Dwellings in Ancient Egypt

Ruins  of ancient houses in Egypt show us how citizens lived.
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Ancient Egypt was a vast and complex society that lasted several thousand years and reached levels of civilization that were unheard of in its time. As in every large civilization, a variety of dwellings housed people based on their location and social circumstances. However, some common elements existed in the design, use and construction of the buildings that crossed all elements of the complex society.

1 A Little Wood, A Lot of Mud

In a land with very little forest, wood was a commodity of high value in ancient Egypt. Trees were used only for structural support, as beams, and then only in larger houses and palaces. Most dwellings in ancient Egypt were made from mud, which was often mixed with straw to make it more durable. This mud was shaped into blocks, often using molds, then baked in the hot dry sunshine until hard.

2 Bricks and Walls

Ancient Egyptian houses were hand built, simply by stacking the baked mud bricks on top of each other to make rows. Simpler houses usually had walls only one block thick, but larger houses often had walls two or three blocks wide. Doors and windows were built into these houses, and they were later covered with thatched reed. Larger houses and palaces often had walls constructed around them, with doorways in both the front and the back walls.

3 Designs for Living

Home design varied among ancient Egyptians, depending on the size of the family and its wealth, and whether the dwelling was located in an urban or rural area. Most houses featured three to four rooms and included a central courtyard or back patio. Most houses also had at least two levels, with the roof also functioning as a livable space and often used for sleeping. Most ancient Egyptian houses were built at least 4 feet off the ground to avoid floods, with ramps leading to the doorways. Larger homes could have as many as 25 or 30 rooms in a single dwelling. In large urban areas, houses often shared walls as they were packed together in warrens.

4 Room by Room

Dwelling structures were used for multiple purposes in ancient Egypt. In rural houses, grain and other crops were stored on the ground floor of the house, while the second floor was used as the living area. In urban areas, the ground floor of the house was often a business that faced out onto the street and provided income for family members who did not go off to work each day. Patios and courtyards were usually used as gardens, where basic fruits, vegetables and herbs were grown. They also functioned as the kitchen, as cooking was done outside.

Based in San Francisco, Ocean Malandra is a travel writer, author and documentary filmmaker. He runs a major San Francisco travel website, is widely published in both online and print publications and has contributed to several travel guidebooks to South America.