Lecture 2. The Pharonic Chthonic of the Nile River Valley: Pyramids, Tombs, Monuments and Obelisks

This lecture provides an interpretation of the Pharoanic architecture of the Nile River valley through the lens of the chthonic. Beginning with the Old Kingdom, this lecture argues that the iconic forms – from the mastaba to the stepped pyramid, and eventually to the great pyramid complexes of Cheops - are proto-chthonic ‘mountains’ created over burial sites: Pyramids as shaped mountains, in conversation/ on cross axis with the flowing water of the Nile. During the middle Kingdom, the Pharoahs abandoned the abstract pyramid and adopted the strategy of actual burial within the mountain sides, fully realizing the chthonic potential of the earlier pyramids. The funerary complex of Queen Hatshepsut formalized the procession from the river into the eastern mountains. Later burials in the Valley of the Kings and Queens took the dead further into the chthonic mass of the earth. From this chthonic understanding, the ‘free’ standing temple at Karnak can be seen as a constructed ‘replica’ of a chthonic structure, evidenced not only by the massiveness of the columns and wall of its internal structure, but in particular by the massive mass-like quality of its so-called ‘pylon’ facade, which is better read as the truncated front of cliffs that much of the Pharonic chthonic architecture is cut out from. In the New Kingdom, Ramses created the landmark Abu Simbel - a temple within the native stone, with a sculpted entry portal in his own image. The royal body manifested as the mountain.

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