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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Creative Power of Natural Environment

The natural character of each place evokes certain moods and a specific sense of space which, to a large extent, are reflected in the concept of space that the inhabitants adopt in their architecture. With this basic notion in mind we will investigate the creative power of natural environment in the Aegean and Egypt and its impact on the Minoan and Pharaonic architecture respectively. Time is the common denominator in both cases. However, owing to the fundamental difference of these two regions, their comparison will become expecially interesting. The main characteristics of the Aegean landscape, and by extension of Minoan architecture, is the unity through polymorphy and the human scale. The unifying element is light: the smooth gradations of light and shade and the unique atmospheric limpidity allow to each and every component of space to appear clearly, though keeping its relation with the entity. The human scale, the plethora of points of reference and the smooth gradations describe a composite but familiar space. In Egypt polymorphy is replaced by duality and human scale by the infinite. The light intensifies the duality: strong and harsh, it creates sharp contrasts and favours abstraction, because it projects the basic forms only. River Nile is the unifying element; a perpetual source of life, a linear and one-way movement in a known, identical, restricted route. The river predisposes to passiveness, however it offers a sense of security and faith in the life-giving power of nature, which is easily transformed to a metaphysical one.

Symbolism is one of the most dynamic components of the Egyptian spirit —the product of the union of the natural and metaphysical world. In architecture it is the prevailing element, sometimes a goal in itself: the pyramid and the obelisk are not buildings but dynamic tectonic forms with clear and manifold symbolic reminders.

In Egyptian architecture mass predominates over void, in opposition to the Aegean one. What in Egyptian architecture is accomplished by mass, in the Aegean one is achieved by tectonics.

An analogous sense of space occurs in art: in Aegean painting the polymorphy, human scale and familiarity prevail as well as the open compositional schemes, smooth gradations and flowing, wavy outlines, which, as also in architecture, represent elements of the landscape. In Egypt art functions through the same symbolism and intellectuality also found in architecture. The representations are extended in array, in successive friezes which alike the landscape have no beginning or end. The typification, symbolism and abstraction are here as well as in architecture the main elements that have a direct reference to the landscape.

The spirit of “approximately” which predominates in the Aegean becomes a spirit of “precision^ in Egypt, and the difference between the two systems -mass/void— implies in reality a difference in Weltanschaung and life – style.