Most of the known Pharaonic temples such as the Temples of Karnak, Luxor, and Ramesses the Second belonged to the era of the New Kingdom. Many of Egypt's temples became complex systems of buildings, added to by generations of pharaohs. The architecture of the temple was characterized by spaciousness and the contrast between light and darkness. It was built so that the temple floor rose toward the holiest place of the temple. This design symbolically represented the ancient Egyptian religious concept of creation where in the midst of the primordial waters, the god created a hill upon which he settled.
Egyptian temples were often located at a point of religious interest, and usually oriented in the direction of another significant religious point, such as the believed site of a god's birthplace or grave. However, in a practical sense, the building was often located near a population center, heavily traveled routes, or necessary resources. For example, the Osirion in the temple of Seti the First at Abydos apparently needed a pool of water around the subterranean "grave" of Osiris and so it was located near a natural spring.
Most of the temples established during the Greco-Roman era such as the Temple of Horus at Edfu and the Temple of Dendera were in the areas of Upper Egypt and Nubia. In general, all these temples have the same features as the Egyptian temple, a style that continued throughout the Roman era. The Sobek temple, discovered in 1912 at Faiyum, is a marvelous example of a Roman temple.
When the Christians were suffering from Roman persecution, they would take refuge in the desert, dwelling in the ancient Pharaonic temples. They left many writings on temple walls next to the ancient writings. The Karnak and Edfu temples still show remnants of Christian worship.
During the Christian period, the church became the official place of worship. Coptic churches in Egypt were built in the Basilic style, such as the Basilica at Dendera, the Virgin Mary Church, the Hanging Church, and Mar Girgis Church. Marble, mosaic, ebony, and wood were used in marvelous architectural elements, such as altars, lamps, and candelabrums containing inscriptions and crosses. Many of these churches are built where it is believed that the baby Jesus and his family made stops in their journey through Egypt.
The rise of monasticism in Egypt produced a unique Christian architecture in the monasteries. These were built in places far from urban communities to provide the inhabitants with serenity and calmness. A number of monasteries have been discovered in the Natron Valley, Esna, and Nekada. Many Coptic Christian popes were selected from the Monastery of Saint Macarius in Wadi Al-Natron. Saint Antony's Monastery is billed as the world's oldest monastery and other ancient monasteries include the White Monastery and the Red Monastery.
Because Islam spread through a vast territory quickly, the use of local building material and ideas by local craftsman and architects created distinguished regional variants. Despite their differences, most mosques follow the basic architectural design of the prophet Mohammad's mosque. This architectural design is mainly concerned with the functional elements for worship and contains many elements such as the mihrab, or prayer niche, and the wooden gates. Such elements were decorated with plant and geometric embellishments. Artists excelled in engraving those pieces and adorning them with ivory and metal inlay.
In formal mosques, a demarcated space allows room for congregational prayer and is almost always partially roofed and partly open to the sky. The covered prayer hall, or sanctuary (haram), usually varies relative to the size of the open courtyard (sahn). The towering minaret, the most visible part of a mosque, was not in the original design. The expansion of Islam into urban areas created the need for an elevated place so that the voice of the muezzin calling worshipers to prayer can be heard at a maximum distance.
The first mosque to be established in Egypt was Amr Ibn al-As Mosque, known as the "Old Mosque," established in AD 641. A number of other large mosques then followed, including the Ibn Tulun, Al-Hakim, and Al-Aqmar Mosques. The Al-Azhar Mosque is considered the first Fatimid monument in Egypt. After the Fatimid era, the hanging mosque style appeared. It sits atop five archways and has a double flight of stairs leading to the main door. Despite the weakened Egyptian state during the Ottoman era, many artistic mosques were built, such as the Solayman Pasha, Senan Pasha, and Queen Safeyah Mosques.