3000 B.C. TO A.D. 328.

ARCHITECTURE seems to me to be the most wonderful of all the arts. We may not love it as much as others, when we are young perhaps we cannot do so, because it is so great and so grand; but at any time of life one can see that in Architecture some of the most marvellous achievements of men are displayed. The principal reason for saying this is that Architecture is not an imitative art, like Painting and Sculpture. The first picture that was ever painted was a portrait or an imitation of something that the painter had seen. So in Sculpture, the first statue or bas-relief was an attempt to reproduce some being or object that the sculptor had seen, or to make a work which combined portions of several things that he had observed; but in Architecture this was not true. No temples or tombs or palaces existed until they had first taken form in the mind and imagination of the builders, and were created out of space and nothingness, so to speak. Thus Painting and Sculpture are imitative arts, but Architecture is a constructive art; and while one may love pictures2 or statues more than the work of the architect, it seems to me that one must wonder most at the last.

We do not know how long the earth has existed, and in studying the most ancient times of which we have any accurate knowledge, we come upon facts which prove that men must have lived and died long before the dates of which we can speak exactly. The earliest nations of whose Architecture we can give an account are called heathen nations, and their art is called Ancient or Heathen Art, and this comes down to the time when the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, and changed the Roman Capitol from Rome to Constantinople in the year of our Lord 328.

The buildings and the ruins which still remain from these ancient times are in Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Judea, Asia Minor, Greece, Etruria, and Rome. Many of these have been excavated or uncovered, as, during the ages that have passed since their erection, they had been buried away from sight by the accumulation of earth about them. These excavations are always going on in various countries, and men are ever striving to learn more about the wonders of ancient days; and we may hope that in the future as marvellous things may be revealed to us as have been shown in the past.


As we consider the Architecture of Egypt, the Great Pyramid first attracts attention on account of its antiquity and its importance. This was built by Cheops, who is also called Suphis, about 3000 years before Christ. At that distant day the Egyptians seem to have been a nation of pyramid-builders, for even now, after all the years that have rolled between them and us, we know of more than sixty of these mysterious monuments which have been opened and explored.

3 Of all these the three pyramids at Ghizeh (Fig. 1) are best known, and that of Cheops is the most remarkable among them. Those of you who have studied the history of the wars of Napoleon I. will remember that it was near this spot that he fought the so-called Battle of the Pyramids, and that in addressing his soldiers he reminded them that here the ages looked down upon them, thus referring to the many years during which this great pyramid had stood on the border of the desert, as if watching the flight of Time and calmly waiting to see what would happen on the final day of all earthly things.

There have been much speculation and many opinions as to the use for which these pyramids were made, but the most general belief is that they were intended for the tombs of the powerful kings who reigned in Egypt and caused them to be built.

The pyramid of Cheops was four hundred and eighty feet and nine inches high, and its base was seven hundred and sixty-four feet square. It is so difficult to understand the size of anything from mere figures, that I shall try to make it plainer by saying that it covers more than thirteen acres of land, which is more than twice as much as is covered by any building in the world. Its height is as great as that of any cathedral spire in Europe, and more than twice that of the monument on Bunker Hill, which is but two hundred and twenty feet, and yet looks very high.

Fig. 2.—The Ascent of a Pyramid.

When it was built it was covered with a casing of stone, the different pieces being fitted together and polished to a surface like glass; but this covering has been torn away and the stones used for other purposes, which has left the pyramid in a series of two hundred and three rough and jagged steps, some of them being two feet and a half in height, growing less toward the top, but not diminishing with any regularity. The top is now a platform thirty-two feet and eight inches square. Each traveller who ascends4 this pyramid has from one to four Fellahs or Arabs, who pull him forward or upward by his arms, or push him and lift him from behind, and finally drag him to the top (Fig. 2). When he thinks of all the weary months and days of the twenty years during which it is said that those who built it worked, cutting out the stone in the quarries, moving it to the spot where it was required, and then raising it to the great heights and fitting it all in place, he regards his fatigue in its ascent as a little thing, though at the time it is no joke to him.

Fig. 3.—View of Gallery in the Great Pyramid.

Many of the pyramids were encased in stone taken from the Mokattam Mountains, which were somewhat more than half a mile distant; but the pyramid of Cheops was covered with the red Syenite granite, which must have been quarried in the “red mountain,” nearly five hundred miles away, near to Syene, or the modern Assouan. The interior of the pyramid is divided into chambers and passages (Fig. 3), which are lined with beautiful slabs of granite and constructed5 in such a way as to prove that at the remote time in which the pyramids were built Egyptian architects and workmen were already skilled in planning and executing great works. Of the seventy pyramids known to have existed in those early days, sixty-nine had the entrance on the north side, leaving but a single exception to this rule; all of them were situated on the western side of the River Nile, just on the edge of the desert, beyond the strip of cultivable ground which borders the river.

Fig. 4.—Poulterer’s Shop.

Near the pyramids there are numerous tombs, which are built somewhat like low houses, having several apartments with but one entrance from the outside. The walls of these apartments are adorned with pictures similar to this one of a poulterer’s shop (Fig. 4); they represent the manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians with great exactness.

Fig. 5.—Rock-cut Tomb, Beni-Hassan.

The tombs at Beni-Hassan are among the most ancient ruins of Egypt, and are very interesting (Fig. 5). They were made between 2466 and 2266 B.C. They are on the eastern bank of the Nile, and are hewn out of the solid6 rock; they are ornamented with sculptures and pictures which are full of interest; it has been said that these tombs were built by the Pharaoh, or king, of Joseph’s time, and one of the paintings is often spoken of as being a representation of the brethren of Joseph; but of this there is no proof. The colors of the pictures are fresh and bright, and they show that many of the customs and amusements of that long, long ago were similar to our own, and in some cases quite the same. The manufactures of glass and linen, cabinet work, gold ornaments, and other artistic objects are pictured there; the games of ball, draughts, and morra are shown, while the animals, birds, and fishes of Egypt are all accurately depicted.

An interesting thing to notice about these tombs is the7 way in which the epistyle—the part resting upon the columns—imitates squarely-hewn joists, as if the roof were of wood supported by a row of timbers. When we come to the architecture of Greece we shall see that its most important style, the Doric, arose from the imitation in stone of the details of a wooden roof, and from a likeness between these tombs and the Doric order, this style has been named the Proto-Doric.

The tombs near Thebes which are called the “Tombs of the Kings,” and many other Egyptian tombs, are very interesting, and within a short time some which had not before been observed have been opened, and proved to be rich in decorations, and also to contain valuable ornaments and works of art, as well as papyri, or records of historical value.

The most magnificent of all the Egyptian tombs is that of King Seti I., who began to reign in 1366 B.C. He was fond of splendid buildings, and all the architects of his time were very busy in carrying out his plans. His tomb was not discovered until 1817, and was then found by an Italian traveller, whose name, Belzoni, has been given to the tomb. The staircase by which it is entered is twenty-four feet long, and opens into a spacious passage, the walls of which are beautifully ornamented with sculptures and paintings. This is succeeded by other staircases, fine halls, and corridors, all of which extend four hundred and five feet into the mountain in which the tomb is excavated, making also a gradual descent of ninety feet from its entrance. It is a wonderful monument to the skill and taste of the architects who lived and labored more than three thousand years ago.

The two principal cities of ancient Egypt were Memphis and Thebes. The first has been almost literally taken to pieces and carried away, for as other more modern cities have been built up near it, the materials which were first used in the old temples and palaces have been carried here and there, and again utilized in erecting new edifices.

8 Thebes, on the contrary, has stood alone during all the centuries that have passed since its decline, and there is now no better spot in which to study the ancient Egyptian architecture, because its temples are still so complete that a good idea can be formed from them of what they must have been when they were perfect. The ruins at Thebes are on both banks of the Nile, and no description can do justice to their grandeur, or give a full estimate of their wonders; but I shall try to tell something of the palacetemple of Karnak, which has been called “the noblest effort of architectural magnificence ever produced by the hand of man.”

The word palacetemple has a strange sound to us because we do not now associate the ideas which the two words represent. Many palaces of more modern countries and times have their chapels, but the union of a grand temple and a grand palace is extremely rare, to say the least. Perhaps the Vatican and St. Peter’s at Rome represent the idea and spirit of the Egyptian palace-temples as nearly as any buildings that are now in existence.

The Egyptian religion controlled all the affairs of the nation. The Pharaoh, or king, was the chief of the religion, as well as of the State. When a king came to the throne he became a priest also, by being made a member of a priestly order. He was instructed in sacred learning; he regulated the service of the temple; on great occasions he offered the sacrifices himself, and, in fact, he was considered not only as a descendant of gods, but as a veritable god. In some sculptures and paintings the gods are represented as attending upon the kings, and after the death of a king the same sort of veneration was paid to him as that given to the gods. This explains the building of the palace and temple together, and shows the reason why the gods and the kings, and the affairs of religion and of government, could not be separated. As we study the arts of different countries we are constantly reminded that the religion of a9 people is the central point from which the arts spring forth. From its teachings they take their tone, and adapt their forms and uses to its requirements. I refer to this fact from time to time because it is important to remember that it underlies much of the art of the world.

It may be said that all the art of Egypt was devoted to the service of its religion. Of course this is true of that used in the decoration of the temples; it is also true of all that did honor to the kings, because they were regarded as sacred persons, and all their wars and wonderful acts which are represented in sculpture and painting, and by statues and obelisks, are considered as deeds that were performed for the sake of the gods and by their aid.

It was also the religious belief in the immortality of the soul that led the Egyptians to build their tombs with such care, and to provide such splendid places in which to lay the body, which was the house of the spirit.

In the study of Architecture it will also be noted that a country which has no national religion—or one in which the government and the religion have no connection with each other—has no absolutely national architecture. It will have certain features which depend upon the climate, the building materials at command, and upon the general customs of the people; but here and there will be seen specimens of all existing orders of architecture, and buildings in some degree representing the art of all countries and periods; such architecture is known by the term composite, because it is composed of portions of several different orders, and has no absolutely distinct character.

This palacetemple of Karnak is made up of a collection of courts and halls, and it is very difficult to comprehend the size of all these parts which go to make up the enormous whole. The entire space devoted to it is almost twice as large as the whole area of St. Peter’s at Rome, and four times as great as any of the other cathedrals of10 Europe; a dozen of the largest American churches could be placed within its limits and there still be room for a few chapels. All this enormous space is not covered by roofs, for there were many courts and passages which were always open to the sky, and one portion was added after another, and by one sovereign and another, until the completion of the whole was made long after the Pharaoh who commenced it had been laid in one of the tombs of the kings.

Fig. 6.—The Hall of Columns at Karnak.

The most remarkable apartment of all is called the great Hypostyle Hall, which high-sounding name means simply a hall with pillars (Fig. 6). This hall and its two pylons, or entrances, cover more space than the great cathedral of Cologne, which is one of the largest and most famous churches of all Europe.

Fig. 7.—Pillar from Thebes.

Showing the three parts.

This splendid hall had originally one hundred and thirty-four magnificent columns, of which more than one hundred still remain; they are of colossal size, some of them being sixty feet high without the base or capital, which would increase them to ninety feet, and their diameter is twelve11 feet. This large number of columns was necessary to uphold the roof, as the Egyptians knew nothing of the arch, and had no way of supporting a covering over a space wider than it was possible to cover by beams. The hall was lighted by making the columns down the middle half as high again as the others, so that the roof was lifted, and the light came in at the sides, which were left open.

As I must speak often of columns, it is well to say here that the column or pillar usually consists of three parts—the base, the shaft, and the capital (Fig. 7). The base is the lowest part on which the shaft rests. Sometimes, as in the Grecian Doric order, the base is left out. The capital is the head of the column, and is usually the most ornamental part, giving the most noticeable characteristics of the different kinds of pillars. The shaft is the body of the pillar, between the base and capital, or all below the capital when the base is omitted.

Fig. 8.—Sculptured Capital.

Fig. 9.—Palm Capital.

Fig. 10.—Pillar from Sedinga.

The Egyptian pillars seem to have grown out of the square stone piers which at first were used for support. The square corners were first cut off, making an eight-sided pier; then some architect carried the cutting farther, and by slicing off each corner once more gave the pillar sixteen sides. The advantage of the octagonal piers over the square ones was that the cutting off of sharp corners made it easier for people to12 move about between them, while the play of light on the sides was more varied and pleasant to the eye. The sixteen-sided pillar did not much increase the first of these advantages, while the face of its sides became so narrow that the variety of light and shade was less distinct and attractive. It is probable that the channelling of the sides of the shaft was first done to overcome this difficulty, by making the shadows deeper and the lights more striking; and we then have a shaft very like that of the Grecian Doric shown in the picture in Fig. 40, or the Assyrian pillars in Figs. 29 and 30. In the Egyptian pillars it was usual to leave one side unchannelled and ornament it with hieroglyphics. In time the forms of the Egyptian pillars became very varied, and the richest ornaments were used upon them. The columns in the hall at Karnak are very much decorated with painting and sculptures, as Fig. 6 shows. The capitals represent the full-blown flowers and the buds of the sacred lotus, or water-lily. In other cases the pillars were made to represent bundles of the papyrus plant, and the capitals were often beautifully carved with palm leaves or ornamented with a female head. (See Figs. 8, 9, and 10).

The whole impression of grandeur made by the Temple of Karnak was increased by the fact that the Temple of13 Luxor, which is not far away, is also very impressive and beautiful, and was formerly connected with Karnak by an avenue bordered on each side with a row of sphinxes cut out of stone. These were a kind of statue which belonged to Egyptian art, and originated in an Egyptian idea, although a resemblance to it exists in the art of other ancient countries (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11.—The Great Sphinx.

Before the Temple of Luxor stood Colossi, or enormous statues, of Rameses the Great, who built the temple, and not far distant were two fine obelisks, one of which is now in Paris.

There was much irregularity in the lines and plan of Egyptian palaces and temples. It often happens that the14 side walls of an apartment or court-yard are not at right angles; the pillars were placed so irregularly and the decorations so little governed by any rule in their arrangement, that it seems as if the Egyptians were intentionally regardless of symmetry and regularity.

The whole effect of the ancient Thebes can scarcely be imagined; its grandeur was much increased by the fact that its splendid buildings were on both banks of the Nile, which river flowed slowly and majestically by, as if it borrowed a sort of dignity from the splendid piles which it reflected, and which those who sailed upon its bosom regarded with awe and admiration. There are many other places on the Nile where one sees wonderful ruins of ancient edifices, but we have not space to describe or even to name them, and Thebes is the most remarkable of all.

Thebes, hearing still the Memnon’s mystic tones,
Where Egypt’s earliest monarchs reared their thrones,
Favored of Jove! the hundred-gated queen,
Though fallen, grand; though desolate, serene;
The blood with awe runs coldly through our veins
As we approach her far-spread, vast remains.
Forests of pillars crown old Nilus’ side,
Obelisks to heaven high lift their sculptured pride;
Rows of dark sphinxes, sweeping far away,
Lead to proud fanes and tombs august as they.
Colossal chiefs in granite sit around,
As wrapped in thought, or sunk in grief profound.
“The mighty columns ranged in long array,
The statues fresh as chiselled yesterday,
We scarce can think two thousand years have flown
Since in proud Thebes a Pharaoh’s grandeur shone,
But in yon marble court or sphinx-lined street,
Some moving pageant half expect to meet,
See great Sesostris, come from distant war,
Kings linked in chains to drag his ivory car;
Or view that bright procession sweeping on,
To meet at Memphis far-famed Solomon,
When, borne by Love, he crossed the Syrian wild,
To wed the Pharaoh’s blooming child.”


The obelisks of ancient Egypt have a present interest which is almost personal to everybody, since so many of them have been taken away from the banks of the Nile and so placed that they now overlook the Bosphorus, the Tiber, the Seine, the Thames, and our own Hudson River; in truth, there are twelve obelisks in Rome, which is a larger number than are now standing in all Egypt.

Fig. 12.—Cleopatra’s Needles.

The above cut (Fig. 12) shows the two obelisks known as Cleopatra’s Needles, as they were seen for a long time at Alexandria. They have both crossed the seas; one was presented to the British nation by Mehemet Ali, and the16 other, which now stands in Central Park, was a gift to America from the late Khedive of Egypt, Ismail Pasha.

The obelisks were usually erected by the kings to express their worship of the gods, and stood before the temple bearing dedications of the house to its particular deity; they were covered with the quaint, curious devices which served as letters to the Egyptians, which we call hieroglyphics, and each sovereign thus recorded his praises, and declared his respect for the special gods whom he wished to honor. They were very striking objects, and must have made a fine effect when the temples and statues and avenues of sphinxes, and all the ancient grandeur of the Egyptians was at its height; and these grave stone watchmen looked down upon triumphal processions and gorgeous ceremonials, and kings and queens with their trains of courtiers passed near them on their way to and from the templepalaces.

It is always interesting to study the houses and homes of a people—domestic architecture, as it is called; but one cannot do that in Egypt. It may almost be said that but one ancient home exists, and as that probably belonged to some royal person, we cannot learn from it how the people lived. There were many very rich Egyptians outside of the royal families, and they dwelt in splendor and luxury; on the other hand, there were multitudes of slaves and very poor people, who had barely enough to eat to keep them alive and enable them to do the work which was set them by their task-masters.

The house of which we speak is at Medinet Habou, on the opposite side of the Nile from Karnak (Fig. 13). It has three floors, with three rooms on each floor, and is very irregular in form. But if we have no ancient houses to study in Egypt, we can learn much about them from the paintings which still exist, and we may believe that the cities which surrounded the old temples fully displayed the17 wealth and taste of the inhabitants. These pictures show the houses in the midst of gardens laid out with arbors, pavilions, artificial lakes, and many beautiful objects, such as we see in the fine gardens of our own day.

Fig. 13.—Pavilion at Medinet Habou.

After about 1200 B.C. there was a long period of decline in the architecture of Egypt; occasionally some sovereign tried to do as the older kings had done, but no real revival of the arts occurred until the rule of the Ptolemies was established; this was after 332 B.C., when Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, who had ruled in Egypt about one hundred and ninety-five years.

Under the Ptolemies Egypt was as prosperous as she had been under the Pharaohs, but the arts of this later time never reached such purity and greatness as was shown in the best days of Thebes; the buildings were rich and splendid instead of noble and grand, or, as we might say, “more for show” than was the older style.

It is singular that, though the Egypt of the Ptolemies was under Greek and Roman influence, it still remained essentially Egyptian. It seems as if the country had a sort of converting effect upon the strangers who planned and built the temples of Denderah, and Edfou, and beautiful Philæ, and made them try to work and build as if they18 were the sons of the pure old Egyptians instead of foreign conquerors. So true is this that before A.D. 1799, when scholars began to read hieroglyphics, the learned men of Europe who studied art believed that these later temples were older than those of Thebes.

Outside of Thebes there is no building now to be seen in Egypt which gives so charming an impression of what Egypt might be as does the lovely temple on the island of Philæ (Fig. 14). Others are more sublime and imposing, but none are so varied and beautiful.

Fig. 14.—Temple on the Island of Philæ.

There is no more attractive spot in Egypt than this island, and when we know that the priests who served in the Temple of Isis here were never allowed to leave the island, we do not feel as if that was a misfortune to them. It was a pity, however, that none but priests were allowed to go there, and in passing I wish to note the fact that this19 was the most ancient monastery of which we know; for that it was in simple fact, and the monks lived lives of strict devotion and suffered severe penance.

The buildings at Philæ, as well as most of those of the Ptolemaic age, had the same irregularity of form of which we have spoken before; their design, as a whole, was fine, but the details were inferior, and it often happens that the sculpture and painting which in the earlier times improved and beautified everything, lost their effect and really injured the appearance of the whole structure.

At first thought one would expect to be able to learn much more about the manners and customs of the later than of the earlier days of Egypt, and to find out just how they arranged their dwellings. But this is not so, for history tells us of nothing save the superstitious religious worship of the conquerors of Egypt. There are no pictures of the houses, or of the occupations and amusements of the people; no warlike stories are told; we have no tombs with their instructive inscriptions; not even the agricultural and mechanical arts are represented in the ruins of this time. The fine arts, the early religion, the spirit of independence and conquest had all died out; in truth, the wonderful civilization of the days of the pyramid-builders and their descendants was gone, and when Constantine came into power Egypt had lost her place among the nations of the earth, and her grandeur was as a tale that is told.

The weakness of Egyptian architecture lay in its monotony or sameness. Not only did it not develop historically, remaining very much the same as long as it lasted, but the same forms are repeated until, even with all their grandeur, they become wearisome. The plan of the temples varies little; the tendency toward the shape of the pyramid appears everywhere; while the powerful influence of the ritual of the Egyptian religion gives a strong likeness among all the places of worship. The Greeks performed20 the most important parts of their service in the open air before their temples, and almost all their care was lavished on exteriors; the Egyptians, on the other hand, elaborated the interior with great abundance of ornaments, yet without that power of adaptation which gave so great an air of variety and grace to Grecian art.

A second and even more serious fault in Egyptian architecture is a want of proportion. In natural organized objects there is always a fixed proportion between the parts, so that if a naturalist is given a single bone of an animal he can reproduce with considerable exactness the entire beast. In art it is necessary to follow this principle of adapting one part to another, and without this both grace and refinement are wanting. The Egyptian temples are often too massive, so that they impress by their size simply, and not by any beauty of plan or arrangement.

Yet for grandeur and impressiveness no nation has ever excelled the Egyptians as builders. One may prefer the style and the ornamentation of the Greeks, or the forms and arrangement of the Gothic order; but, taken as a whole, the combination of architecture, sculpture, painting, and hieroglyphics which goes to make up an Egyptian temple, with the addition of the obelisks, the avenues of sphinxes and the Colossi, which all seemed to belong together—these, one and all, result in a whole that has never been surpassed in effect during the thirty centuries that have rolled over the earth since Cheops built his magnificent tomb on the great desert of Egypt.


Our knowledge of Egyptian history is more exact than that of some other ancient nations, because scholars have been able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics for a much longer time than they have read the cuneiform or arrow-headed21 inscriptions which are found in Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. But we know a great deal about the ruins of Assyria, and especially of the cities of Nineveh and Khorsabad, where there are wonderful architectural remains.

Fig. 15.—Gateways in Walls of Khorsabad.

The walls which surrounded Nineveh are an important part of its ruins. It is said that in the days of the earliest sovereign these walls were one hundred feet high, and so broad that three chariots could drive abreast on their top. This story does not seem unreasonable, for all the years that have passed, and all the dust and deposit of these ages that are collected about the foot of the walls, still leave some places where they are forty-six feet high and from one to two hundred feet wide. The lower portion was of limestone, and the upper of sun-dried bricks; the blocks of stone were neatly hewn out and smoothly polished. The walls surrounded the city, which was so large that one hundred and seventy-five thousand people could live there, and we know that its inhabitants were very numerous. The gates which opened through the walls were surmounted by lofty towers, and it is supposed that shorter towers were built upon the walls between the gateways (Fig. 15).

The above plans show the arrangement of gateways which have been excavated. It seems that there were four separate gates, and between them large chambers which22 may have been used by soldiers or guards. The two outer gates were ornamented by sculptured figures of colossal bulls with human heads and other strange designs; but the inner gates had a plain finish of alabaster slabs. It is thought that arches covered these gateways like some representations of gates which are seen on Assyrian bas-reliefs. Within the gates there is a pavement of large slabs, in which the marks worn by chariot wheels are still plainly seen.

Fig. 16.—Entrance to Smaller Temple, Nimrud.

Fig. 17.—Pavement Slab from Koyunjik.

We learn that the Assyrians made their religion a prominent part of their lives. The inscriptions of the kings begin and end with praises and prayers to their gods, and on all occasions religious worship is spoken of as a principal duty. We know that the monarchs devoted much care to23 the temples, and built new ones continually; but it also appears from the excavations that have been made that they devoted the best of their art and the greatest sum of their riches to the palaces of their kings. The temple was far less splendid than the palace to which it was attached as a sort of appendage. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that the Assyrian kings received more than the monarchs of any other ancient people divine honors while still living; so that the palace was regarded as the actual dwelling of a god. The inner ornamentation of the temples was confined to religious subjects represented on sculptured slabs upon the walls, but no large proportion of the wall was decorated, and the rest was merely plastered and painted in set figures. The gateways and entrances were guarded by sacred figures of colossal bulls, or lions (Fig. 16), and covered with inscriptions; there was a similarity between the palace entrances and those of the temples.

The palaces were always built on artificial platforms, which were made of solid brick or stone, or else the outside walls of the platforms were built of these substances and the middle part filled in with dirt and rubbish. Sometimes the platforms, which were from twenty to thirty feet high,24 were in terraces and flights of steps led up and down from one to another. It also happened that more than one palace was erected on the same platform; thus the size and form of the platforms was much varied, and when palaces were enlarged the platforms were changed also, and their shape was often very irregular. The tops of the platforms were paved with stone slabs or bricks, the last being sometimes as much as two feet square; the pavements were frequently ornamented with artistic designs (Fig. 17), and inscriptions are also found upon them.

Fig. 18.—Remains of Propylæum, or Outer Gateway, Khorsabad.

At the lower part of the platform there was a terrace on which several small buildings were usually placed, and near by was an important gateway, or, more properly, a propylæum, through which every one must pass who entered the palace from the city. The next cut (Fig. 18) shows one of these grand entrances decorated with the human-headed bulls and the figure of what is believed to be the Assyrian Hercules, who is most frequently represented in the act of strangling a lion. Much rich ornament was lavished on these portals, and the entrance space was probably protected by an arch.

25 Below these portals, quite down on a level with the city, there were outer gateways, through which one entered a court in front of the ascent to the lower terrace.

Fig. 19.—Plan of Palace, Khorsabad.

The principal apartments of the palaces were the courts, the grand halls, and the small, private chambers. The fine palaces had several courts each; they varied from one hundred and twenty by ninety feet, to two hundred and fifty by one hundred and fifty feet in size, and were paved in the same way as the platforms outside (Fig. 19).

The grand halls were the finest portions of these splendid edifices; here was the richest ornament, and the walls were lined with sculptured slabs, while colossal bulls, winged genii, and other figures were placed at the entrances. Upon the slabs the principal events in the lives of the monarchs were represented, as well as their portraits, and religious26 ceremonies, battles, and many incidents of interest to the nation (Fig. 20).

Fig. 20.—Relief from Khorsabad. A Temple.

The slabs rested on the paved floors of the halls and reached a height of ten or twelve feet; above them the walls were of burnt brick, sometimes in brilliant colors; the whole height of the walls was from fifteen to twenty feet. The smaller chambers surrounded these grand halls, and the number of rooms was very large; in one palace which has been but partially explored there are sixty-eight apartments, and it is not probable that any Assyrian palace had less than forty or fifty rooms on its ground floor. Of all the palaces which have been examined that of Khorsabad is best known and can be most exactly described. It is believed that Sargon, a son of Sennacherib, built it, and it is very splendid.

After entering at the great portal one passes through various courts and corridors; these are all adorned with sculptures such as have been described above; at length27 one reaches the great inner court of the palace, which was a square of about one hundred and fifty feet in size. This court had buildings on two sides, and the other sides extended to the edge of the terrace of the platform on which the palace was built, and commanded broad views of the open country. On one side the buildings contained the less important apartments of the officers of the court; the grand state apartments were on the other side. There were ten of these at Khorsabad; five were large halls, four were smaller chambers, and one a long and narrow room. Three of the large halls were connected with one another, and their decorations were by far the most splendid of any in the palace. In one of them the sculptures represented the king superintending the reception and chastisement of prisoners, and is called the “Hall of Punishment.” The middle hall has no distinguishing feature, but the third opened into the “Temple Court,” on one side of which the small temple was situated. The lower sculptures of the middle and third halls represented the military history of Sargon, who is seen in all sorts of soldier-like positions and occupations; some of the upper sculptures represent religious ceremonies.

On one side of the Temple Court there were several chambers called Priests’ Rooms, but the temple itself and the portions of the palace connected with it are not as well preserved as the other parts, and have nothing about them to interest us in their study.

The palaces of Nineveh are much less perfect than the palace-temples of Thebes, and cannot be described with as much exactness. There is no wall of them still standing more than sixteen feet above the ground, and we do not even know whether they had upper stories or not, or how they were lighted—in a word, nothing is positively known about them above the ground floors, and it is very strange that the sculptures nowhere represent a royal residence. But what we do know of the Assyrians proves that they28 equalled and perhaps excelled all other Oriental nations as architects and designers, as well as in other departments of art and industry.

Fig. 21.—Restoration of an Assyrian Palace.

This representation of an Assyrian palace (Fig. 21) is a restoration, as it is called, being made up by a careful study of the remains and such facts as can be learned from bas-reliefs, and cannot be wholly unlike the dwellings of the king-gods. It is pleasing in general appearance, and for lightness and elegance is even to be preferred to Egyptian architecture, though it is far inferior in dignity and impressiveness.

The Assyrians knew the use of both column and arch, but never developed either to any extent. They also employed the obelisk, and it is noticeable that instead of terminating it with a pyramid, as was the case in Egypt,29 they capped it with the diminishing terraces, which is the fundamental form which underlies all the architecture of the country, as the smooth pyramid is the most prominent element in the architecture of Egypt.


It is probable that Babylon was the largest and finest of all the ancient cities. The walls which surrounded it, together with its hanging gardens, were reckoned among the “seven wonders of the world” by the ancients. Its walls were pierced by a hundred gates and surmounted by two hundred and fifty towers; these towers added much to the grand appearance of the city; they were not very high above the walls, and were probably used as guard-rooms by soldiers.

The River Euphrates ran through the city. Brick walls were built upon its banks, and every street which led to the river had a gateway in these walls which opened to a sloping landing which extended down to the water’s edge; boats were kept at these landings for those who wished to cross the stream. There was also a foot-bridge across the river that could be used only by day, and one writer, Diodorus, declares that a tunnel also existed which joined the two sides of the river, and was fifteen feet wide and twelve feet high in the inside.

The accounts of the “Hanging Gardens” make it seem that they resembled an artificial terraced mountain built upon arches of masonry and covered with earth, in which grew trees, shrubs, and flowers. It is said by some writers that this mountain was at least seventy-five feet high, and occupied a square of four acres; others say that in its highest part it reached three hundred feet; but all agree that it was a wonderful work and very beautiful.

In the interior of the structure machinery was concealed30 which raised water from the Euphrates and filled a reservoir at the summit, from which it was taken to moisten the earth and nourish the plants. Flights of steps led up to the top, and on the way there were entrances to fine apartments where one could rest. These rooms, built in the walls which supported the structure, were cool and pleasant, and afforded fine views of the city and its surroundings. The whole effect of the gardens when seen from a distance was that of a wooded pyramid. It seems a pity that it should have been called a “Hanging Garden,” since, when one knows how it was built, this name is strangely unsuitable, and carries a certain disappointment with it.

The accounts of the origin of this garden are interesting. One of them says that it was made by Semiramis, a queen who was famous for her prowess as a warrior, for having conquered some cities and built others, for having dammed up the River Euphrates, and performed many marvellous and heroic deeds. It is not probable that any woman ever did all the wonders which are attributed to Semiramis, but we love to read these tales of the old, old time, and it is important for us to know them since they are often referred to in books and in conversation.

Another account relates that the gardens were made by Nebuchadnezzar to please his Median queen, Amytis, because the country round about Babylon seemed so barren and desolate to her, and she longed for the lovely scenery of her native land.

What we have said will show that the Babylonians were advanced in the science of such works as come more properly under the head of engineering; their palaces were also fine, and their dwelling-houses lofty; they had three or four stories, and were covered by vaulted roofs. But the Babylonians, like the Egyptians, lavished their best art upon their temples. The temple was built in the most prominent position and magnificently adorned. It was31 usually within a walled inclosure, and the most important temple at Babylon, called that of Belus, is said to have had an area of thirty acres devoted to it. The chief distinguishing feature of a Babylonish temple was a tower built in stages (Fig. 22).

Fig. 22.—Elevation of the Temple of the Seven Spheres at Borsippa.

The number of the stages varied, eight being the largest. At the summit of the tower there was a chapel or an altar, and the ascent was by steps or an inclined plane which wound around the sides of the tower. The Babylonians were famous astronomers, and it is believed that these towers were used as observatories as well as for places of worship. At the base of the tower there was a chapel for the use of those who could not ascend the height, and near by, in the open air, different altars were placed, for the worship of the Babylonians included the offering of sacrifices.

Very ancient writers describe the riches of the shrines at Babylon as being of a value beyond our belief. They tell of colossal images of the gods of solid gold; of enormous lions in the same precious metal; of serpents of silver, each of thirty talents’ weight (a talent equalled about two32 thousand dollars of our money), and of golden tables, bowls, and drinking-cups, besides magnificent offerings of many kinds which faithful worshippers had devoted to the gods. These great treasures fell into the hands of the Persians when they conquered Babylon.

The Birs-i-Nimrud has been more fully examined than any other Babylonish ruin, and a description of it can be given with a good degree of correctness. As it now stands, every brick in it bears the name of Nebuchadnezzar; it is believed that he repaired or rebuilt it, but there is no reason to think that he changed its plan. Be this as it may, it is a very interesting ruin (Fig. 23). It was a temple raised on a platform and built in seven stages; these stages represented the seven spheres in which the seven planets moved (according to the ancient astronomy), and a particular color was assigned to each planet, and the stages colored according to this idea. That of the sun was golden; the moon, silver; Saturn, black; Jupiter, orange; Mars, red; Venus, pale yellow, and Mercury, deep blue.

Fig. 23.—Birs-i-Nimrud, near Babylon.

It is curious to know how the various colors were obtained. The lower stage, representing Saturn, was covered with bitumen; that of Jupiter was faced with bricks burned to an orange color; that of Mars was made of bricks from a bright red clay and half burned, so that they had a blood-red tint; the stage dedicated to the sun was probably covered with thin plates of gold; that of Venus had pale yellow bricks; that of Mercury was subjected to intense heat after it was erected, and this produced vitrification and gave it a blue color; and the stage of the moon was coated in shining white metals.

Thus the tower rose up, all glowing in colors and tints as cunningly arranged as if produced by Nature herself. The silvery, shining band was probably the highest, and had the effect of mingling with the bright sky above. We can scarcely understand how glorious the effect must have33 been, and when we try to imagine it, and then think of the present wretched condition of these ruins, it gives great force to the prophecies concerning Babylon which foretold that her broad walls should be utterly broken down, her gates burned with fire, and the golden city swept with the besom of destruction.

We know so little of the arrangement of the palaces of Babylon that we cannot speak of them in detail. They differed from those of Assyria in two important points: they are of burnt bricks instead of those dried in the sun which the Assyrians used, and at Babylon in the decoration of the walls colored pictures upon the brick-work took the34 place of the alabaster bas-reliefs which were found in the palaces of Nineveh.

These paintings represented hunting scenes, battles, and other important events, and were alternated with portions of the wall upon which were inscriptions painted in white on a blue ground, or spaces with a regular pattern of rosettes or some fixed design in geometrical figures. A sufficient number of these decorations have been found in the ruins of Babylon to prove beyond a doubt that this was the customary finish of the walls. We also know that the houses of Babylon were three or four stories in height, but were rudely constructed and indicate an inferior style of domestic architecture.