mediterranean. Their homeland, however, was protected by the natural boundary of the desert and thus they avoided the fortification oriented architecture of other cultures.

By 4000 BC this energetic people had become acquainted with the use of copper and gold, yet they maintained the stone-age basis of much of their civilization. From 4000 to 1000 BC the building forms and embellishments remained remarkably static.

Like most early building, the first structures were round and conical or rectangular with curved, arched tops. Porches consisted of columns composed of local ferns and rushes. Shafts and sometimes flowering heads of plants were tied together with bunches of reeds which formed posts that were decorative as well as structural. This important aspect of Egyptian residential building gave rise to many variations in both residential and civic buildings which were later perpetuated in stone.

During the Predynastic Era (before 3100 BC), elements of Egyptian religion and Egyptian decorative forms were alike developed. Egyptian religion was based primarily on a cult of the dead, coupled with a mythology coming from two sources; first an African source leaning toward the deification of animals and probably related to totemism as a tribal matter, and second a quite advanced type of anthropomorphic theology which came - like the evergreens and metals - from Syria.

This blend led to the series of animal and bird-headed but otherwise human gods which played such a large part in Egyptian temple carvings and produced in the artist a sense of the fantastic and the imaginative to counterbalance the highly skilled engineering of the buildings themselves.

These decorative beginnings achieved definitive expression only when the separated though related tribes of the valley were at last united into one organized whole - only when the dynastic history of Egypt began. A unified government allowed the arts and crafts movement to flourish.

Egyptian architecture is the architecture of Immortality. The buildings that were the most important were the resting places of the Pharoahs who were, in the minds of the people, given divine status. The idea of death, even for the common people, was much removed from that of modern Western culture. The link between the living and the dead was much stronger, and people believed that the spirits of their dead ancestors were always present to guide them on their way. Consequently, large necropolises can be found along the banks of Nile where the bodies of families were placed and revered.

Cities for the living were constructed where the Pharoah required a town to house men working on his tomb. In addition to farmers and laborers, there were many people involved in commerce and in administration. Egypt developed the math discipline of geometry that can be best seen in the pyramids. Numbers and their relationships, evident in basic geometric forms, have religious or spiritual connotations: circles express the everlasting, the square and the isosceles triangle express solidity and strength. These geometric forms and their religious significance can be seen on buildings through the ages from Romanesque, through Gothic and renaissance and into the modern age. they have been kept alive by the Freemasons among others.

The first major monuments were mud brick tombs known as mastabas. These eventually became stone, then were replaced by pyramids and finally rock-hewn tombs.

Pyramid of Zoser 2700 BC

The Step Pyramid and Tomb temple of King Zoser in Sakara (Saqqara) is the world's first large scale monument in stone. The structure originally had sharp, cut edges, with both granite and limestone as part of the finish.
This is the first of Egypt's unique contribution to architecture. The architect was IMHOTEP. It shows an exquisite artistic feeling combined with a perfection in the use of stone which was not to be surpassed for many centuries.


Pyramid of Zozer

Pyramid of Zoser Detail

Architects were well respected and often part of the court, but because Imhotep had changed the look of architecture, probably the first great user of stone for monumental buildings, he was reserved the honour of deification. Imhotep used cut stone as opposed to rubble stone for this pyramid. Stones were floated together on mortar.

The pyramid is 200 feet high. Originally it had an ashlar finish.

Pyramid of Zoser

Funerary Area

The pyramid was surrounded by a vast rectangular enclosure (1790' x 912').

Before Imhotep turned their attention to stone, Egyptians were proficient in wood. Most of the joints available in modern wood construction today were used at this time. Building traditions more appropriate to wood than to stone continued in the temples. The size of the columns suggests that they were not aware of the limits of the structural integrity of the stone.

Funerary Buildings

Hypostyle Hall Zoser's Palace

In Imhotep's temples no arches or vaults are found. The hypostyle halls, the great spaces spanned by stone lintels, became a forest of columns lit through grill windows above central colonnades. From the white alabaster floor light was reflected back increasing the mystery and grandeur.

The basic component of stone architecture is the column. Imhotep's great contribution was trans- lating the bundles of reeds used to hold up roofs in mud-brick structures into stone structural members or columns.

Bud Columns

Bud Capital

In the administrative building at Sakkara are three stone columns that illustrate the origin of the column. The shaft is carved to imitate the triangular stem of the papyrus reeds that grow in the marshes of Lower Egypt. The capital is shaped like the open head bud of the papyrus. The rings around the upper part of the shaft are annulets repre- senting the twine used to secure the reeds. A mud-brick was used to level off these reeds to support the lintel.


Bud Capital

Bell Capital Karnak

These columns are from the temple of Amun-Re in Karnak.
On the bank opposite the City of the dead was the city of the living. In the new kingdom period, Thebes became the capital and religious center and was the greatest city on earth. Karnak and Luxor further south were part of this. The peak was during the three dynasties of the New Kingdom, particularly in the reign of the Ramses. - the Imperial phase. 1400 - BC.

Above the column is a bud form. Here the capitals are bell shaped indicating that the papyrus was in flower.

Bell Capital Karnak

Bell Capital Thebes

The building materials that were readily available to the Egyptians were reeds, papyrus, and palm branches that could be bound together and then covered with clay to preserve their shape. This method was used for millennia to build civic buildings as well as in the design of huts.

This decorated bell capital is from the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II located in the Theban necropolis in Upper Egypt, across the River Nile from the modern city of Luxor.

The original still bears the fresco paint from the papyrus decoration.

Bell Capital Thebes

Palm Capital

The palm was used both vertically and horizontally to build walls and roofs. The palm shafts could be woven together to form a fairly solid "sheet" and when covered with clay, could last under the baking sun for many months, even years.

Palm-leaf ribs were planted in the ground at regular intervals and attached to horizontal stalks to make porches and entrances. After Imhotep, the column had been invented and the capitals were carved to represent many of the plants that had been used in earlier construction.

This palm capital, drawn from the temple at Edfu, shows the graphic representation of the twine used to hold the palms together as well as a shaft decoration.

Palm Capital


3000 years later the same motifs are used in Rome. The palm capitals create a wonderful peristyle under a cornice adorned with a sun disk.

Palm Capital

Deir El Bahari Temple of Queen Hatsepshut 1520 BC

On the west bank opposite Thebes lie the cool, well bred horizontal lines of the complex which includes valley temple, mortuary chapel, and causeway. The contrast impressively with the vertically scored precipice under which it is set. The limestone terraces of smooth post-and-lintel linked from level to level by massive ramps, are elegant and commanding.

Hatshepsut was the only female pharaoh.




She built herself a great tomb temple. Pyramids had gone out of fashion, and long straight lines were considered harmonious to the surroundings. The architect Senmut designed a series of courtyards on successively raised terraces, continuous post and lintel porches, attached by great stone ramps with solid railings. This is one of the great conceptions of Egyptian architectural feeling that was to characterize the new empire.


Pylon Gateway - Karnak

These pylon gateways were used in the later periods after 500 BC.
This is the Temple of the Theban moon god Khonsu at Karnak. He is the son of Amon and Mut and is often represented as a human headed figure wearing a crescent and disk.

The pylon gates protect the columns inside.

Pylon Gateway

Pylon Gateway Luxor

At Luxor, these pylons still have their seated figures at the front.

Pylon Gateway


Egyptian architecture - endless patience, unlimited manpower and great care.

Osiris was the judge of the dead in the afterlife, and also the deity that supplied the Nile with water and thus the plantlife that the Egyptians survived on.

Eye of Horus - a human eye morphed with a hawk's. Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, had a man's body and a hawk's head. When Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, Horus fought with Seth for the throne of Egypt. In this battle Horus lost one of his eyes and later this became a sign of protection in Egypt. This symbol has been brought through the ages by the Freemasons among others.

Eye of Horus

Am Ra

This is the depiction of Ra or Am Ra. He is shown with a falcon's head and crowned with a sun disk.

Ra was the God of the sun and thus the highest God in the Egyptian hierarchy. The sun disk is seen slightly above and in front of the figure of Ra.

Legend has it that Ra was born anew each day and began a travel across the sky in a large boat crossing the twelve provinces of Egypt, and thus the twelve hours of the day. Each night Ra would die and travel 12 hours in darkness until the beginning of the next day cycle. The spring and vernal equinox were days of great celebration for the Egyptians. March 21 was the coming forth of the great Ones from the House of Ra.

Ra is seen here at the top of a passage. He was probably a fearsome figure for advancing armies to come across, being largely lit by torches. The kings of Egypt were identified with the Gods, and became an integral part of the religion.



This fresco is of the Egyptian canine God Anubis who helped Osiris retrieve and wrap the dead body of her husband Isis. The dog could have been a jackal, but sources disagree on this point.

Here the God is depicted seated, waiting for




The Minoan Period (3000 BC - 1400 BC)

The Minoans

Farming in settled communities throughout Greece and the Mediterranean is known to have taken place for 7,000 years before the birth of Christ. The farming lifestyle allowed people to plan ahead, to use their intelligence for more than mere survival.

All the way from England to the Crimea, people were taking over the land in remarkably similar ways. The beginning of architecture is intrinsically linked to the beginning of communities based around farming.

The first great sea power of the Mediterranean started on the island of Crete at least one thousand years before the great Classical Age in the fifth century BC. The Minoan culture in Crete shown here in the Palace of Knossos (3000 BC- 1400 BC) preceded the more violent culture at Mycenae (1600-1100 BC). The Minoans were peaceable and artistic where the Mycenaeans were warlike and formidable. The Minoans were protected by the sea whereas the Myceneans were on mainland Greece and thus more open to attack.

Archeologists have found graves containing large quantities of gold iIn Crete, dating from before the building of this palace. This suggests that they were in touch with Egypt and other societies.

Many small civilizations were built and destroyed both on Crete and on other Greek islands before the beginning of the Palace Culture seen in the Palace of Knossos and the other palaces on Crete.

The Palace of Knossos

This Palace of Knossos is called the Minoan Palace after Minos, the stepfather of the ferocious Minotaur, who was the original King of Knossos. The Minotaur, a creature with the body of a man but the head of a bull, was allegedly kept in the labyrinth behind the palace.

The site of the Palace of Knossos was the focus of intense research in 1900 by the distinguished Oxford Professor Sir Arthur Evans. He excavated much of the site and interpreted it according to his ideas on Greek civilization in Bronze Age Culture. Over the next 20 years he restored and rebuilt a large area of the palace, a task that received mixed reviews from his piers.

The palace started as a collection of small buildings, then grew to be a large continuous complex situated around an open court. By 1400 BC when it was destroyed, it was over 10,000 square meters or about 4 acres. The main floor of the building had no windows, and the interior consisted of a labyrinth of interlocking rooms and magazines, many of which had no natural light and had to be lighted by lamps.

what we now consider to be the layout of the palace was the work of Arthur Evans. He has peiced together residences, meeting rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and staff rooms. There was also a large market area and a theater for watching sports and public displays.


Palace of Knossos

There is evidence that the civilization in Crete was initiated in the fourth millennium BC. Palace culture was supported by a growing naval power fed by a large commercial center.

This is only one of the Minoan palaces found on Crete. They were all vast and unfortified. This palace shows evidence of a highly centralized and sophi- sticated society that had music, crafts, dancing and athletic activities. Here is the remains of a terraced hypostyle porch.

Palace of Knossos Base rubble stone walls Hypostyle Terrace

Palace of Knossos

One of the most notable elements of the Minoan civilization are the downward tapering columns. The colours vary around the palace from burnt sienna, found in the local mountains, to white and black.

The lintel on this porch is a decorative representation of squared timber plates trapping round logs between them.

This wall section, and various other parts of the palace, was reconstructed by Evans in the ealry 20th century. Most scholars agree that it is largely a correct reproduction of the original.

Palace of Knossos

Downward Tapering Columns

Palace of Knossos
Queen's Megaron

Columns are found in various parts of the palace, in various sizes and shapes, largely downward tapering. Thecolumns shown here are found near the North wall of the palace in the Queen's chambers.

The columns support very large ceiling beams. These have been constructed of concrete, but are finished in a wood pattern to emulate the original wood. The mixture of wood support members and stone walls is very pleasing.

The columns are quite close together for their size and have extra large abicuses.

Palace of Knossos

Downward Tapering Columns

Palace of Knossos

In the Queen's Megaron, there was a water closet with a flushing toilet. It was constructed largely of Parian marble. The plumbing was attached to socketted earthenware pipes which supplied fresh water and discarded used water to outside the palace limits.

There are many water ways still visible throughout the palace.

Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

This wall illustrates the use of vernacular materials, rubble stone, with an ashlar and cut stone finish. The decorative band under the cornice would be cut stone. Interiors would be finished with a frescoed or stucco finish.

Rubble stone walls were laced with timber both for strength and to keep walls straight and plumb. It is a pleasing look and an easy building method that changed very little over the following centuries.

Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

The palace is organized around one central area or square that has many rooms and apartments both above and below the main level.

The rooms have a striking treatment of light and shade generated by the many light wells. Stairs are organised around the light wells to make use of the sunlight. These palaces are the first known structures to have staircases with regular landings.

Note the use of wood as a beam to support the ledge stone walls above. This method of construction would not alter much in the very dry, warm climate.

Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

The lightwell shown here with the downward tapering columns along the stairwell is typical of Island palaces in the area at that time. The palace of Phaestos, also in Crete, is almost identical. The arrangement of stairs and adjoining rooms, which at first seems chaotic, is the result of the organic growth of the complex. This was not done by a city planner the way Roman cities, developments and palaces were.

The stairs descend towards storage magazines and small living quarters. The same downward tapering columns are found here and above in the hypostyle halls and galleries.

Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

Another lightwell close by has an opening for light but no staircase. The headers for the opening are supported on 5 columns with a different colour and a slightly different style than those above. The roof members would have been wood. The ceiling would have been plaster, possibly on reids or matting.

This small room has three doors that exit onto different rooms and terraces. A room having multiple openings is called a poliithyron. The paintings on the wall are copies of the frescoes that were once directly on the wall surface.

Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

Columns are also used along staircases without central light wells in many parts of the palace. The support beams were built up and placed above the abacuses.

Knossos and Crete are located quite a distance south of Athens and south of many North African cities. The light is intense all times of the year, so side lighting would be adequate in many cases as well.



Palace of Knossos


The Griffin is a mythical creature that is half bird and half lion. Here the beast is in a peaceful setting as decoration, as opposed to the images above from Persepolis where the griffin was fighting the emperor. Here he looks to be almost a pet.

Most of the Minoan decoration is fish, mythical creatures or scenes of palace life.

Griffin at Palace of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

Wall paintings, frescoes and pottery all have pictures of a bright, leisurely society, surrounded by wine, butterflies and flowers.

An earthquake in 1600 damaged the palace and badly hurt the island. The palace was largely rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by fire in the 14th century BC.

This signaled the end of the Minoan ageand the beginning of the Mycenaens.

Palace of Knossos


Mycenea was built on mainland Greece and was vulnerable to a wide variety of invaders. Crete, on the other hand, was the central naval power for many centuries, and many small islands were protected by the Minoan armies. These islands were unified politically very early on, and thus a leisure lifestyle was allowed to grow and flourish. The Minoan island palaces were built to protect the inhabitants, but they were largely protected by the sea.

Mainland Greece, in contrast, was composed of fortified towns that were situated within the agricultural areas and meant to house the inhabitants in time of conflict. The king or chieftain would be housed luxuriously in the palace, and the farmers and farm workers would supply the palace and gain protection in return. The resulting geometry is less decorative and more solid than the island counterparts.

Palace at Tiryns, Mycenae 1400 - 1100 BC

Mycenae was a city in the Peloponnese which flourished between 1600 and 1200 BCE. It was the home of Agamemnon, and the birthplace of the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Mycenae was on mainland Greece. A fortified city of barbaric splendor, the ordinary citizens lived in reed huts outside the city walls.




The stonework is constructed of such gigantic pieces of stone that it is often referred to as cyclopean.

In the distance can be seen the circuitous route needed to approach the palace. This was, obviously, for defense. The roadway led through two gateways and two propylaea composed of an inner and and outer columned porch with one single doorway into the inner walled space.



The King's residential apartments and palace were at the top of the hill, and the king's court and retainers had smaller residences along the northern edge of this. A large open area between the smaller residences and the ramparts was to house the farmers for extended periods during times of siege.

The buildings were of rubble often faced by ashlar stonework.



War was the major business, so most of the buildings were fortress like in nature. The citadel was built to protect the people and trade. The walls were 6 -7 meters thick and as much as 10 metres high.

The gateway to the Palace of Tiryns was built to protect. The lintel is 4.9 m (16ft) long and spans an opening of 3.2m (10ft6inches). The massive jambs support the lintel as well as a huge wooden door with iron hinges.





Lion's Gate

The Lion Gate is the best known detail of the Palace of Tiryns, part of the large citadel. Two lions are facing the downward tapering column typical of Agean architecture of the time. The column supports a lintel with round logs as shown above.



Lion gate


The walls of the fortress were constructed of heavy stone. This is referred to as cyclopean, the blocks of stone are huge and irregular, yet fitted together perfectly with no mortar joints. Cyclopean architecture is found in Etruscan, Anatolian other Greek sites.


Troglodytes and Nuragi

In many centers throughout the Fertile Crescent and southern Europe, what we now know as France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, you can find housing dating from many millennia BC. Early houses and settlements are generally in temperate climates and make good use of natural lighting and local materials. Those who built their homes within

the existing caves are called troglodytes. Sources differ in the dating of the earliest settlements, but good examples can be found in a number of places. The often cave houses have separate rooms, ledges for shelving, beds and couches, and stone tables.

Les Baux de Province

The rock spur that forms the base of Les Baux de Province is found adjacent to the Alpilles in southern France. The climate is relatively mild in the winter and extremely hot in the summer. This is the perfect setting for early man who found the vertical ravines useful for protection from predators, both man and beast. The limestone that comprises the hill had many natural crevices that were hollowed out by early man to form two and three room houses. Many of these dwellings were occupied up until the late 1800s. The surrounding hills have similar cave dwellings.


Les Baux de Province

The houses that are situated on the side of the hill, such as the one above, are facing south and are accessible from only one rocky craig. Those found on the top of the plateau like this one were more easily accessible and larger in size. Windows were cut into many walls to allow views across the valleys. Fresh water was not available on top of the plateau so the inhabitants carved gullies into the rock face which drained rain water into a basin or rock cavern. These houses are generally south facing as well.


Les Baux de Province

Other houses were carved out of the rock face of a southwest facing rise on the plateau. Inside the house, sections of the walls were carved out to form basins for water and oil .The region produces some of the best olive oil in the world, There is evidence in the bible and other sources, that olive oil was produced several millennia before the birth of Christ.

Shelving and storage areas can be found in the houses as well as in the public areas. Beds, chairs and tables were also made from stone as well as wood.

The image on the right shows a water gully coming down from a plateau higher up. Small holes on the exterior wall were for pigeons - an original dove cote.


Syracuse Italy

Above the Greek theatre in Syracuse are a crescent of natural rock outcrops that provide a southern exposeure over a dell and series of natural plains that descend gently to the sea. The soft limestone of the cave walls plus the brilliant location makes this a natural site for early troglodytes.

During the Greek era, these caves became sites for worship, just as those in Athens and other centers were, but they were used prior to this as living accomodations.



The Ancient World Extra Reading and Films


Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs and Steel, New York, W.W.Norton and Company, 1999

Hawkins, Gerald, Stonehenge Decoded, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1965

Rutherford, Edward, Sarum, The Novel of England, New York, Ivy Books, 1987

Tarnas, Richard, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, Toronto, Penguin, 1987

Wright, Ronald, A Short History of Progress, Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2004



Alexander - Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie

Stargate -

The Mummy - Brandon Fraeser



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