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New Kingdom temples: Temple of Amon at Luxor

No more pyramids!

By the time of the New Kingdom, about 1500 BC, nobody was building pyramids anymore (that’s how we know that if the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they certainly weren’t building pyramids).

Pharaohs still had big, beautiful tombs, but they were long, low buildings, not pyramids.

But what about the pyramids?
When was the New Kingdom?
Lots more Ancient Egypt articles

Obelisk from Luxor: a tall pointed stone with hieroglyphs on it

Obelisk from Luxor

Instead, they built temples

But mostly people in New Kingdom Egypt were building temples to the gods. Architects had learned to how to build big open buildings with stone columns and stone roofs – they didn’t need to build solid pyramids anymore.

Who were the Egyptian gods?

Houses for the gods

Egyptians thought of these temples as houses for their gods. They put statues of gods inside the temple, and treated them like people – they dressed them in beautiful clothes every morning, brought them meals, took them out for walks and boat rides, and asked them for help with their problems.

The Egyptian goddess Isis
Who was the god Amun?

Luxor temple entrance

New Kingdom temples: Luxor temple entrance

Inside Egyptian temples

Mostly only priests and temple slaves went inside the actual temples, so they were mainly designed to be impressive from the outside.

Egyptians built many temples out of limestone or sandstone. Usually an Egyptian temple had two rows of columns leading up to a very impressive entrance, often with obelisks or giant statues, or both, and a big solid wall.

More about limestone
What is sandstone?

Courtyard at Luxor

Courtyard at Luxor

Once you were through the gate, you were in a courtyard, and across the courtyard there was another door, and another courtyard with a row of columns holding up a roof all around the edge.

After that courtyard, you came to another double row of columns, which led to yet another courtyard with a roofed porch around the edge, and finally to the inner hall of the god, which was filled with a forest of columns.

But mostly ordinary people had to stay outside the temple altogether, and even rich people only got to the first couple of courtyards.

Compare to Chinese temples

People in Egypt were building these temples about the same time as the Shang Dynasty in China was building their first temples. But the Egyptian temples were all built of stone. In China, Shang Dynasty temples had wooden columns and thatched roofs.

More about early Chinese temples

Learn by doing: Writing Hieroglyphs
The end of the New Kingdom in Egypt – the Dark Ages

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian architecture:

Pyramid, by David Macaulay (1982). His architectural drawings are great, and his explanations are simple and clear. Easy reading.

Eyewitness: Pyramid, by James Putnam (2000). Easy reading. Good photographs.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), by William Stevenson Smith and William Kelly Simpson (revised edition 1999). Standard college textbook.

Need a second source? Check out this article from the Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

More on the New Kingdom in Egypt
And more Egyptian Architecture
More about Ancient Egypt home