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Egypt’s Funeral Architecture

The Egyptians, as history portrays it, are men of great power and respect. Their influence can be seen in almost every part of the world, showing how interesting their lifestyle must have been. One element of their daily lives that really struck the world is their funeral practices. In this paper, I would discuss two points of the Egyptians’ funeral elements, their funerary architecture and their artistic representation of their dead. For their architecture, one word would always stick to our minds- the pyramids. Pyramids were massive structures, normally built to house the tombs of Egyptian kings.

But even before the rise of the pharaohs, tombs are very much exaggerated in Egypt. The earliest of these are the Mastabas. These are structures made from mud and bricks, with a deep chamber dug inside. The dead of eminent Egyptians were buried in these chambers, usually numbering to more than one in a single mastaba (Watson 42). These tombs lasted from the predynastic to the early dynastic periods of Egypt. It was the architect Imhotep who started the pyramid-style by adding several mastabas over a single land. The upper levels were made to be smaller than the previous one, resulting to steps, hence the term “Step Pyramid”.

The structures are seemingly composed of “steps” on which the dead can climb up to the heavens. Although triangular in their facade, the inside of the pyramids are very spacious, with openings to several rooms located around the area. In the largest room sits the main tomb, normally keeping the grave of a pharaoh or his consorts (Watson 50). Pyramid building became frenzy during the following years, as hundreds of pyramids in varying locations were constructed. The sphinx, found in Giza is another structure that symbolizes the power of the king.

Side by side with the pyramids, these reveal the great deal of respect the Egyptians have with their dead. The sizes, however, were shown to decrease throughout time, as suggested by loss of power and resources such as rocks, sand, and even slaves and laborers. Today, more than half of the discovered pyramids are much smaller than the first standard pyramid (Watson 50). The pyramids are surely evidences of Egypt’s beliefs on life after death. Their beliefs, are in fact, so great that they go extreme in representing their dead through their art.

During the ancient times, Egyptians would deposit their paintings in the tomb, to provide a pleasant environment for the dead. Some are paintings of warriors in victory, or activities which the deceased loved. During the New Kingdom, the “Book of Dead” came into the picture, an artistic literature believed as a guide for the afterlife (Riggs 95). Another element of funerary art in the Early Dynastic period is the use of shadows in portraying dead and mummies. The perfect blending of light and shadows gave a three-dimensional effect, only once achieved through sculptures.

Paintings and drawings of the dead are normally done as mummies, sometimes presented in the tombs and coffins themselves (Riggs 96). Following the Early Dynastic period, representations started to become more natural, like presenting artificial things worn by the dead – jewelries, clothing, and make-up (Riggs 97). This is to show how life after death is – not far from how they once lived. Aside from these paintings, the worldly materials and possessions of the deceased would also be included in his tomb. Artistic representation was then not only in paper, but also practiced in their real life.

All in all, the funerary practices of the Egyptians were shaped by several factors, including the power of the current pharaoh, the materials and resources available, and their cultural beliefs and norms about life after death. All of these were interwoven to present a great variety of architecture and art that became a solid foundation for the Egyptian’s reign. Works Cited Riggs, Christina. The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt. London: Oxford UP, 2005. Watson, Philip. Egyptian Pyramids and Mastaba Tombs of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Michigan: Shire, 1987.

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