Hypostyle: Definition & Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever walked into a large room filled with columns? Would the space be dark or would those columns let light in? In this lesson, learn about the architecture of hypostyles.

What is a Hypostyle?

A hypostyle is a room with many rows of columns or pillars that support a flat ceiling or roof. You'll sometimes see such rooms called hypostyle halls. In the ancient world, hypostyles were used in architecture in places like Egypt, Persia, India and other parts of the Near and Middle East. The word 'hypostyle' comes from the Greek language and it means 'beneath pillars.'

Hypostyle hall in a Hindu temple in India
hypostyle in a Hindu temple in India

Architecture of a Hypostyle

But why build a room filled with columns?

In the ancient world, a hypostyle was a way to create very large spaces before arches and vaults had been perfected as ways to support ceilings. But the repeated rows of columns meant that a large space wasn't an open space. Rather, it was dominated by columns, which were often decorated with images or inscribed with symbols related to the structure's use or the power of the ruler for whom the structure had been built.

Hypostyle halls made for impressive interior spaces but often also dark ones, because all those columns blocked light's ability to penetrate. Hypostyle halls sometimes held heavy symbolism. Early builders often created hypostyles for rooms that led to inner sanctuaries, and ceremonial processions could take place that used the geometry of the columns to great advantage. But these halls also needed the columns simply to support heavy flat ceilings.

Sometimes, to allow at least a little light in, the columns in the middle of the hypostyle were taller and the ceilings along the sides were lower. This created wall areas above the central rows of columns that had rows of small clerestory windows added to allow light into the hall's middle. An example of this is the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, built some time between 1290 and 1224 BC.

Floor plan diagram and artist rendering of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak in Egypt.
Diagram of Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

View of the columns in the hypostyle at Karnak, decorated with carvings. The small person in the photo provides a sense of scale.
Columns in the hypostyle at Karnak

Hypostyles could also be found in architecture like that in the Apadana palace, a great ceremonial hall at Persepolis in Persia. (Today it exists only in partial ruins.) They were also used in early Islamic architecture, especially in mosques, and in India.

Example of hypostyle in a mosque in Tunisia
Hypostyle in a mosque in Tunisia

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account