The Royal Estate in Central City at Amarna (Ancient Akhetaten)

The Royal Estate in

Central City at Amarna (Ancient Akhetaten)

by Jimmy Dunn

An overall plan of the Royal estate including the Grand Palace, King's House, Bridge and Small Aten Temple

Despite the elaborateness of the royal complex located in Central City at Amarna, Egyptologists do not, for the most part, appear to believe this to be the principal residence of the heretic king, Akhenaten in his capital. Rather, they believe this distinction belongs to the North Palace. However, he likely spent considerable time at this location. Today, little remains of the royal estate that spanned both sides of the Royal Road, though after extensive investigation, we do have a very good idea of the layout with regards to its various components.

To the east of the Royal Road in Central City at Amarna is a royal estate laid out opposite the official palace across the road. It consisted of what we refer to as the King's house, an enclosure surrounding a garden, the Royal or Small Aten Temple, priests' quarters and various storage magazines.

The Royal or Small Aten Temple

Located near the "King's House" in the Central City at Amarna and enclosed within a temenos wall measuring 100 by 200 meters is what some Egyptologists refer to as the Small Aten Temple and others call the Royal Temple. The ancient Egyptians apparently called it Hwt-Aten, or "The Castle of Aten". Unlike the Great Aten Temple, it was perhaps directly connected to the royal palace complex that existed on both sides of the Royal Road, and it has been suggested that this temple may have acted as a mortuary temple for Akhenaten. This is evidenced by the temples alignment with the royal wadi where the king's tomb was excavated.

A modern replication of one of the Small Aten Temple's columns

Prior to the construction of this temple there was a large high altar measuring 9.35 by 14.4 meters that stood in the area of the first court.

The temenos wall around the temple was fortified with buttresses except on the entrance facade along the Royal Road. The entrance facade took the form of a brick pylon, which might have had vertical faces and doorjambs lined with stone as depicted in the tomb of Tutu. Two flagstaffs were fixed into slots in each tower of the pylon and a second doorway in the enclosure flanked both towers.

In the first court of the temple, a central ramp about 8.8 meters wide bordered by rows of brick offering tables ascended to a brick altar. The main altar was surrounded by 108 offering tables (sometimes referred to as small altars). This court was followed by another pylon that formed the facade of the second court and again this pylon was flanked by secondary gateways that featured granite stelae. Similar doorways without stelae opened in the north and south sides of this court.

Like in the courtyard of the "Sanctuary" in the Great Aten Temple, there was a priest's house situated in front of the south tower of the pylon, at the rear of the second court. This house had its own court with an altar and a corridor with three rooms, one of which was an alcove for a bed.

The third pylon and gateway lead directly into the sanctuary of the temple itself. The court surrounding it was entered through two subsidiary doorways and contained three domestic buildings in its south section. The sanctuary in this smaller temple was rectangular, with wing walls also similar to those of the sanctuary of the Great Aten Temple. This sanctuary consisted of two courts, each with an altar and a series of offering tables. It appears that there was a colonnade flanking either side of the doorway to the inner court. A winding entrance with screen walls led into the latter, which is bordered with a row of contiguous shallow chapels.

According to the depictions in the tomb of Tutu, trees seem to have been grown to the east, behind the sanctuary.

Plan of the Small Aten Temple

Plan of the Small Aten Temple

The temple in its main lines is similar to the sanctuary of the Great Temple, though less elaborate.

The King's House

Plan of the King's House

Plan of the King's House

The so called "King's House" had an enclosure measuring 123 by 140 meters, inside of which the building took the form of a U around a garden, with the actual residence of the king at the rear.

Model of the Royal Estate with the Small Aten Temple (Upper Left), King's House (Below the Small Temple), Bridge and on the right, the Great Palace

There was a large area in front of the King's house that was laid out as a garden with a central path bordered with trees in a stepped arrangement and fronted by a pylon on its northern approach. Two additional entrances to the house communicated with the Royal Road and to the bridge across the royal road. Two lower terraces border the western side of the King's house. The outer terrace featured an arbor with a roof on brick piers. Two doorways at both ends of the south wall connect the garden to the residence.

The plan of the King's house itself is rectangular and oriented east-west. It is clearly divided into two sections consisting of the private apartments accessible from the garden and the servants' quarters accessible from the front courtyard near the entrance gateway. The servants' quarters takes the form of an L-shaped plan set on the southwest corner. It consisted of two sets of rooms on both sides of the long north-south court and a large house with a private entrance corridor from the garden. This house is in the typical Amarna style with a broad hall and a deep hall out of which various chambers open. A section to the east of this house has been identified as a nursery. Its buildings, which consist of two sets of three bedrooms each are bordered on the north by a court and on the south by a corridor.

The private chambers within the King's house are located at the northern side of the complex and basically took the form of a normal Amarna villa. Here, the feature element is a large hall with wooden columns in seven rows of six each. At the rear is a transverse columned hall. The main hall is flanked to the west by a court with storerooms and a bathroom, and on the east by a large room with an altar and the pharaoh's suite of bedroom, bathroom and latrine. Screen walls on an L-shaped plan with a curtain on the doorway insured privacy. Painted dados depicting the symbolic plants of Upper and Lower Egypt alternating with recessed paneling adorned all the walls of these rooms. In the pharaoh's suite, wonderful frescoes depict the small princesses, the queen and other scenes.

The Bridge

The king's estate to both sides of the Royal Road were connected by way of a bridge. The bridge was a very solid structure in brickwork and reinforced with large balks of cedar. It was built in three unequal spans that were probably covered by flat roofs. There were, surmounting the bridge itself, rooms decorated with various paintings. The design of the bridge would have probably been similar to that of the gateway of the North Suburb.

Notation: A window of appearance where Akhenaten would bestow rewards upon his loyal followers was depicted in local tombs. Egyptologists believe that this windows was either located in the bridge itself, or in the King's house, though its exact location is unknown.

The Main Palace Complex (The Great Palace)

Plan for the Great Palace including Coronation Hall, the King's residence, the Harem and Servants' Quarters

One of Akhenaten's major palaces at Amarna lies between the Royal Road and the cultivation along the river. It was probably known as the "House-of-Rejoicing-of-the-Aten". This structure is oriented on a north-south plan and consists of the state apartments built in stone and bordered along the eastern side by the servants' quarters (north), the harem (middle) and the magazines (south), all of which were constructed of brick. There was a bridge with three spans that crossed over the Royal Road from the king's house on the east to the state apartments, passing between the harem and the magazines.

The Coronation Hall

The coronation hall was a later addition to the palace complex which was not set in the axis of the remainder of the complex. Its entrance communicated with the bridge connecting the King's House to the Royal Palace complex. It has a relatively square plan featuring a multitude of piers (544) covering the whole interior, an arrangement that is strikingly similar to that of the later Persian apadana. The square structure is divided into three transverse elements.

One element is a court surrounded on three sides by a portico on pillars. It is flanked on the east and west sides each by two deep halls with pillars. A sunken pathway bordered by a yellow brick curb runs down the central aisle of both eastern halls.

Plan of the Coronation Hall

The second element of the Coronation Hall is a huge chamber accessed through a central doorway. It features 32 rows of 17 square pillars that support a ceiling that had painted decorations depicting vines on a yellow background. The walls appear to have been inlaid with faience tiles decorated with plant patterns.

The final division of this structure is very shallow. It consists of a court with a sunken area and flanked by two deep halls with pillars. Here, we find the name of Smenkhkare and some scholars believe that this building was erected hastily in about the fifteenth year of Akhenaten's reign for ceremonies surrounding Smenkhkare's elevation to co-regent.

The Servants' Quarters

Within the palace, three pylons with central doorways lead to the three groups forming the "servants' quarters". The first two groups of structures within the pylons were actually storage magazines, while the northernmost group of structures were actually housing. These houses were, though somewhat nicer, similar to those of the Eastern Worker's Village. These units contiguous and were uniformly rectangular in plan, divided into three elements. The first element was an entrance hall with two columns, a stone lustration slab and a brick worked dais. There was also a central hall with one or two columns, on a stone base, and two rooms with shelves at the back. Each of these houses had a staircase to a loggia with a column on the terrace, and brick floors that were sometimes covered by white plaster.

The Harem

Plan of the Harem

The term harem is of course, an Arabic word with not really the same meaning in ancient Egypt that it acquired later in history. However, there were women's quarters and in this palace they stretched between the eastern side of the state apartments and the Royal Road. An entrance from the road led into two courts divided the building into two groups, of which the northernmost grouping appears to have been the more important. An ambulatory surrounds the northern block and this may have been a passage for guards. There is no direct entrance to the inner rooms of these quarters from either the road or even from the main entrance.

These buildings are not entirely symmetrical. Along the north-south axis of the northern group are a number of elements. These include a sunken garden with a tank at its northern end, bordered on either long side by a narrow hall with a central colonnade and a row of small adjacent rooms (perhaps storage magazines).

At the end of the garden to the south a columned portico stretches along the front of a broad hall which had two rows of columns. On the main axis down the gangway the painted pavement depicts a row of Asiatic and African prisoners flanked by two pools that contained fish and flowers.

The main hall has a square plan and communicates to the southeast with a large room that had twelve columns inlaid with faience. Here, the pavement was painted with motifs that included captives and birds in the marshes in both the main hall and the columned room. There were adjacent chambers on a uniform plan that included three rooms to the west and two to the east that flanked the main hall. Each of these chambers were also square with a central column, and each had also two small adjacent rooms to the south. These rooms probably represented the suites for the ladies of the court. This was the general layout for the women's quarters at Amenhotep III's palace at Malqata and of Ramesses III's palace at Medinet Habu.

Painted Pavement in the garden area

Painted Pavement in the garden area

The southern group of buildings, entered from the north, consisted of a long garden flanked on one side by a court with two symmetrical suites featuring a hall and four rear chambers each. On the other side of the garden was an ensemble similar to that forming the northern part of the quarters. A broad hall leads axially to a square hall communicating with a columned room. Here also, all pavements were painted.

The State Apartments

The Royal Estate showing a partially conjectural wing on the Great Palace

The State Apartments were a huge complex and the only part of the palace to be built of stone. Its layout is strictly symmetrical about a north-south axis running parallel to the Royal Road. A very large court known as the "broad hall" fronts the buildings to the north. It was bordered by statues of Akhenaten rendered in quartzite and granite and of the Queen rendered in quartzite. These figures were, on the south side, standing, while along the two wings, sitting. Originally there seems to have been planned a gigantic columned portico some 150 meters in length, which was never carried out.

To the west are remains of a mysterious stone building, while in the center of the south side an imposing porch on three rows of four palmiform columns each, made from sandstone, shades the entrance to a transverse columned hall with two rows of fourteen columns each. It opens into the central court of the same breadth with two side courts. The columns of the transverse hall feature depictions of swages of ducks hanging on the shafts and free foliage on the capitals. Here, the paving was of alabaster.

This group of three courts is laid out axially with the bridge that leads to the King's House across the Royal Road. Each entrance to the court has a system of ascending and descending ramps bordered by granite balustrades intended to allow for the circulation of horse chariots. This is a curious feature that perhaps indicates a Mesopotamian influence. A portico existed, built in two wings, that flanked each of the entrances from the side courts to the broad hall, or to the bridge (from the east court). Flanking the central axis in the central court, there appears to have been two series of three rows of four alabaster stelae each, carved on both sides with depictions of the royal family worshipping the Aten.

Plan of the King's residence in the Great Palace

The next transverse group of structural elements consists of a central hall, of the same width and depth as the central court, and flanked by two ensembles, each consisting of a square court surrounded by a colonnaded portico. They were flanked to the south by two adjacent rooms with square columns, and to the north by two additional columned rooms, one of which probably had subsidiary chambers. The center of each of the square courts was sunk and a central concrete platform could have been surmounted by a statue. In four rows of twelve each, the limestone columns of the central hall had shafts in the shape of bundles of reeds and inverted bell capitals, not unlike the tent-pole columns in the Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III at Karnak. The flanking colonnades were of a smaller size, which allowed for clerestory lighting in the central hall. The side courts featured a pair of pavilions though only one was actually built.

A drawing of the King's House and Small Temple (Upper Left), Bridge and Great Palace (Bottom Right)

A drawing of the King's House and Small Temple (Upper Left),
Bridge and Great Palace (Bottom Right)

Ramps led up to the south side of the central hall, probably to some part of the plan which was never completed.


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