Art and Culture of Egypt

Egypt is perhaps the most fascinating of the ancient civilizations. It's one of the longest in the west, beginning in approximately 3000 B.C., and lasting until nearly 300 B.C. With a recorded history of five thousand years it's among the earliest civilizations. For years, Egypt maintained a markedly complex and steady culture that influenced later cultures of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What is remarkable about Egypt's culture is not their rapid growth and development, but their ability to conserve the past and succeed with fairly little change. Ancient Egypt is the foundation in the history of western art. Pyramids and sphinxes have symbolized Egypt for a long time, and a closer look reveals artistic genius in many forms.

Today, many aspects of Egyptian ancient culture exist in interaction with newer elements, together with the influence of modern Western culture, whose roots has itself been in Ancient Egypt. The cities of Egypt including its capital, Cairo has been renowned for centuries as a center of learning, culture and commerce.

The first written ancient Egyptian language which formed a separate branch among the family of the Afro-Asiatic tribe is known from hieroglyphic inscriptions preserved on monuments and sheets of papyrus. The "Koiné" dialect of the Greek language which was later studied by Arabic scholars, was central in Hellenistic Alexandria, and was used in the philosophy and science of that culture. The Arabic language came in the 7th century and Egyptian Arabic has since become the modern speech of the country.

Literature: Egyptian literature dates back to the Old Kingdom, in the third millennium B.C., the oldest being the Pyramid Texts, the mythology and rituals carved around the tombs of rulers and the later, secular literature of ancient Egypt includes the 'wisdom texts', a form of philosophical instruction.

The Middle Kingdom was known as the golden age of Egyptian literature. Some well-known texts include the Tale of Neferty, the Instructions of Amenemhat I, the Tale of Sinuhe, the Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor and the Story of the Eloquent Peasant.

During the first few centuries of the Christian era, Egypt was the final source of a great deal of ascetic literature in the Coptic language. Egypt's vast and rich literature constituted an important cultural element in the life people and in the Middle East as a whole. Egyptian novelists and poets were among the first to experiment with modern styles of Arabic literature, the styles of which were widely imitated. The first modern Egyptian vernacular novel Zaynab by Muhammad Husayn Haykal was published in 1913. Vernacular poetry is the most popular literary genre amongst Egyptians, represented by Ahmed Fuad Nigm (Fagumi) and Abdel Rahman el-Abnudi.

Ancient Egyptian religion saw the world as in conflict between forces of 'order' and 'chaos' and the Pharaoh, representing order on Earth, was seen as divine and descendent of the falcon god Horus.

Egypt was indeed one of the strongest early Christian communities with the Coptic Christianity becoming popular in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Christians constitute about 10% of the population today.

Islam, today being the dominant faith with 90% of the population in Egypt, came to the country with the successors of Mohammed.

Contemporary Egyptian art can be as diverse as any works in the world art scene. The Egyptians codified design elements in art and were one of the first major civilizations to do so. The wall paintings done in the time of the Pharaohs followed a rigid code of visual rules and meanings. Egyptian art as shown in painting and sculpture is both highly figurative and symbolic. Much of the surviving art comes from tombs and monuments, where there is an emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past.

Architecture- Ancient Egyptian used both sun-dried and kiln-baked bricks, fine sandstone, granite and limestone, as with the absence of trees it prevented the use of woods as building materials. Over time primitive structures of clay and reeds matured, and there emerged great monumental structures of granites, with very thick walls. Hieroglyphic and pictorial carvings were widely used to adorn the structures, including many motifs, like the scarab, sacred beetle, the solar disk and the vulture. The certainty of existence of life beyond death resulted into massive and remarkable architectural style to house the mummified bodies. Construction of these monuments commenced as soon a pharaoh was named, and continued till he was dead. Some of constructions are very large and finely decorated, while some are moderately small like King Tutankhamen's tomb, as he died very young. Two of the famous architectures of Egypt are the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Gaza.

Pottery- Ancient Egyptians used steatite and soapstone to carve small pieces of vases, amulets, images of deities, of animals and several other objects. They also discovered the art of covering pottery with enamel. These varied types of pottery items were deposited in the burial chambers of the dead. It was customary to craft on the walls of the tombs cones of pottery, engraved or impressed with legends relating to the dead occupants of the tombs. The cones contained the names of the deceased, their titles, offices which they held, and some expressions proper for the memorial services.

Sculpture- The ancient art of Egyptian sculpture evolved to symbolize the ancient Egyptian gods, and Pharaohs, the divine kings and queens, in their physical form. Enormous and magnificent statues were built to represent gods and famous kings and queens. They were intended to give eternal life to the "god" kings and queens, as also to allow the subjects to see them in physical forms. Well known examples are that of the Sky God, Horus and the God of funeral rites, Anubis.

Hieroglyphs- A hieroglyphic script is one consisting of an array of pictures and symbols, some of which had independent meanings, whereas some were used in combinations. This style of writing continued to be used by the ancient Egyptians for nearly 3500 years. Many art works of the period included hieroglyphs and it constituted an amazing part of ancient Egyptian arts.

Paintings- The ancient Egyptians created paintings to make the after life of the deceased a pleasant place and accordingly, beautiful paintings were created. The paintings survived due to the extremely dry climate. The paintings are painted in such a way that it shows a profile view, and a side view of the animal or person. Some examples of such paintings are the paintings of Osiris and Warriors.

As early as 4000 BC, Egyptians were playing harps and flutes, including two indigenous instruments, the 'ney' and the 'oud'. It's a rich mixture of indigenous Egyptian, Arabic, African and Western influences. Drumming and vocal music also became an important part of the local music tradition. Contemporary Egyptian music can be traced back to the work of creative people such as Abdu-l Hamuli, Almaz and Mahmud Osman. Egyptian folk music is also popular and played during weddings and other festivities.

Egypt is quite famous for its various festivals and religious carnivals, also known as 'mulids'. Though usually associated with a particular Coptic or Sufi saint, they are often celebrated by all Egyptians irrespective of creed or religion. Ramadan, celebrated with sounds, local lanterns- 'fawanees' and much flare has a special flavor in Egypt and many Muslim tourists from the region flock here to witness this spectacle. The ancient spring festival of Sham en Nisim has also been celebrated by Egyptians for thousands of years, usually between the Egyptian months of Baramouda (April) and Bashans (May) following Easter Sunday.


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