The Enclosure Walls – Ancient Egyptian Temple Elements 04


The causeway or processional path leading from the landing quay eventually entered the temple proper marked by its surrounding enclosure wall, called sebty during Egypt’s New Kingdom, when they were most common. During that period, they sometimes were built around whole towns. These walls actually served several purposes. There was the obvious intent to protect the temple complex from outright attack, either during times of civil strife or foreign invasion. Of course, the wall also marked the boundaries of the god’s estate, sealing it from the countryside and the surrounding inhabitants. However, more subtly, the enclosure wall blocked out, both symbolically and physically, the confusion and disorder of the outside world, creating an atmosphere conducive the temple’s sacred role.

There were also physical attributes of these enclosure walls that had a symbolic purpose. They were often built with alternating concave and convex sections that many Egyptologists believe to have represented the waters of the mythical primeval waters. Others believe that this wave pattern was simply a practical method of preventing the walls from cracking due to shrinkage of the bricks or swelling ground during the Nile floods. However, it should be noted that, while other enclosure walls exist, only those surrounding temple complexes (or areas controlled by the temple estate) take this form.

This wave pattern could be complex, including a wave design in the width of the wall. At other times, the wave might be built into only the upper reaches of the wall above regular horizontal layers of brick, as we find in the Temple of Edfu, or above a regular stone foundation such as that at Philae.

Enclosure walls were almost always built out of mud brick, though in large temples, they were sometimes laid over a framework of wooden beams and reed mats. The walls were certainly not simply ornamental, for many were as thick as 10 meters (30 feet). Some even had rounded battlements and occasionally, bastions or fortified gateways, features that took many years for the medieval knights of Europe to reinvent. usually, and also for defensive purposes, the number of entrances in the enclosure wall was kept to a minimum.


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