Tell el Amarna, Capital of the Disk: Akhetaten

An entire city thus emerged from under the arid soil of Tell el Amarna. Given the sad state of the vestiges excavated by successive waves of English and German research teams, the city's original glory is hard to imagine.

Dynasty XVIII - Levelled remains of one of the colonnaded corridors of the North Palace, called the Palace of Nefertiti - Tell el Amarna, city of Akhenaten

Despite being subjected to destructive attacks early in the century, the Boundary Stelae the King had set up to demarcate his territory - and they alone - continue to speak out of times past: Akhenaton's kingdom covered a territory the size of "six iteru, three-quarters of a khe and four cubits the side," - from the north stela to the south stela - or about thirteen thousand meters. They also proclaim that "His majesty mounted a great chariot of electrum,and, on the favorable day, marked out the limits of the site he had named The Horizon of the Aten; then, as men, women and all things rejoiced, he had set up an altar and made an unprecedented oblation to the Aten. Then, all those near to the King, the high-placed officials, the army chiefs, were brought before him and bowed low to him although he asserted that it was the Aten Himself who had designated this site (...), to which the court replied that Aten would unveil his plans to no one but him alone and soon all the nations of the world would come here to bring Aten, giver of life, the tribute they owed to him. Then the Pharoah had raised his hand towards the Disk at its zenith and had vowed he would build Akhetaten there for Aten his father, at this precise site and nowhere else; that he would listen to no one, not even the queen, should one try to persuade him to build Akhetaten elsewhere. Then he had listed all the grand and beautiful monuments he planned to set up, the House of the Aten, the Mansion of the Aten, the Pavilion for the Queen, the House of Rejoicing for the Aten in the Island "Exalted in Jubilees", and all the other buildings and works necessary to celebrate the Aten, the Apartments of the Pharoah and the Apartments of the Queen."

The foundations for most of the buildings listed in the royal text have been identified, in particular the Great Temple (House of the Aten) and the Smaller Temple (Mansion of the Aten) of the Aten, the vast palace onto the back of which were built the administrative buildings, the House of the King or Little Palace, the Apartment of the Queen. Above all, an eight hundred meter stretch of the royal street that ran through the center of the city has been cleared. Beyond this stretched the leisure quarters, the homes of the high-ranking officials, and further to the north, the suburbs, a complex mosaic of tightly grouped, small houses.

The city of Akhetaten

  1. North Palace, called the Palace of Nefertiti
  2. Great Temple of the Aten
  3. Royal Palace
  4. Central Quarter
  5. South Suburb
  6. North Tombs
  7. South Tombs

The palaces and cultural buildings were designed on the scale of the King's ambitions: it has been established that the royal palace's coronation room alone boasted no less than five hundred forty-four supporting pillars. The Great Temple of the Aten, if Pendleton is to be believed, "had been built within an enormous enclosure delimiting a rectangle eight hundred meters long by three hundred meters wide; it encompassed two sanctuaries separated from each other by a gap of about three hundred meters. These two sanctuaries, of unequal importance, had been built using the same plan. The earlier temple, by far the largest, was divided into two basic parts, called the "House of Rejoicing" and "The Encounter of the Aten." The first, preceded by a pylon, was a large court surrounded by lateral colonnades that each ended up at an altar; the second was built as a succession of courts, separated from each other by pylons and linked by a causeway that gradually rose towards the sanctuary; it was flanked by offering tables and kiosks that undoubtedly served as stores. The main altar, surrounded by offering tables, was located in the last court bounded to the east by a wall, in which there was a ring of rooms open to the sky, each of which contained one or several small altars. The last temple consisted of only two courts preceded by a pylon. To the rear of the second court, a stone in the form of a stela rose from an alabaster base, to which access was provided by a ramp, and that no doubt played the role of the Ben-ben stone upon which, at the time the world was created,the first sun had settled."

As everywhere in Egypt, and since time immemorial, private homes were built of light materials - mudbrick, pisť and wood. Stone, which was reserved for the houses of the gods and the dead, only rarely was used except for door jambs and column bases. The German research teams brought to light the levelled remains of several of Akhetaten's dwellings: they were square or rectangular in plan, except for the porter's lodge which jutted out at the building's northern angle. The three sections into which a residence was divided comprised reception rooms, opening onto a vast hall whose ceiling was supported by polychromed wood columns; parlor rooms, also grouped around a salon that almost always included a brick bench serving as a couch; and finally, to the rear of the dwelling, private apartments, featuring varying number of rooms, small salons, resting rooms, powder rooms, wardrobes, reserved to the house master and mistress. Each residence was competed by outbuildings and a flower garden, enchanced by a lake and pavilions or kiosks. Of course, the foundations that have been rediscovered hardly do justice to the serene harmony of the Amarna Period homes, with their sparkling, whitewashed walls featuring the subtle polychromy of decorative painted friezes: lotus bouquets, papyrus bunches, from which tightly packed flocks of wild ducks and geese shoot out. It was so long ago that the sands swept over and buried the gentle life in harmony with the Unique One.

In order to bring back those who lived such a life - who took care of the royal house, directed the administrative centers, kept watch over the rituals within the sanctuaries, or operated the vast estates that spread as far as the eye could see - one must travel to the foothills of the Arabian mountains, where the hypogea of those faithful to the king were dug: Meyre, High Priest of the Disk; Ahmose, the King's Private Secretary and beloved companion; Ramessu, steward of the House of Tiye; Pentu, the King's physician and nearest to the King; Parennefer, His Majesty's only friend; Mahu, Chief of Police; Tutu, Pinhasy, May, Ipy, and others still.

The tombs have come down to us in a most disastrous state. Not a single one, not even that of the divine Father Ay, the most lavish of them all, was ever completed, much less occupied, since the entire court went back to Thebes just a few months after the King disappeared. All that is left to discover are partially hewn pillars, naked walls, the mere outline of reliefs, a rare polychrome notation. And, nonetheless, here and there a magnificent sketch carved directly in the rock by the steady hand of the outline scribe. Sadly, in their wrath against the heretic, the Theban partisans sent quarriers down to the very bottom of the caves with their mallets to pound, mutilate and desecrate the images of the Aten, the representations of royalty or civilians, and even the hymns accompanying them, in order to erase for all eternity and in all minds any memories of the schismatic King.

The layout of the Amarna tombs is faithful to tradition, comprising - just like the Theban hypogea, for instance - an entrance hall, a large square or rectangular pillared room, and an axial chapel sheltering the statue of the deceased, completed by a shaft leading to the sarcophagus room. On the other hand, the iconography of the reliefs or paintings, is deliberately otherwise, devoid of all the usual references to the traditional funerary myths. The Opening the Mouth ceremony, the entombment, the pilgrimage to Abydos were all banished, as was any allusion whatsoever to the Book of the Dead or any related texts. Nor is there any mention of the great deities of the Western Kingdom - Osiris, Isis, Nepthys, Anubis, Hathor or Upuat. By contrast, and in accordance with royal doctrine, the Aten, Father and Mother of Life and of Death, is omnipresent, always accompanied by the King and the Queen, his living manifestations. The Amarna artists thus favored five major topics, which crop up systematically in the necropolis tombs: