In the early 19th century, Egyptian themed buildings and design were kind of a craze, thanks in large part to the exploits of Napoleon in the late 18th century. He conquered Egypt, then Admiral Nelson conquered him, and soon after, a new design trend was born. It spread far enough from Egypt that a piece of it landed in downtown Richmond, Virginia.
There have been a few architectural and design movements called Egyptian Revival, the most popular and widespread in the United States coming after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. But before King Tut there was Napoleon and Nelson, and the first wave of Egyptian aesthetics started to spread to the West.
Buildings popped up using Egyptian themes and design motifs, and one such building is standing just off of Interstate 95. Considered to be one of the best examples of the style in the U.S., it was built in 1845 by Thomas Stewart (a proponent of the Egyptian style throughout his career). The temple-like structure was built to house a medical college, which originally had not only lecture halls, but surgical beds and a dissection laboratory. Originally the Egyptian design was just the exterior of the building, but a full renovation in 1939 removed the ivy that had grown up the outside, and pulled the Egyptian style inside, adding mosaic tiling, bas reliefs, and ornate doors and windows. The outside design of the building remains entirely intact, including its battered walls (meaning they are thicker at the bottom than the top giving the building bulk and the appearance of extended height), columns of reeds and palm fronds, and cast iron fencing that incorporates stylized mummy cases.
On the National Register of Historic Places since 1969, the building has been in continuous use as a medical training facility since it was built and now houses classrooms and offices of the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. The original lab is gone, so no more dissections - but plenty of mummies, scarabs, lotus flowers, and hieroglyphics.
Know Before You Go
Located on the southwest corner of E. Marshall and College Streets in downtown Richmond