t: +20 12 5113357 (mobile)
t: +20 27955666 (office)
Group of houses standing in their own grounds, fronting a broad thoroughfare that leads to the Central City.

Tour of the Model


In the autumn of 1999 a major exhibition of the art of the Amarna Period opened in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the brainchild of Dr Rita E. Freed, the Norma-Jean Calderwood Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art. From Boston the exhibition moved to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden. To complement the exhibition a model of part of the city of Amarna was commissioned. It was made over the summer of 1999, by the firm of architectural model-makers, Tetra (Andy Ingham Associates), in Clapham, London (UK), to designs by Michael Mallinson of Mallinson Architects. Barry Kemp and Dr Kate Spence acted as advisers. The starting-point was the set of map sheets prepared by the Amarna Survey of the The Egypt Exploration Society. These are published in the book by B.J. Kemp and S. Garfi, A survey of the ancient city of El-'Amarna (London, The Egypt Exploration Society 1993). ISBN 0 85698 122 2.

The photographs used here were taken in varied lighting conditions, to reflect the extremes of bright sunlight and heavy cloud cover which affect Amarna through the year. Those marked with an asterisk * were taken by David Grandorge, who wishes to assert his copyright claim to them.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. The model at its place of origin, at the Tetra workshop in Clapham.
The model is at the scale of 1:400 and measures 3.6 x 4.9 m (12 x 16 feet). It covers the whole of the Central City southwards from the northern edge of the Great Aten Temple as well as the section of the residential part of the main city as far southwards as the broad wadi which cuts across the present ruins. The bank of the river Nile runs for most of the way along one side, the west, the direction of the current being from the housing area and towards the Great Aten Temple. A broad stretch of desert, as barren then as it is now, lies behind, to the east.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. A map of Amarna showing the area covered by the model.

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Part of the housing area during construction. The blocked-out houses stand on the map sheets. The various enclosure walls are still only marked as outlines on the paper. The yellow blocks, many of them circular, are the wells which will be sunk into holes cut into the baseboard.

The model has a strong demystifying effect, especially in the area given over to housing. The appearance of this part is close to what you might see from an aeroplane flying over a traditional village in various parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The effect derives from the desert background, the irregular plan, the mixing of houses and enclosures of different sizes, the widespread use of sun-dried mud brick, and the general sense that human scale, convenience and individual preference have dictated the overall plan. This is not an interpretation that we have imposed. Much of the plan comes from archaeological excavation, and to it reconstruction has been applied based on sound ancient sources.

Figure 4.

Figure 4. A small section of the housing area, towards the 'southern' end of the model, beside the wadi. The prominent house in the foreground is known to have belonged to a high-ranking military officer, Ramose. Note the chapel in the garden beside his house, on the left. The huddle of houses across the road included a sculptor's workshop.

The model contains a considerable degree of compromise. It had to be prepared within a budget and to a fairly tight timetable, and the discipline which this imposed has been expressed in a degree of schematization which is very appropriate to the degree of imaginative recreation that has been necessary in some parts. We felt it important to maintain a consistent standard of detailing across the city, whether it was a part known from archaeological excavation or now wholly lost and necessarily reconstructed by guesswork. For the latter areas we would, in any circumstances, have wanted to stop short of too detailed a treatment. The work that has been put into these parts has seemed just about right, and for the sake of consistency it is appropriate that the properly documented parts of the city have not been worked over in a more detailed manner.

The compromise that has the greatest effect, and the only one really to be regretted, is the absence of coloured decoration from the stone walls of the two major temples, the central part of the Great Palace, and a few lesser shrines. The bright reds, blues, greens and yellows of the carved decoration would have stood in vivid contrast to the generally subdued colours of the rest of the city. The best that could be achieved was to colour the stone buildings brilliant white, and to use an off-white for walls of sun-dried mud brick which would have been originally whitewashed. This effect is hard to convey by photography. How extensively this latter treatment was applied to the walls of houses and other buildings is entirely conjectural. Mud-brick walls quickly begin to weather and lose any surface rendering so that traces of original whitewash are not commonly found during excavation. We have assumed that many of the larger houses and some key buildings in the Central City were whitewashed but that most others were not. It is possible that we have underestimated here, but the effect is to emphasise the dominance of mud brick in the city's construction. These surfaces have been rendered with a variety of shades of a colour intended to convey the surface of mud brick in bright sunlight.

Figure 5.

Figure 5. An area of housing ranged along one of the main north-south roads ('East Road South'), based on the plans of early 20th century German and British excavations. The area on the right-hand side is close to the edge of the city and had not reached its fullest density of housing by the time the city was abandoned. Much empty space for 'infill' remained.

It is normal for architectural models to present the architect's design in the best light, and thus to show it as clean and new. The mud brick of which much of Amarna was built is, however, a relatively soft material, which wears and erodes easily. Corners become worn from passing traffic, top edges grow rounded and develop splits and vertical grooves from weathering, and especially from the showers of rain that we should expect were an occasional feature of the ancient climate as they are of today's. Whitewash quickly loses its pristine appearance, grows dull, dusty patches appear, and patches flake off altogether. Because one of the aims of the model is to give the city a 'lived-in' look, the neat and clean appearance which it had in the first stage of manufacture has been 'distressed' a little, by dirtying the surfaces of walls and roofs of houses, and giving to the tops of enclosure walls a slightly irregular top line. The originally stone walls of the temples and of the Great Palace have escaped, as have some of the key brick buildings in the centre. Again the effect is generalised: to have followed it though with greater reality would have meant devoting as much if not more time to the distressing of surfaces than to the actual making of the buildings.

Another area of rationed effect has been in the provision of vegetation. A few of the scenes in the private tombs at Amarna show trees growing in the city, and sometimes actual tree pits have been found. We also know from many sources that the Egyptians were keen to grow plants and trees around their houses. But to what extent was this achieved at Amarna? We can only guess, but, in the end, the available modelling resources ran to a fairly limited provision. It is possible that more was done, that trees were planted more extensively, and very likely that more was desired, to soften the harsh experience of desert dwelling.

Certainly there was no shortage of water. The abundant provision of wells which the model has is based on archaeological survey and excavation, as is the large size of many of them. Instead of raising water in a single direct lift, for much of the distance workers or servants carried it up in vessels, climbing up and down spiral staircases. To a few wells a water-lifting device, the wood-framed shaduf, has been added. One of the tombs at Amarna (no. 4), of the hight-priest Meryra, shows for the first time in ancient Egypt the use of a shaduf, apparently set at the side of a well.

Figure 6.

Figure 6. A further part of the 'southern' end of the model, at an intersection between one of the main thoroughfares and a narrower east-west street. The house on the nearer corner belonged to the sculptor Thutmose. The famous head of Queen Nefertiti was found in a storeroom within the main house. Note the wells which tapped into the groundwater beneath the desert and which were a common feature of the city.

Another effect that we had to consider was the colouring of the ground. To begin with the city was laid out on a desert surface of yellow sand and greyish gravel over an underlying harder stony desert. Very quickly paler paths and areas of disturbance would have developed, but the constant drawing of water from wells and trampling in of dust would have created a greyish hard-packed surface. Over this would have been dumped domestic and industrial waste, in open spaces and convenient corners. We chose in the end a fairly muted rendering of the messy surface that would have developed; for one thing, such deposits when seen from high in the air do lose quite a lot of the darker colouring which they have when seen close to. This is also a suitable place to point out that archaeologists have found no trace of any attempt to give a surface to a road which was harder than packed mud, even in the case of important roads near the palaces.

A vital part of Amarna will have been its river frontage, but, of necessity, this has to be very largely a reconstruction based far more on general considerations than on direct evidence. Since ancient times both the bed of the Nile and the level of the adjacent floodplain have risen, and the western edge of the city has been buried beneath fields with apparent loss of the ancient surface. A scene in one of the rock tombs at Amarna (no. 14, belonging to May or Maya) seems to show the front of a palace (presumably the Great Palace) behind a stretch of river bank at which boats are moored. A second scene, in the tomb of Meryra (no. 4), seems to confirm this. This is an important clue that the river lay close to where it is now. Moreover, the general curving trend of the city plan is best explained by its having followed a line of the river bank not dissimilar to the present one.

Figure 7.

Figure 7. General view of the model, from the 'west', where the housing area meets the royal zone of the Central City. The River Nile is in the foreground, flowing from right to left, its foreshore a place where boats moored.

The desert on which the preserved part of the city now stands slopes down gently and gradually beneath the fields virtually to the present river's edge: this much is known from modern survey. For the model we have imagined the present soil of the fields pulled back, to reveal the desert sloping down to the water's edge. Unlike today, the level of the river will have risen and fallen on an annual cycle. For the Egyptians to have made a modern-style quayside, with a walled frontage, would have entailed a substantial amount of work in stone. There is no evidence for this, and it would not conform to the picture in the tomb of May. We have pictured the waterfront at mid-height, well below the level of maximum flood, a time when perhaps the level came worryingly close to the edge of the nearest buildings. A muddy foreshore is therefore exposed, with reeds growing in shallows.

Figure 8.

Figure 8. The foreshore, viewed towards the 'north'. A narrow channel has been cut through the lower muddy part, from left to right, to take water to the edge of the low bank where a shaduf has been set up to raise the water to an irrigation channel to serve the small fields where vegetables are grown. Just beyond the trees the grey rectangular area represents mud bricks drying in the sun. They have recently been made from clay dug from a shallow pit just off the picture to the left.

The focus of the economic life in the city must have been directed very largely towards the river. The hinterland was desert, as it has remained. Virtually all foodstuffs will have been brought in, either from lands on the opposite bank or from estates lying further away. But Amarna was also the pre-eminent royal city of its day and thus briefly at the centre of the huge organised economy of the Pharaohs. From near and far, including the subject territories of the Egyptian empire and the friendly states that lay even more distant, commodities of all kinds were brought in, to be stored and then redistributed. Amarna would have been, in effect, an inland port. A great amount of shipping would therefore have converged there. No part of the city was far from the river and it is likely, therefore, that boats would have moored along the full length of the adjacent bank. Modern survey and excavation, however, have shown that immediately to the south of the Great Palace there extended a row of huge enclosures which faced towards the river, and which seem to have been given over to storage and manufacture. We have taken this as a sign that this would have been the busiest part of the waterfront, the place where Amarna would have looked most like an inland port, where imported commodities were temporarily stored in depots before being despatched to other destinations in the city.

Figure 9.

Figure 9. This part of the model, the zone between the river bank and the private houses, involved a greater degree of reconstruction than was generally necessary. Most of the large enclosures were probably for the storage of goods brought in by river, though the nearer ones were largely gardens. In the foreground is the edge of a city market place.

Ferry boats cross the river and longer-distance travelling boats take officials to and from their destinations, often carrying business correspondence and personal letters written on papyrus. You can imagine the items of diplomatic correspondence between Akhenaten and the Middle Eastern states, written on clay tablets (the Amarna Letters), in the possession of a military officer on board a fast boat specially commissioned to send him downstream on the first leg of his journey to the Hittite court or to Babylonia. Cargo boats, with fenced enclosures on their decks, bring in grain and cattle, wine from the western oases, incense from Syria in pottery amphorae. If they come from the north they might well need their sails to propel them against the current, but in travelling downstream the flow of the river, perhaps aided by oars, will be sufficient for maintaining progress. They moor and unload at the river's edge. Patches of black ash on the bank mark the positions of the boatmen's night-time fires. We have also included small fishing-boats. Rubbish deposits from the city, when carefully examined, have been found to contain numerous bones of mammals, birds and fish, the latter predominantly from species caught in shallow waters.

Figure 10.

Figure 10. A further view 'southwards' along the river bank, royal buildings in the foreground, the first of the storage enclosures lying beyond. This is one of the areas of excavation by the Egypt Exploration over the period 1996–2000. Just faintly visible in front of the principal cluster of boats is a V-shaped pair of stone walls, revetments for a ramp for the unloading of heavy stone blocks, now disused.

It will have been by river that some of the heavy stonework used in the royal buildings was brought. The bulk of the stone used was limestone of indifferent quality, cut into standard, handy-sized blocks in local quarries in the desert behind. In addition, however, large blocks of sandstone were used for columns and door-jambs, as well as granite, non-local limestone and quartzite for statues and stelae, many of the former on a large scale. All of these stones were imported, necessarily by boat, from quarries a long way away. We have assumed, therefore, that there would have been a specially made landing-stage and causeway for the dragging ashore of these blocks. We have placed it conveniently just south of the Great Palace, a temporary construction loosely revetted with stone blocks, and currently looking dilapidated since most of the large-scale stone building has been finished, although it would have been natural for Egyptians to think that there was more to come in the future.

South of the Great Palace lies the only part where today a part of the edge of the city survives where it faced the river. This is one of the areas of current investigation by the Egypt Exploration Society. It seems that behind the river bank came a broad band of empty desert, and behind that a series of large enclosures which ran back for about 250 metres to the line of an important road leading southwards. These enclosures seem to have contained a mixture of large open spaces and groups of long parallel storage rooms which Egyptologists usually call 'magazines'. These actually occur in many other places in the city, too, and can be easily identified by their wavy, corrugated roofs, since the standard method of roofing was by means of a barrel vault. In the tomb of Meryra at Amarna (no. 4) a scene of the river bank shows boats drawn up, and behind that an enclosure where cattle are being fed, and another where grain is heaped up in the open on specially prepared floors. It also shows complicated arrangements of buildings interspersed with trees, gardens and a shrine. We have taken these elements, combined them with the outlines of buildings as visible today on the desert edge, and with our imagination.

Figure 11.

Figure 11. More of the enclosures beside the river bank. The one in the middle is where cattle are tethered for final fattening before slaughter. The one to the right includes a store for newly made pottery jars produced by the kilns lying behind. Amongst the kilns are others for the making of glass and glazed objects.

The result is a sequence of enclosures, as follows, described from north to south. The first enclosure is filled with magazines and perhaps production facilities for mixed commodities, some of which needed an abundant supply of water. This is the enclosure currently being excavated. The next is a cattle yard, which we have reconstructed from Meryra's tomb scene. Cattle have been brought in by the boatload, and are first led to the enclosure where they are tethered in rows and their feeding closely supervised. We have separated the rows with reed fences. The adjacent enclosure is a depot for pottery storage jars. The larger ones, some of red fabric and some of cream, stand in rows. Stacks of smaller reddish vessels are represented by dense areas of red texturing. Behind lies an open area given over to kilns, the surrounding ground covered with heaps of ash and charcoal. Its existence is known from current excavation. The tall cylindrical kilns were producing pottery, the low domed kilns were for glass and glazing, in the latter case turning out blue glass ingots from shallow cylindrical moulds. Recent research has raised the distinct possibility that some of these ingots were actually exported, for identical specimens have been found on board the wreckage of the Bronze-Age ship found off the southern coast of Turkey at a site called Kas (Ulu Burun). Later in the Amarna Period, however, this area of kilns was levelled and other buildings, probably for storage or administration, were built on top.

Figure 12.

Figure 12. A further view of the pottery store and kilns behind. Note the barrel-vaulted roof of the long storeroom or 'magazine' which stands behind the red heaps of pots.

Beside that again we have created an enclosure where timber was temporarily stored. For the making of furniture and for new and replacement buildings there must have been a great demand for timber which could only be satisfied by importing. One boat loaded with timber is shown making its way under sail further downstream. The last enclosure intended for the storage of commodities dealt with loose grain, heaped in the open on circular lipped floors prior to despatch for more secure storage at many other granaries within the city. For the design of this store we have again depended upon Meryra's tomb. Finally, and again in deference to Meryra, we have added a pair of enclosed gardens, each with a shrine, with one of them laid out as a grove of trees.

Figure 13.

Figure 13. An enclosure given over to the short-term storage of grain delivered in bulk to the city. The shape of the open heaps of grain stored on floors with raised rims is taken from a scene in one of the tombs at Amarna.

Southwards the buildings give way to a strip of fields between the houses of the city and the river bank. Again this is not entirely guesswork although here the modern fields have entirely covered the ancient landscape. Another of the rock tombs at Amarna contains a scene from the life of the city accompanied by a narrow frieze showing agriculture and the river, and we have assumed that it began here. Amarna must have lain above the maximum height of the annual inundation of the river, and primarily on desert sediments. It would have been possible, however, to create fields by spreading on to the desert a thin layer of Nile mud dug from beside the bed of the river, enriching it with manure from the numerous animals kept in the city, and watering it by means of simple hand-operated lifting devices (the shaduf of traditional modern Egypt). The locations of two are shown on the model, but in reality there would have been many more, since it is not a very efficient way of raising and distributing water.

Figure 14*.

Figure 14. We have assumed that the demand for fresh food was such that any stretch of available land beside the river was cultivated. This particular part, at the 'southern' edge of the model, lay beside the opening to a shallow dried watercourse (wadi) and would have probably been slightly lower-lying and thus easier to cultivate.

Behind the fields we have laid out an informal grouping of straw huts, enclosures and small buildings. It represents a market-place. In part the citizens of Amarna will have been supplied with food and goods provided as payment for employment by royal institutions and by the landed officials who lived in the suburbs. But this is unlikely to have met all needs, and a market-place, located not far from the river bank, seems a very natural element for the city to have possessed, and is something hinted at in written sources for slightly later periods which relate to the city of Thebes. The enclosures contain many pigs, the eating of which is attested by many bones found in the city.

Figure 15.

Figure 15. A market-place in an open space between the fields and the houses of the city. It is a hypothetical reconstruction, a mixture of temporary enclosures and buildings of straw and more permanent versions in mud brick, in part to enclose livestock (including pigs).

Below the row of the fields, the river margin, if coated with alluvium, would have provided a source for the sun-dried mud bricks of which Amarna was mainly built. This part of the model shows a brick pit, with an area of bricks drying in the sun. As the city was built bricks would have been needed by the million, and it is to be expected that mostly they were made elsewhere and shipped into Amarna.

Behind this part of the model lies a densely built-up residential neighbourhood. It represents about one quarter of the total city area given over to private housing. To the north it runs up against the Central City, to the south we have shown it finishing along the edge of a shallow watercourse (a wadi) which nowadays cuts right through the ruins of the city. It is debatable as to whether houses were actually built continuously across the wadi floor as well. The street alignments on either side seem to recognise that a major interruption lay here, but it is possible that more houses were built than we have shown. The eastern half of the neighbourhood has been completely excavated, and so the plan is secure. The general outlines of the western part are visible today on the surface, but a detailed reconstruction has to rely much upon guesswork. We have tried to reproduce the character of the known eastern part of the city, keeping to the varied rhythm of housing density and to the irregular street pattern.

Three broad roads, of somewhat irregular widths, make their way through the city towards the north. This represents virtually the limits of 'planning'. As far as we know the Egyptians did not name their roads, as we do. The convention has grown, however, of assigning names to major streets as a convenient means of reference. So a part of the broad street which is furthest from the river is known as 'High-priest Street' (after the owner of a prominent house).

Figure 16.

Figure 16. View to the 'north' along what was probably the principal thoroughfare leading from the residential area to the government offices which were located behind the palaces and temples. One of the latter, the Small Aten Temple, is the white building in the left distance. For a reverse view down this street, see Figure 19.

Between these broad streets, houses large and small fill the ground with a bewildering variety of neighbourhood layouts, reached sometimes by narrow cross-streets and sometimes by a sequence of wide and narrow spaces which terminate in an irregular open space which does not really merit the term courtyard. Sometimes it is clear that the owners of large houses chose locations beside streets, and people of lesser standing had to put up with less convenient sites, but this is not a rule which universally holds true. It is likely that the building of houses began in many places at the same time and that gradually neighbourhoods converged as space was filled in by people arriving later. At the time when the city was abandoned there were still spaces to be filled, and space to expand at the rear, where the empty desert beckoned. The street and access pattern also gives the impression that it follows a series of trackways that rapidly and naturally developed as houses were built and traffic began to pass back and forth, and that the degree of prior planning outside the Central City was slight. This probably reflects a lack of interest in strict urban geometries for inhabited neighbourhoods as much as the haste in which the city was built.

Figure 17.

Figure 17. The 'southern' end of the model, where houses ran along the edge of a shallow wadi. A good part of of the left half is reconstruction. The subdued lighting in this picture captures the effect of a cloudy overcast sky which is common in the winter months.

The houses vary considerably in the amount of private external space that they claim. It is normal for the larger ones to stand within a walled compound which contains a range of service buildings, a garden, and a well. The main outside gateway was emphasised with gateposts and with a pair of low projecting walls, perhaps to guide chariots through. We have painted the wooden doorways red, following a widespread Egyptian convention in the colouring of architectural woodwork.

Most Amarna houses conform to a common design, but very few are identical to one another. Again a degree of schematization has been necessary. A set of detailed reconstruction drawings was prepared (by Dr Kate Spence) of one of the larger houses, that of the sculptor Thutmose, primarily for use in the making of a virtual-reality walk-through video. A model was also made from them, from which a mould was taken. Casts from the mould provide other examples of the larger houses which are dispersed through the city; but, in order to avoid an unnatural degree of repetition, other larger houses have been blocked out according to their actual plans but with a lesser degree of detailing.

A difficult decision was how high to take many of the buildings. Conventionally the houses of Amarna have been seen as primarily of one storey, but there are good grounds for thinking this to be too modest. We have therefore taken the larger houses up to two and three storeys. In the case of the house of Thutmose, which has served literally as a model for many others, Kate Spence's design allows for light to have entered the central ground-floor room of the house by windows near the ceiling on two sides. We have no way of knowing if this was standard practice.

Figure 18.

Figure 18. A similar view to Figure 6, included here to highlight the beehive-like silos in which grain (barley and emmer-wheat) were stored, and the set of parallel storerooms ('magazines') with vaulted roofs not only for larger quantities of grain but other things as well.

Two other features of private houses are conspicuous. One is the beehive shape and white colour of storage bins for wheat and barley which are to be seen in small groups usually close beside some of the larger houses. They were not invariably present, however. Some of the richer citizens stored their grain in long magazines. The storage of farm produce, which extended to the probably short-term keeping of cattle in some of the buildings of the private compounds, reflects the fact that many of the 'officials' who lived in the houses also owned or rented farmlands. They imported part of the agricultural yield back to their city houses, partly to live off but also partly to use as a means of payment for other things, by a process of barter.

The other feature is the garden chapel. Again we find that no two are quite alike. Two examples were chosen from the plans of excavators and worked up into three-dimensional shapes, one roofed and the other partially unroofed. Moulds were made and casts taken, and the two types dispersed through the city. As far as we can tell, these little chapels, mostly made of mud brick, celebrated the cult of the royal family, represented by statues and carved panels, and probably wall paintings. To what extent they also offered scope for a scaled-down form of worship of the Aten it is impossible to judge. It should be noted that many of the larger houses did not possess an external chapel. But a few owners set them in spacious gardens of their own, with a handsome pair of pylons to flank the entrance from the street.

In only a few cases are the owners of the houses documented. Close by the wadi edge, in the south-east corner of the model, lies the house and workshops of the sculptor Thutmose, where the famous head of Nefertiti was found. A neighbour on the same block but further west was a chariotry officer called Ramose. Along the eastern edge of the housing area, as it approaches the area of official buildings, one particularly large house and compound stands on its own and at an angle to everything else: this belonged to the hight-prieset Panehsy, owner of tomb no. 6 at Amarna, and also of the house which lies close to the south-east corner of the Great Aten Temple.

We have described the more mundane parts of the city first, imagining a visitor starting mid-way along the waterfront, edging southwards past the stockyards and the fringe of fields, turning the corner and passing the ends of the main streets in the direction of the open desert. From here, as one looks along the irregular streets, the royal buildings are visible in the distance, cutting across the city plan on an altogether grander scale and along a more disciplined set of alignments. This is the part which is known today as the Central City.

Figure 19.

Figure 19. View to the 'south' from the Central City towards the housing area. The long central thoroughfare is the same one as appears in Figure 16. The foreground is occupied by the Great Aten Temple.

The main roads across the housing area lead towards the Central City, and particularly towards the rear part where the offices were situated in which officials who lived in the city would have worked, the most senior amongst them travelling by their own chariot. To what extent people who wished to visit the housing areas which lay on the other side, much further to the north and beyond the limits of the model, followed a route through the city, or behind it, as opposed to taking a ferry boat along the river, is something we are entirely ignorant of. The overall articulation between the Central City and the residential parts seems to have been fairly weak, discouraging personal journeys into the main royal precinct. This is, however, something which our reconstruction has emphasised. By the time that the city was abandoned, some years after Akhenaten's death, a huge new building (the Smenkhkara Hall) had been put up against the south side of the Great Palace, largely occupying the ground in front of the smaller of the two temples. An open route then existed across the front of the temple. Excavation has still not properly revealed what had preceded this hall, although the discovery a few years ago of the bases of small altars in front of the temple implies that this was not public ground. We have interpreted the few clues that are available – fragments of wall and a reference to tree pits in Pendlebury's narrative – to create in front of the Small Aten Temple a huge walled courtyard, planted with trees, which ran down almost to the river bank. This would have impeded public access. It must be understood that this is an area where our own reconstruction preferences have imposed a pattern of usage on the city. It is also one which is likely to be illuminated by further excavation.

Figure 20.

Figure 20. A closer view of part of the Central City. On either side of 'Royal Road' lie major royal buildings linked by a Bridge. On the right ('west') is a part of the Great Palace which included a huge courtyard surrounded by large stone statues of King Akhenaten. The columned pavilion which looks out on to the enclosed sunken garden beside this courtyard is the building in which the painted pavement now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo was discovered (in 1892 by the British archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie). The other end of the Bridge leads to the King's House. Behind it is the buttressed enclosure wall of the Small Aten Temple.

Coming in from the north is the long straight road which, in modern times, has been called Royal Road. It linked the Central City with other palaces lying to the north, and provided Akhenaten and his family with an opportunity for ostentatious chariot-rides, flanked with lines of trotting bodyguards (they are present in the model, too, approaching the Bridge across Royal Road). As we have reconstructed the area in front of the Small Aten Temple, it became a cul-de-sac, terminating at the Bridge which formed a huge entrance portal to a wholly enclosed area.

The buildings to the east, the desert side, of Royal Road offer generally a straightforward route to reconstruction. Their ground plans have mostly survived and been recorded in the past, by the expedition of John Pendlebury in the 1930s. At the north end, the Great Aten Temple runs back for the full width of the city. Within its huge enclosure and surrounded by much open space lay two important temple buildings of limestone. In their strictly symmetrical design, their sequence of courtyards, and use of pylon towers with flagpoles, the temples outwardly would have had a traditional appearance, although the subject-matter and style of the carved and painted wall reliefs were a challenging declaration of Akhenaten's new focus of interest. It is at the end of the processional journey, however, that the departure from traditional design is most felt: the absence of covered halls and dark sacred places. The most sacred parts of the temples were also open to the sky.

Figure 21.

Figure 21. The front portion of the Great Aten Temple. Much of its huge enclosure seems to have been empty. Along the axis, behind the pylon-flanked front entrance, ran a long stone temple, the Gem-pa-Aten, built as a sequence of open courts fronted by pylons.

Figure 22.

Figure 22. The rear portion of the Great Aten Temple. Again on the axis lay a stone temple, seemingly a more compressed version of the Gem-pa-Aten. In front and to one side stood a huge quartzite round-topped tablet (stela) which bore a list of offerings, and beyond that (and closer to the viewer) the cattle slaughter-court.

The ground in front of the temple has suffered considerable losses from erosion and the spread of modern fields. For the model we have had to rely much upon conjecture. Taking a cue from the traditional character of the layout of the Great Aten Temple we have assumed a direct connection with the river, by means of a stone quay. Not far from the quay we have placed a small group of houses and fields. The ancient ground surface has not survived here so this is purely imaginary, but it seemed an appropriate pointer to the major housing area which lies further to the north, the North Suburb, and also represents the assumption that locations beside the river bank would have attracted people to settle there first.

Figure 23.

Figure 23. The front of the Great Aten Temple and front of the Great Palace. This crucial area where the axes of both buildings met has been lost beneath the modern fields. How it is rendered here is really a guess.

Returning to the temple, the ground plans of the individual parts have survived, marked on expanses of white gypsum plaster that formed a foundation raft beneath all stone constructions at Amarna. All of the actual stonework had, however, been methodically taken off the site after the end of the Amarna Period. From the ground plans it was necessary in the model to reconstruct the elevations of the walls and other elements in order to create standing, three-dimensional buildings. This is not wholly guesswork. Scenes of temple worship carved on the walls of the some of the tombs at Amarna depict details of architecture and of activities in the temple, sometimes in great detail. Nevertheless, some guesswork remains, as in the shape of the feature which stood at the back of the long narrow temple in the middle of the enclosure, where we have opted for a tall slab of stone, rounded at the top, a shape which we know that Akhenaten held sacred. A second such, made of purple quartzite, stood on its own in the great enclosure. Fragments have been found, showing that it bore a long list of food-offerings carved in hieroglyphic writing.

Figure 24.

Figure 24. Vertical view of the sanctuary at the rear of the Great Aten Temple. It was open to the sky and contained many stone tables on which food-offerings could be laid out.

An arresting feature of both the Great Aten Temple and its smaller companion to the south is the multiplicity of offering-tables. The large field of over 900 of them towards the front of the Great Aten Temple was made of mud brick, probably whitewashed. Scenes of temple cult in the tombs show them piled high with food-offerings, implying the need for a considerable food-processing industry to keep them stocked, though how frequently we do not know. Touches of colour have been added to some of the offering-tables, to indicate the food that was laid out on them (accompanied by bowls of smoking incense).

Figure 25.

Figure 25. The Gem-pa-Aten portion of the Great Aten Temple. On one side lay a field of over 900 mud-brick offering-tables.

In the middle of the great enclosure (and close beside the quartzite stela with its hieroglyphic menu) lay a butchers' yard for the all-important meat component of the offerings. We have shown lines of tethered cattle around the edge, awaiting slaughter in the middle. Tomb scenes show the cattle hides drying in the sun. Along the route to the yard from the south three overfed oxen are being dragged on six-wheeled flatbeds. This is not an invention. It is taken from a scene depicted on one of Akhenaten's temples at Karnak. A cattle assembly point is likely to have stood outside the temple enclosure. The adjacent house belonged to the hight-priest Panehsy, one of whose other titles put him in charge of the cattle of the Aten. The strange square building with several front courts which stood not far away, and which was (unusually) provided with a stone floor, we have guessed was the principal temporary cattle pen. Its roof we have pierced with numerous circular ventilation and lighting holes.

Figure 26.

Figure 26. A closer view of the standing quartzite stela which bore, in hieroglyphs, details of the regular programme of food-offerings in the temple. Beside lies the enclosure in which cattle were slaughtered and their hides laid out to dry (as depicted in tombs scenes at Amarna).

Figure 27.

Figure 27. The 'south-east' corner of the Great Aten Temple. The house lying beside the corner belonged to Panehsy, who was both a senior priest and the official in charge of the cattle of the Aten. The other building, towards the right side of the picture, was probably a large cattle-shed.

Further needs of the temple offering-cult and also of the royal palaces were served by a sprawl of buildings which occupied the ground to the south of Great Aten Temple. They were all built of mud brick, and to emphasise their utilitarian character we have given them all a mud colour. We know most about the long ranges of vaulted chambers: these formed collectively a giant bakehouse in which special festival-bread was baked in pottery moulds. The ovens lay at the back of each long chamber, presumably with an opening above to release the smoke. Patches of black on the vaulted roofs mark the positions of these smoke-blackened openings. On the desert behind has been dumped heaps of black and grey ash from the ovens, and it is also speckled with red deposits which represent the broken and discarded bread moulds, thrown away in their thousands. The remains of these heaps are conspicuous on the desert surface to this day.

Figure 28.

Figure 28. The bakeries along the 'south' side of the Great Aten Temple. Huge quantities of broken pottery moulds in which loaves were baked were thrown outside. The ovens were at the back of each of the vaulted rooms, which ran in long parallel sets.

Further south, and across a broad 'street', lies a further huddle of mud-brick buildings, these given over to housing the scribes who were responsible for running the city, the court, probably aspects of the country as a whole, and the affairs of empire. One of the buildings, the 'Office of Pharaoh's Correspondence', was where the Amarna Letters were found late in the 19th century of our era. The village-like character of this hub of Egyptian administration is an eloquent testimony to the exclusion from ideas of grandeur in architecture and layout of everything which was not actually a palace or a temple.

Exactly what went on in many of these buildings remains unclear. But by the time one reaches the outermost part it is evident that one is in a zone occupied by soldiers or police. A large stable-block for horse-drawn chariotry is easily recognisable, and it is possible that others of the adjacent larger and more carefully laid out buildings also housed the military. One of the tombs at Amarna, no 9, belonged to the Chief of the Police of Amarna, called Mahu, and within it, he and his men are shown as a chariot corps.

Figure 29.

Figure 29. The large enclosure has been identified as stabling for the chariotry which belonged to the city's police. A large well occupied the centre of the enclosure. The mottled reddish patch on the desert to one side is one of the so-called palace rubbish-heaps where the bulk of the imported Mycenaean pottery has been found.

Behind these buildings are two large patches of grey and red. These represent two large rubbish areas which, when examined by W.M. Flinders Petrie in 1892, were found to contain many pieces of imported Mycenaean pottery, and also many pieces of glazed jewellery, as well as debris from glazing factories. Often called the 'Palace rubbish heaps', their origin is not altogether clear.

Beside Royal Road, and linked to the Great Palace by a bridge, lay a small palace of mud brick which has been known in modern times as the King's House. In its design it is rather like a grander version of the larger houses of officials, and was perhaps a place where the royal family could obtain some degree of rest and privacy during the times that they were in the Central City. It possessed staircases, and it thus offers scope for envisaging upper floors and a complicated roof line. It was also provided with a large granary block, implying that it was a place where payments were distributed to those close to the king. It is thus one contender for the location of the Window of Appearance which is shown in many tombs as the place where Akhenaten would bestow rewards upon his loyal followers. In this model we have placed the window at the end of the avenue of trees in the large courtyard, in a wall which we know bore external painted decoration.

Figure 30.

Figure 30. View 'eastwards' along the axis of the Small Aten Temple. The temple enclosure, with its three sets of pylons, is still a conspicuous ruin. After the death of Akhenaten, however, one of his successors built a huge columned hall over the ground in front. It is difficult to find sufficiently clear traces of what it replaced. The reconstruction offered in the model, of a long enclosed space running to the river bank and planted with trees, is picking up a few surviving clues but is still nonetheless highly conjectural.

The King's House was linked to the Great Palace by means of a Bridge set upon massive brick piers. There is, of course, more than one way of reconstructing its original appearance. Pendlebury placed a roofed chamber over the central span, and inserted the Window of Appearance in the side. We have preferred a simpler interpretation which emphasises how it served as a portal which also offered an access route for the royal family to the royal precinct behind.

Beside the King's House, on the south, lay the second and smaller of the Aten Temples. It resembles very closely the sanctuary at the back of the Great Aten Temple, and, like it, was provided with numerous offering-tables. When first built, before the pylons were put in place, the offering-tables extended over the open ground in front for an unknown distance. We have not shown them because, by the time the pylons were built, they could have been destroyed to their foundations.

The Great Palace poses perhaps the largest challenge to modelling, partly on account of its unique design and partly because more than half of it has been lost beneath the modern fields. We have followed Pendlebury in assuming (and what else can one do?) that it was symmetrically laid out, like a temple, along a north-south axis, so that much of what has been lost beneath the fields was a mirror-image of what survived. This creates, for example, a long range of brick halls and an elaborate sunken garden on the west as well as on the east side. On the south, after Akhenaten's death, the large Smenkhkara Hall was built, but we have felt obliged to reconstruct what this part might have looked like previously. The simplest solution is carry around the rear part more of the brick halls and storage rooms that lay on either side, encouraged by Pendlebury's remark about finding walls and column bases beneath the Smenkhkara foundations. We have also allowed communication southwards to the hypothetical courtyard, by means of a small pylon and three entrances from the rear of the stone halls of the Great Palace.

Figure 31.

Figure 31. A view to the 'east' along the east-west axis of the Great Palace, which led to the Bridge and on to the King's House (in the background). The nearer portion of the Great Palace, including its colonnaded frontage, is a reconstruction, though one which utilises a scene in one of the Amarna tombs.

Figure 32.

Figure 32. The north-south axis of the Great Palace, looking towards the 'south'. The left-hand side and much of the rear of the building is based on excavated ground plans, but the large pylons and the right-hand side are conjectural.

For the stone parts we have, more or less, followed the reconstructions of Pendlebury, particularly in respect of which parts were roofed and which were open. The central court with the multiplicity of stelae comes directly from excavated evidence, as do the pairs of long shallow ramps by which one passed from one part of the palace to another. Today, the most conspicuous remnant of the stone halls is a large square concrete foundation, clearly for the support of a major heavy architectural feature. A difficult decision is what to put on it, and on its hypothetical twin on the other side of the palace. Neither the excavated evidence nor the scenes in the contemporary tombs offer any help. Our choice of two granite obelisks fits the scale that the foundations seem to demand, and it is a purely solar shape that might have commended itself to Akhenaten. The pair of huge obelisks that originally stood behind the rear of Karnak temple and was set up as the focus of veneration in a shrine illustrates that the Egyptians could see obelisks as the centre of attention as well as adjuncts to temple façades.

Figure 33.

Figure 33. The model of the Great Palace in the course of being made. The Bridge also stands in its correct place on the ground plan.

The great courtyard with colossal statues is derived from sound excavated evidence, but at the northern end any further continuation is now lost beneath an extension to the modern fields. Pendlebury located the edge of massive stone foundations, and the line of an unusually long ramp. The whole layout of the Great Palace implies that it was entered from the north, and the size of the foundations demands something of monumental scale. The huge pair of pylon towers and its associated platforms and ramps that we have put there is pure invention, although the preserved length of the ramp can be read as indicating that whatever was there rose to an unusual height. The dilemma is that if we keep strictly to what is known we are likely to undervalue the dramatic potential of Egyptian architecture, and to create a bland setting for Amarna's principal approach. This is, in itself, a choice with an effect as misleading as a more ambitious interpretation might be. One should accommodate in reconstructions a capacity to surprise, but also attempt to see them as ghostly outlines only. Many other interpretations must be possible. We have added to the front a hypothetical outer enclosure, protected by a relatively narrow entrance, as was the case, for example, with Rameses III's mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.

The river frontage of the Great Palace is, of necessity, conjectural. The scene in the tomb of May shows a long colonnade above the river bank, and we have carefully followed this clue, but have also given Akhenaten a pair of handsome stone jetties at which his elaborate state boats could have moored. Their design is based partly on the New Kingdom quays which were built in front of temples, and partly on an elongated pier which ran out into a shallow artificial lake in the desert site of Maru-Aten at Amarna, which seems to have been provided with a small building at its end. As a precaution against damage to the stonework from the swift flowing of the river at the time of inundation, a beakwater of rough stone blocks runs back from the southernmost of the two jetties. Because the southern end of the Great Palace lies so close to the busy area of waterfront it also seemed appropriate to add a battlemented watch-tower, its shape taken from a scene in the tomb of Mahu, the chief of police at Amarna.

Figure 34.

Figure 34. The river frontage of the Great Palace. A flotilla of boats has just left and is heading downstream, following the current and propelled by oars.

Figure 35.

Figure 35. A vertical view of the same. The stone landing-quays are protected from the powerful current of the Nile when in flood by a breakwater of rough limestone blocks.

On the boundary proclamations which are carved in the cliffs around the edge of the Amarna plain Akhenaten lists his intentions in some detail. They amounted to a blueprint for a sacred centre, a collection of temples, palaces and tombs, rather than for a city as we would understand it. This is what we see translated into buildings. The temples and the palaces were indeed laid out with careful forethought and ambitious vision. But they were the limit of the king's interest. For the rest, the laying out and erection of the offices, depots and houses was handed over to the builders and to the users. The result seems to  have been a very prosaic workable compromise between order and chaos. Everyone's life had been affected by Akhenaten's decision to move house. The city that they built for themselves seems intended to allow normal life to resume, one in which the affairs of court were relatively remote.

Figure 36.

Figure 36. A general view of the ‘southern’ end of the model, across the full width of the residential area. The market-place is in the foreground.

Figure 37.

Figure 37. A general view of the model. Remember that this is only a part of the city. Other palaces, shrines and areas of residential housing lay scattered along further reaches of the river bank and out into the desert.

 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated November 2010 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk