Friday, June 13, 2008

Places of Worship


Most of the known Pharaonic temples such as the Temples of Karnak, Luxor, and Ramesses the Second belonged to the era of the New Kingdom. Many of Egypt's temples became complex systems of buildings, added to by generations of pharaohs. The architecture of the temple was characterized by spaciousness and the contrast between light and darkness. It was built so that the temple floor rose toward the holiest place of the temple. This design symbolically represented the ancient Egyptian religious concept of creation where in the midst of the primordial waters, the god created a hill upon which he settled.
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Egyptian temples were often located at a point of religious interest, and usually oriented in the direction of another significant religious point, such as the believed site of a god's birthplace or grave. However, in a practical sense, the building was often located near a population center, heavily traveled routes, or necessary resources. For example, the Osirion in the temple of Seti the First at Abydos apparently needed a pool of water around the subterranean "grave" of Osiris and so it was located near a natural spring.
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Most of the temples established during the Greco-Roman era such as the Temple of Horus at Edfu and the Temple of Dendera were in the areas of Upper Egypt and Nubia. In general, all these temples have the same features as the Egyptian temple, a style that continued throughout the Roman era. The Sobek temple, discovered in 1912 at Faiyum, is a marvelous example of a Roman temple. When the Christians were suffering from Roman persecution, they would take refuge in the desert, dwelling in the ancient Pharaonic temples. They left many writings on temple walls next to the ancient writings. The Karnak and Edfu temples still show remnants of Christian worship.
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During the Christian period, the church became the official place of worship. Coptic churches in Egypt were built in the Basilic style, such as the Basilica at Dendera, the Virgin Mary Church, the Hanging Church, and Mar Girgis Church. Marble, mosaic, ebony, and wood were used in marvelous architectural elements, such as altars, lamps, and candelabrums containing inscriptions and crosses. Many of these churches are built where it is believed that the baby Jesus and his family made stops in their journey through Egypt.
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The rise of monasticism in Egypt produced a unique Christian architecture in the monasteries. These were built in places far from urban communities to provide the inhabitants with serenity and calmness. A number of monasteries have been discovered in the Natron Valley, Esna, and Nekada. Many Coptic Christian popes were selected from the Monastery of Saint Macarius in Wadi Al-Natron. Saint Antony's Monastery is billed as the world's oldest monastery and other ancient monasteries include the White Monastery and the Red Monastery.
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Because Islam spread through a vast territory quickly, the use of local building material and ideas by local craftsman and architects created distinguished regional variants. Despite their differences, most mosques follow the basic architectural design of the prophet Mohammad's mosque. This architectural design is mainly concerned with the functional elements for worship and contains many elements such as the mihrab, or prayer niche, and the wooden gates. Such elements were decorated with plant and geometric embellishments. Artists excelled in engraving those pieces and adorning them with ivory and metal inlay.
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In formal mosques, a demarcated space allows room for congregational prayer and is almost always partially roofed and partly open to the sky. The covered prayer hall, or sanctuary (haram), usually varies relative to the size of the open courtyard (sahn). The towering minaret, the most visible part of a mosque, was not in the original design. The expansion of Islam into urban areas created the need for an elevated place so that the voice of the muezzin calling worshipers to prayer can be heard at a maximum distance.
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The first mosque to be established in Egypt was Amr Ibn al-As Mosque, known as the "Old Mosque," established in AD 641. A number of other large mosques then followed, including the Ibn Tulun, Al-Hakim, and Al-Aqmar Mosques. The Al-Azhar Mosque is considered the first Fatimid monument in Egypt. After the Fatimid era, the hanging mosque style appeared. It sits atop five archways and has a double flight of stairs leading to the main door. Despite the weakened Egyptian state during the Ottoman era, many artistic mosques were built, such as the Solayman Pasha, Senan Pasha, and Queen Safeyah Mosques.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Block Statue of Bak-en-Khonsu

























This block statue bears the name of Bak-en-Khonsu. He is crouched on a thin round cushion. His arms are crossed on his knees and he holds in his right hand a well-detailed plant.


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He wears a headdress that reaches his shoulders leaving ears and neck uncovered. He has a small beard and wears a tight belt.On the right shoulder, two cartouches of King Osorkon the Second of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, are engraved.


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A scene at the front shows Bak-en-Khonsu, designated as "Justified Dead," offering the sign of Maat, or justice, to Amun and Osiris. A long dedicatory hieroglyphic text is on the other sides of the statue.


Dimensions: Height 52 cm

Topics: Myths



Early Egyptians lacked scientific knowledge to explain events such as why the Nile flooded annually, how the sun rose and set each day, and how the world was created. They used stories about gods and goddesses, called myths, to explain these natural events and to reflect their society's ideals. Religious significance separates myth from folk tales or legends as myths are considered both sacred and true.One ancient Egyptian creation myth originating from Heliopolis relates the story of the Ennead, or group of nine gods. It tells of a time when nothing existed. The primordial waters of chaos receded and left in their wake a mound of fertile black soil on which the god Atum was seated. From himself, he created the deities Shu and Tefnut. Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Geb and Nut who gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys.
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Another creation myth originated in Hermopolis, where Thoth was worshiped as the patron god. In this tradition there are eight gods, called the Ogdoad, who are made up of four male and female couples: Nun and Nunet, Amun and Amunet, Heh and Hehet, Kek and Keket. The males had the heads of frogs and the females had serpent's heads. The Hermopolis creation myth has several variations. The Cosmic Egg from which the god of creation was born was laid by a celestial goose or in some versions, the ibis, the bird associated with the god Thoth. Or a lotus flower rose from the waters and opened to reveal a child-god.
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Most ancient Egyptians would not live past the mid-twenties, so they sought comfort in the idea of life continuing after death. Their observations of nature supported this belief; the sun died in the west and was reborn in the east each day and grain that appeared dead sprouted into a new plant once it was put in the ground. The myth of the death and resurrection of Osiris strengthened the Egyptians belief that they would live again.
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After the creation of the world, Osiris took the throne and married his sister, Isis. He is said to have introduced agriculture, built the first temples, and set fair laws for his people. Osiris was killed by his evil brother Seth, who tore the body to pieces and scattered them. Isis was able to gather all the pieces of the body except one, which had been eaten by a fish. She bandaged them together, creating the first mummy, and used her magic to restore Osiris to life. Osiris then traveled to the underworld to be king and judge of the dead. Before Osiris was killed, Isis became pregnant with Horus, who would grow up to defeat Seth and avenge his father's death.
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When the Greeks and then the Romans conquered Egypt, they found many similarities among the gods of Egypt and the Greco-Roman gods. Their gods and goddesses were guided by human emotions and stories about them were used to entertain, teach morals, and explain the unknown. Ptolemy the First introduced a god named Serapis who was intended to be a supreme deity shared by the Greek and Egyptian people in Egypt. Serapis, whose name is a combination of Osiris and the Apis Bull, was the god of fertility, healing, supreme leadership, and the afterlife.
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By the Islamic period, Egyptian mythological influences were still present in religious thinking. The Muslims were concerned with a life after death in heaven as well. Although not specifically mentioned in the Qur'an, some religious scholars made references to the scales in the afterlife in which the books containing the deceased's deeds are weighed, similar to the weighing of the heart against the feather of Ma'at, or what is true and right.