When considering ancient Egyptian temples, one of the prominent features that come to mind is columns. The Karnak Temple, in particular, is renowned for its obelisks, towers, columns, and statues, and it is unimaginable without them. These columns in ancient Egypt were adorned with vibrant paintings and intricate carvings, considered a hallmark of Egyptian architectural prowess. The term "Egyptian columns" encompasses everything from those found in ancient times to contemporary columns influenced by ancient Egyptian ideas and advancements.
In most ancient times, temples of ancient Egypt were crafted from a single large monotheistic block. But, later on, it changed into the use of sectional blocks for the purpose. But after painting, it seemed difficult to judge whether the column was cut from a single or sectioned piece.
During the era from 3050 B.C. till 900 B.C. when the great kings of Egypt ruled, the earliest builders made columns from large blocks of sandstone, limestone, and red granite, later on, the idea of using stacks of stone disks was introduced. Egyptian columns are diverse and range from 16 sides polygon to circular columns. Imhotep, the ancient Egyptian architect was known to carve stone columns resembling bundled reeds and other plants. The columns were placed closer to ensure they can carry the heavy weight of the stone roof beams.
- The stone shafts were carved in a way that they resembled bundled reeds, tree trunks, or plant stem
- The capital was bud-shaped or bell-shaped, campaniform
- Motifs on the capitals/ tops were lily, palm, lotus, or papyrus plant
- Decorations usually were brightly painted carved relief decorations
Plant Style Columns, which consist of:
This early form of column resembled bundled reeds or plant stems but was sometimes made as polygonal shafts as well. Referred to as the most interesting fluted columns in Egypt, there were the first stone columns on earth and lost their charm when the new styles emerged which depicted a more complex structure.
Used in non-secular buildings, but rarely in religious architectures, this resembles a simple lotus bud form and finds ample use in old and middle kingdom temples. In the new kingdom, their use declined, the ribbed shafts represent lotus stems and capitals are made in the form of a closed bud or open lotus flower. Lotus here refers to a type of water lily.
These were used in earlier times in Egypt and were at the inner side of the court. The columns depicted a palm tree motif, but not the tree, and eight palm fronts were lashed to a pole.
The column was made in several variations some in a circular form representing the single plant, while others as ribbed with multiple stems. The capitals were closed buds or open bell-shaped forms. These are not free-standing columns and found ample use in Egyptian history and during the new kingdom as well.
The column form was not so popular and used in later temples. It has a fluted shaft surmounted by a top resembling the branches of a conifer tree.
Tent Pole columns
Constructed of brick, these are stone representations of wooden poles used for supporting tents, kiosks, shrines, or ship cabins. Earliest of Egypt’s structures, but their use is still mystical.
Common during the Greco-Roman era, these depicted an evolutionary extension with capital decorations in floral patterns and even imagined plants. The variations are endless and were different from the Egyptian variety of columns.
The many forms included floral columns or pillars, circular, square, or ribbed pillars, and a flower-shaped capital that seemed common. These column types were rare but the stylized versions could be seen during the Greco-Roman period.
In addition to plant-styled columns, there were no plant-style columns in ancient Egypt which represented deities or their attributes. The two most common types included Hathoric Columns and Osiride Pillars.
Egyptian columns in the Western world
With the onset of Classical Orders of Architecture, Greek and Roman ideas, and innovations were used in Egyptian column styles leading to an evolution in the Western world. About 2000 years later, the architect was borrowed by Europe and the United States to add those exquisites look and architectural addition.