Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 18Much of the mystery that hung over Egypt has departed, but the glamour and fascination she exerted in the past are still as great as ever. These are not lessened by our more intimate knowledge of her ancient civilization, but rather increased a hundredfold. The silence of centuries has been broken, the hieroglyphs have told their tale to modern man, who listens with ever-deepening interest to the voice of the Past. The drifting sand of the desert has been cleared away and ancient buildings stand again in the sunlight and yield their secrets veiled for so many centuries. The graves tell over again the unchanging sorrow of death and the world-old longings of man. Apart from the literary remains, papyri and inscriptions, the material results have been immense. The ancient topography of the land has become known by the remains of roads, canals, quarries, and mines. The sites of towns, with the temples, fortifications, and private dwellings, have been comprehensively treated, so that the record is almost complete from the building of the foundation to the decorative designs of the artists. The site of each city, again, is generally that of several belonging[Pg 40] to different epochs; the ruins of the older buildings were levelled to an even surface and the newer one begun several feet higher. The artificial mounds thus made are sometimes as much as 80 or 90 feet in height. These foundations did not deter the Egyptian architects from erecting lofty buildings, such as those in Memphis, for in several cities walls exist to-day from 30 to 40 feet in height. To support these they were thickened at the base and the floors vaulted. Amongst the limestone remains of houses are often found fragments of sandstone, granite, and alabaster quarried from some ruined temple, which shows that the Egyptians of those far-away days did exactly the same as their descendants, and despoiled the neglected and ruined monuments.
The plan of a town excavated shows the houses gathered closely around the temple and its square enclosure. This served as fortress and refuge if the town were attacked. The plan was regular in towns that were built in one period, with wide paved streets running at right angles and provided with stone channels to carry off water and drainage. The buildings were arranged in line. In cities that were the product of centuries there was, however, great irregularity—houses heaped in mazes of blind alleys, and dark, narrow streets. There was generally an open space, shaded by sycamores, used two or three times a month as a market-place. The poorer classes were housed in hovels, rarely exceeding 12 or 16 feet in length, and little better than the huts of the fellaheen of to-day. The houses of the middle class, such as shop-keepers, small officials, and foremen, were of a better description, though rather small. They usually[Pg 41] contained half a dozen rooms, and some were two or three stories high, while narrow courtyards separated them from the street, though more often the house fronted directly on the road and was built on three sides of a courtyard. That excellent sanitary and hygienic conditions were known in ancient Egypt has been amply proved, for even poorer houses at Kahûn boasted a stone tank, and this luxury was universal except among the very poor. At Tell el Amarna, in the house of a high official of the Eighteenth Dynasty, an elaborate bath and ingenious system of water-supply have been found. The arrangements of the ordinary house were much the same as obtain in the East of to-day, the ground floor including store-rooms, barns, and stables; the next for living and sleeping; the roof for sleeping in summer, while here also the women gossiped and cooked. An outside staircase, narrow and very steep, led to the upper rooms. These were oblong in shape, and the door was the only means of ventilation and lighting. For decoration the walls were sometimes whitewashed, or decorated with red and yellow, or painted with domestic scenes.