The North Palace at Amarna (Ancient Akhetaten)

The North Palace at Amarna (Ancient Akhetaten)

by Jimmy Dunn

Remains of the North Palace at Amarna

Conjecture surrounds the excavated structure in northern Amarna (ancient Akhetaten) known as the North Palace and not to be confused with the nearby building known as the Riverside Palace. At best, we believe that the structure was eventually converted into a palace for Akhenaten's oldest daughter, Princess Meritaten, and may have previously been the home of one of his queens (perhaps Nefertiti, but now thought to be Kiya). It could very well be that the future king, Tutankhamun was raised in this palace. However, the origins of the building are more obscure and some scholars believe it may have once served as perhaps a retreat for the king as a sort of zoological garden where he could satisfy his love of nature. It has even been suggested that it could have been Akhenaten's principle residence, though this view seems to now be out of favor.

Plan of the North Palace

The structure, which can be reached directly from the North Tombs by a road leading through the fields or by a short detour northwards from el-Till is called by the locals Kasr Nefertiti, meaning "The Palace of Nefertiti", but this is a misnomer. Visitors usually approach it from the desert, and thus from the back of the building. Because the brickwork is fragile it is now protected by a barbed-wire fence from which visitors are normally excluded.

This is an isolated, self contained structure beside the cultivation which was excavated during 1923 and 1924. Since then, much reconstruction and consolidation has been undertaken and the plan of the various elements of the structure can be clearly seen. Some of the missing column bases have also bee replaced with modern replicas.

The North Palace takes the form of a rectangular structure measuring 112 by 142 meters with thick outer walls build along three sides of a long, open space. The arrangement of a series of courts and pillared halls with mangers for antelopes, ibexes and gazelles and small contiguous cells around a central garden for birds seems to have formed the basic incentive in the creation of this unique complex.

A depiction of a royal princess nibbling on a roasted duck from the North Palace

The building is divided transversely as well as longitudinally into three sections. In the center of the western most wall a gateway opens to the Nile River. Within this entrance is a large court followed by a wall or pylon and a second court that was probably a large pool but it is possible that this could have also been a well. To the north of the first court was a sun chapel with three solar altars, of which traces of their cement foundations can still be seen. There are also a series of contiguous cells to either side of the altars that probably functioned as storage areas. South of the first court is a complex of two symmetrical peristyle chambers.

The second court, which has been called a water court, was surrounded by a terrace with trees and bordered to the north by three contiguous identical elements of zoological gardens. Each of these elements are fronted with a common portico on pillars, a central court bordered laterally by a portico and at the rear, a pillared hall containing painted animal stalls. To the south was a complex of chambers that may have functioned as space for guards and officials.

A colonnaded Corridor most likely in the royal apartment in the North Palace

At the very rear of the complex beyond the second court was the royal apartment with a terrace as an approach from the court to a hypostyle hall. Within the apartment is a shallow transverse hall connected to two lateral corridors ending with an observation window and a throne room with lateral groups of rooms, among which can be recognized a bathroom and a bedroom, with an alcove at the south end.

To the north of the royal apartment is a sunken garden surrounded on three sides by a portico and contiguous cells that were presumably for birds. This is the most famous part of the palace. When excavated, the walls of the surrounding chambers still bore areas of painted plaster. The central room on the north side, the "Green Room", was painted with a continuous frieze depicting the natural life of the marshes. Here, the walls were adorned with spectacular paintings of birds, some diving into the marshes for prey.Within this room were also staggered rows of niches that most likely acted as nesting boxes. In another cell, we find a lively goose which provides striking testimony to the skill and taste of the artist. Each chamber possessed a window through which the central garden, sunk beneath the level of the pavement, could by viewed.

Painting of a bird from the area of the sunken garden

To the south of the royal apartment stretches a complex consisting of a court bordered by a lateral portico fronting five deep rooms and at the rear, a huge pillared hall.

The decoration of the whole structure shows a uniform plan. Above a black or blue dado are alternating bands of blue and red, separated by a narrow stripe of white and surmounted by a kheker frieze. The bands, which turn vertical at the corners of the rooms and again horizontal at the top, form a frame to a yellow background painted with figures of men and animals mostly consisting of birds and fishes. The ceilings were apparently treated as a trellis of vine. Floors were also painted with nature scenes.

The remains of the sunken garden in the North Palace.

The remains of the sunken garden in the North Palace.

The elements of this palace resemble various parts of other palaces in Central City and elsewhere at Amarna. The layout is a beautiful example of an elaborate and symmetrical arrangement to answer the unique program of a zoological garden combined with a royal retreat. When set against the religious background of the period and when examining a temple such as that at Maru-Aten to the south, this complex possible assumes the aspect of a reserve were various specimens of animal life were kept as a symbol of the potential power of the creator god, Aten.






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