Mesopotamian Influence in Egypt

Niched Architecture

Elements of architecture found in Egypt can be traced to influences from Mesopotamia. I show various examples to indicate this early cultural connection. Note that our examples must date from predynastic or Pharaonic times, since we have no surviving evidence of periods prior to about 4,000 BC. Refer to the web site of Francesco Raffaele, who has catalogued a large assortment of pictorial evidence.


The following example is of an early mastaba tomb from Saqqara, with only one wall remaining. The facade was roofed over by archaeologists to prevent further damage to the mud bricks.

Click on the pictures for a larger version.

Note the drawing in the lower left corner, placed there by Francesco Raffaele, representing the original plan of the mastaba. This is an example of typical mastaba design with niched exterior walls. Unfortunately, good examples of this design have not survived.

Raffaele's offers the following plan for Tomb #3504, very famous and thoroughly excavated by W. B. Emery in 1954. Click on picture for a larger image.


Following is another example from Abydos. This was part of an exterior wall of a mud-brick fort. We can see how the civilization of Egypt was becoming more complex, evolving into a sophisticated culture that is demonstrated at all levels, from Pharaonic rulership to architecture designed to preserve both the individual for the afterlife, but also as a protection against foreign invaders.

At the time of the Third Dynasty the Egyptians moved from mud to stone, while retaining many of the architectural features of earlier times. An outstanding example is the entrance to the Zoser complex at Saqqara.

The importance of niched architecture, as though it had been gifted from the gods, is found on serech images down through Egyptian history.

Both of these are stelae (memorial stones) erected to commemorate an important event. The first is from Nebra, otherwise known as Raneb, the second king of Egypt's Second Dynasty. The second is from Qa'a, thought to be the last king of the First Dynasty. Both date to about 3,000 or 2,900 BC.

Below are other examples of niched architecture commemorated on serek images.

In sequence, Wadj (Djet) was of the First Dynasty, Khasekhemwy was the last king of the Second Dynasty, and Peribsen was his immediate predecessor. These rulers date from around 2900 to 2700 BC.

I shall now show some examples of niched architecture from Mesopotamia.

This is the Karaindesh Temple from the Kassite period, around 1500 BC, located at Uruk.

Refer to the University of Chicago web site at:


The following shows the remains of a niched wall from Uruk.

Niched architecture evolved in both Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The construction of ziggurats in Mesopotamia probably originated from an earlier tradition of raising temples on terraces so that they would be higher than any of the surrounding buildings. Many of the surviving ziggurats show signs of having been built over early examples. This mud brick ziggurat at Ur was erected in its present form by the King Ur-nammu around 2100 BC, who dedicated it to the moon-god Nanna. It consists of three terraced stages and rose some 70 feet above the rest of the city.

Similarities in style, but with adaptation to Egypt, may be seen in the Edfu Temple below. See:


This picture was taken ca. 1865 and is identified as Zangaki.