Egyptian Building
The Egyptian Building is a National Historic Landmark in Richmond, Virginia, built in 1845. It is the first permanent home of the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College (later renamed the Medical College of Virginia) and now is a part of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. It is located on Shockoe Hill at the 1200 block of E. Marshall Street in Court End.

After several years in the Union Hotel, the board of the College decided they needed a space specifically created for medical education. Aid was sought to pay for the structure and the Commonwealth offered a twenty-five thousand dollar loan and Richmond donated two thousand dollars. The Board chose the noted Philadelphia architect, Thomas W. Stewart, who had just completed the new St. Paul's Church, to build the College Building. Stewart chose a style known as Egyptian Revival. Many believed that his choice of style was appropriate because it represented the esoteric nature of medicine. Furthermore, the origins of medicine went back to the Egyptian physician, Imhotep. Sir William Osler wrote that Imhotep was the "first figure of a physician to stand out clearly from the mists of antiquity." The Egyptian Building was originally called College Building and later the Old College Building. The latter title was fitting because the National Register of Historic Places considers it to be the oldest medical college building south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The battered walls of the structure are meant to represent the old temples of Egypt. The building has been compared to the Temple of Horus at Edfu. Originally the building housed medical lecture rooms, a dissecting room, an infirmary and hospital beds for medical and surgical cases. The building was restored in 1939 by the architects, Baskerville and Son, in honor of Dr. Simon Baruch, an 1862 graduate of the Medical College of Virginia. At that time the interior of the building was remodeled to carry on the Egyptian style. The building has been in continuous use since it was built in 1845. In 1969 it became a historic landmark, and in 1995 it celebrated its 150th anniversary. It has at one time or another been used by every school in the Medical College. The MCV Campus has a strong sentimental attachment to the Egyptian Building. At Founders' Day exercises held at the Egyptian Building, 5 December 1940, historian Dr. Wyndham Blanton commented to alumni and guests: "What old Nassau Hall is to Princeton, what the Wren Building is to William and Mary, what the Rotunda is to the University of Virginia, the Egyptian Building is to the Medical College of Virginia. It is a shrine, a sanctuary of tradition, the physical embodiment of our genius. It is a spiritual heritage. In a world often accused of cold materialism, with an ideology of human self-sufficiency, and an adoration of objects that can be handled and seen, there is a need for things of the spirit, if science is to do more than make life safer, longer and more comfortable."

The building is constructed from brick, stucco and cast iron. Its battered walls-thinner at the top than at the bottom give an impression of solidarity and height. This effect is emphasized by the relatively minimal windows for a five-story building. These windows are diamond paned and incorporated without a style break. The columns represent reeds bunched together and are capped off by capitals of palm fronds, a style commonly used in Egyptian columns and a precursor to the neoclassical molds. Several obelisks flank the structure and are connected by a cast iron fence that incorporates what appears to be hermai, resembling sarcophagi (mummy cases), forged by R. W. Barnes of Richmond. Also prominent throughout the building is the use of the Winged sun disk. On the exterior it is found repeated in the cavetto cornices that cap the pylons. This winged disk represents Horus, as a sun disk with outstretched wings, flanked by the goddesses Bekbet and Uaset in the form of snakes. This is the form Horus took in Egyptian mythology when he battled the god Set. Later the image took on other meanings with the Sun disc representing eternity, the serpent representing wisdom, and finally the wings representing the spirit. On the interior, the lotus flower design is used repeatedly. The interior colors have intentional symbolic meaning: red represents divine love; blue represents divine intelligence; and the golden yellow represents the mercy of God. Hieroglyphs are incorporated in the antechamber decorations and the floor tiles depict a large scarab beetle. The hieroglyphics in the antechamber to auditorium come from an Egyptian hymn to the gods Amun and Aten in the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 B.C.). The right side of the jambs reads "I never took pleasure in any conversation wherein were words of exaggeration and lies." The left side of the jambs reads "Thou didst make me great because I was performing my duty." Amun is the king of gods and Aten is one of the Sun gods (the other being Ra). The lintel, or horizontal part of the door jamb, bears a different set of messages. On the left is reads, " Tutankhamen: To whom life is given forever" and on the right it reads,"Tutankhamen: Living image of Amon." This message likely represents the fervor with which the public associated Egypt with the child Pharaoh, King Tut (Tutankhamen), who was discovered in 1922, very near to when this interior was remodeled.

Building Activity

  • Kiril Pavlov
    Kiril Pavlov activity.buildings_person.create
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