Architecture Around the World....................Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Egyptian / Egyptian Revival Architecture - Table of Contents

Illustrated Egyptian Columns


Lotus column

Lotus column: lotus and volute capital

Palm column

Palmette column
Papyrus column: bundled shaft, closed bud capital

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, open capital

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, open bell capital

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, closed capital
Papyrus column: open capital

Papyrus column: composite capital 2 papyrus species

Papyrus column: bundled papyrus stalks with volutes

Papyrus column: bundled papyrus stalks, palmettes, and closed buds

See also:

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

Capitals formed of heads of the goddess supporting the model of a temple front

Lotus column

Lotus column: lotus and volute capital

Appear to also have originated in the Middle Kingdom, and and take the form of a statue of the god
Osiris on the pillar's front surface.

Palm column

Palmette column
Top (broken): palm leaves
Center: palmette

Papyrus column: bundled shaft, closed bud capital

Identified as a lotus bud cpital: 1894 Architectural Record, Volume 3, p. 147

Identified as a papyriform column: Monroe Edgar in The Columns of Ancient Egypt

Identified as a papyriform column: Sjef Willockx, Ancient Egypt: Elements of its Cultural History

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, open capital

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, open bell capital
AKA Open papyrus column

Papyrus column: smooth shaft, closed single bud capital

Papyrus column: open capital

Papyrus column: composite capital
2 papyrus species: eight plants of of the common Cyperus papyrus (above) alternate with eight of Cyperus alopecuroides (below)

Papyrus column: bundled papyrus stalks with lotus blossoms (volutes)

Papyrus column: bundled papyrus stalks (painted red, largest), palmettes, and closed buds (lotus?)

Tombs and temples reproduced the elements of domestic architecture on the grandest possible scale and in the most durable materials.

Bundles of papyrus stalks used as supports in mud huts were transformed into the majestic carved stone papyrus columns and capitals of the temples.

No less the about 30 different column forms have been isolated from temples of the various periods.

Most of the time, the columns shafts were copies in stone of supports made from plants, resembling either a trunk or a bundle of stems of smaller diameter. Also the shape of the capital, the top of the column, also had a plant theme, and at the transition of the capital to the shaft, five bands might be found representing the lashing which held together the bundle of stems of which the earliest columns were made. Above the capital a low abacus usually connected the column to the architraves placed above it.

Massive funerary monuments and temples were built of stone using post-and-lintel construction, with closely spaced columns carrying the stone lintels, supporting a flat roof. A hypostylehall (having a roof or ceiling supported by rolls of columns), crowded with columns, received light from clerestories.

In the very earliest of Egyptian history, columns were often made from one large monolithic block. However, in all later periods columns were usually built up in sectional blocks that were then first shaped and then smoothed from the top down. They were then normally painted, and afterwards, were difficult to tell that they were not cut from a single piece of stone.

Column shafts were often decorated with colorful depictions in painted, carved relief, and remain some of the most interesting architectural elements in Egyptian structures. 

Papyrus was the heraldic plant of Lower (northern) Egypt. Lotus was the symbolic plant of Upper (southern) Egypt. They are positioned symbolically on the northern and southern sides of the hall.

  World's first stone columns at Saqqara Necropolis, Egypt

"Reaching a height of almost six meters, the columns in the colonnade were composed of drum shaped segments. However, they were not freestanding, but were rather connected with the side walls by masonry projections. At this early date, the architects obviously did not yet trust columns as sole supports, for the most part. The form of the columns is modeled on a bundle of plant stems."

Egyptian columns

Reprinted from
A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method
by Sir Banister-Fletcher, New York, 1950, pp. 41-42; Drawings: p. 43

Columns, seldom over six diameters high, often appear in the form of papyrus or lotus stalks tied at intervals by bands.

The circular shafts curve in towards the base like sheathed stalks and sometimes stand on thick unmoulded bases which in shape somewhat resemble a Dutch cheese.

Another form of support were the Osiris pillars used in the mortuary temples at Thebes, the forerunners of the Caryatids of the Greeks, while the 6-sided columns of the Tombs at Beni Hasan are another variety.

Capitals mostly follow the forms of the lotus (emblem of Upper Egypt), the papyrus (emblem of Lower Egypt), and the palm, and are as follows:

See LARGER size drawing

Egyptian Columns

... the columns all have smooth shafts, but there are two different types of capitals: bud shaped and bell shaped, or campaniform.

Although the columns are structural members ... their function as carriers of vertical stress is almost hidden by horizontal bands of relief sculpture and painting, suggesting that the intention of the architects was not to emphasize the functional role of the columns so much as to utilize them as surfaces for decoration. This contrasts sharply with most Egyptian practice as well as with later Greek architecture, in which the architects emphasized the vertical lines of the column and its structural function by freeing the surfaces of the shaft from all ornament....

The post-and-lintel structure of Egyptian temples appears to have had its origin in an early building technique that used firmly bound sheaves of reeds and swamp plants as roof supports in adobe structures... Evidence of their swamp-plant origin is still seen in these columns at Karnak and Luxor, which are carved to resemble lotus or papyrus, with bud-cluster or bell-shaped capitals. Painted decorations, traces of which still can be seen on the surfaces of the shafts and capitals ,emphasized these natural details. In fact, the flora of the Nile valley supplied the basic decorative motifs in all Egyptian art.

The formalization of plant forms into the rigid profiles of architecture closely parallels the formalization of human bodies and action that the Egyptians achieved so skillfully in tomb painting and sculpture.

- Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition, by Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner. Harcourt Brace College Pub. 1996, p. 87


Column shafts and capitals were typically formed out of stacked stone drums or half drums. These could be centered atop each course by the use of plumb lines, either aligning the drums using markings at their centers or via vertical grooves along their sides. ...

Decorative elements on shafts and capitals could be cut directly from the stacked blocks once in place. That the two elements were not usually designed and cut from separate blocks before construction is demonstrated on those columns where the springing of the capital does not align with the joint of two blocks.

Once a column was carved and topped with an abacus (the element which made direct contact with the ceiling architraves) it could then be dressed and smoothed. The remains of colorful paint on columns at Karnak, such as the tent-pole shaped columns in the Akhmenu festival hall, show that the final decoration of some columns included extensive painting.

- Digital Karnak: Construction Methods and Building Materials

Egyptian entablature: usually consists of an architrave, a torus molding, and a cavetto.

Photo and arrangement 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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