Amarna (Arabic: العمارنة, translit. al-ʿamārnah) is
an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains
of the capital city newly established and built by the Pharaoh
Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, and abandoned shortly after
his death (1332 BC). The name for the city employed by the ancient
Egyptians is written as Akhetaten (or Akhetaton—transliterations
vary) in English transliteration. Akhetaten means "Horizon of the
The area is located on the east bank of the
Nile River in the modern
Egyptian province of Minya, some 58 km (36 mi) south of the
city of al-Minya, 312 km (194 mi) south of the Egyptian
Cairo and 402 km (250 mi) north of Luxor. The
Deir Mawas lies directly west across from the site of Amarna.
Amarna, on the east side, includes several modern villages, chief of
which are el-Till in the north and el-Hagg Qandil in the south.
The area was also occupied during later Roman and early Christian
times; excavations to the south of the city have found several
structures from this period.
City of Akhetaten
2.1 Site and plan
2.1.1 North City
2.1.2 Central City
2.1.3 Southern suburbs
3 Life in ancient Amarna/Akhetaten
3.1 Religious life
5 Rediscovery and excavation
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Amarna comes from the Beni Amran tribe that lived in the
region and founded a few settlements. The ancient Egyptian name was
(This site should be distinguished from Tell
Amarna in Syria, a Halaf
period archaeological tell.)
English Egyptologist, Sir
John Gardner Wilkinson
John Gardner Wilkinson visited
in the 1820s and identified it as 'Alabastron', following the
sometimes contradictory descriptions of Roman-era authors Pliny (On
Ptolemy (Geography), although he was not sure about
the identification and suggested Kom el-Ahmar as an alternative
City of Akhetaten
Tomb of Akhenaten
The area of the city was effectively a virgin site, and it was in this
city that the Akhetaten described as the Aten's
"seat of the First Occasion, which he had made for himself that he
might rest in it."
It may be that the Royal Wadi's resemblance to the hieroglyph for
horizon showed that this was the place to found the city.
The city was built as the new capital of the
dedicated to his new religion of worship to the Aten. Construction
started in or around Year 5 of his reign (1346 BC) and was probably
completed by Year 9 (1341 BC), although it became the capital city two
years earlier. To speed up construction of the city most of the
buildings were constructed out of mud-brick, and white washed. The
most important buildings were faced with local stone.
It is the only ancient Egyptian city which preserves great details of
its internal plan, in large part because the city was abandoned after
the death of Akhenaten, when Akhenaten's son, King Tutankhamun,
decided to leave the city and return to his birthplace in Thebes
(modern Luxor). The city seems to have remained active for a decade or
so after his death, and a shrine to
Horemheb indicates that it was at
least partially occupied at the beginning of his reign, if only as
a source for building material elsewhere. Once it was abandoned it
remained uninhabited until Roman settlement began along the edge of
the Nile. However, due to the unique circumstances of its creation and
abandonment, it is questionable how representative of ancient Egyptian
cities it actually is.
Amarna was hastily constructed and covered an
area of approximately 8 miles (13 km) of territory on the east
bank of the Nile River; on the west bank, land was set aside to
provide crops for the city's population. The entire city was
encircled with a total of 14 boundary stelae detailing Akhenaten's
conditions for the establishment of this new capital city of Egypt.
The earliest dated stele from Akhenaten's new city is known to be
Boundary stele K which is dated to Year 5, IV Peret (or month 8), day
13 of Akhenaten's reign. (Most of the original 14 boundary stelae
have been badly eroded.) It preserves an account of Akhenaten's
foundation of this city. The document records the pharaoh's wish to
have several temples of the
Aten to be erected here, for several royal
tombs to be created in the eastern hills of
Amarna for himself, his
Nefertiti and his eldest daughter
Meritaten as well as his
explicit command that when he was dead, he would be brought back to
Amarna for burial. Boundary stela K introduces a description of
the events that were being celebrated at Amarna:
His Majesty mounted a great chariot of electrum, like the
Aten when He
rises on the horizon and fills the land with His love, and took a
goodly road to Akhetaten, the place of origin, which [the Aten] had
created for Himself that he might be happy therein. It was His son
Wa'enrē [i.e. Akhenaten] who founded it for Him as His monument when
His Father commanded him to make it. Heaven was joyful, the earth was
glad every heart was filled with delight when they beheld him.
This text then goes on to state that
Akhenaten made a great oblation
to the god
Aten "and this is the theme [of the occasion] which is
illustrated in the lunettes of the stelae where he stands with his
queen and eldest daughter before an altar heaped with offerings under
the Aten, while it shines upon him rejuvenating his body with its
Statues to the left of Boundary stela U in el-Amarna
Site and plan
Located on the east bank of the Nile, the ruins of the city are laid
out roughly north to south along a "Royal Road", now referred to as
"Sikhet es-Sultan". The Royal residences are generally to the
north, in what is known as the North City, with a central
administration and religious area and the south of the city is made up
of residential suburbs.
Akhenaten seal ring in blue faience. Walters Art Museum
Main article: North City, Amarna
If one approached the city of
Amarna from the north by river the first
buildings past the norther boundary stele would be the North Riverside
Palace. This building ran all the way up to the waterfront and was
likely the main residence of the Royal Family. Located within the
City area is the Northern Palace, the main residence of the
Royal Family. Between this and the central city, the Northern Suburb
was initially a prosperous area with large houses, but the house size
decreased and became poorer the further from the road they were.
Most of the important ceremonial and administrative buildings were
located in the central city. Here the Great Temple of the
Aten and the
Aten Temple were used for religious functions and between these
the Great Royal Palace and Royal Residence were the ceremonial
residence of the King and Royal Family, and were linked by a bridge or
ramp. Located behind the Royal Residence was the Bureau of
Correspondence of Pharaoh, where the
Amarna Letters were found.
This area was probably the first area to be completed, and had at
least two phases of construction.
To the south of the city was the area now referred to as the Southern
Suburbs. It contained the estates of many of the city's powerful
Nakhtpaaten (Chief Minister), Ranefer, Panehesy
Priest of the Aten) and Ramose (Master of Horses). This area
also held the studio of the sculptor Thutmose, where the famous bust
Nefertiti was found in 1912.
Further to the south of the city was Kom el-Nana, an enclosure,
usually referred to as a sun-shade, and was probably built as a
sun-temple., and then the Maru-Aten, which was a palace or
sun-temple originally thought to have been constructed for Akhenaten's
queen Kiya, but on her death her name and images were altered to those
of Meritaten, his daughter.
Surrounding the city and marking its extent, the Boundary Stelae (each
a rectangle of carved rock on the cliffs on both sides of the Nile)
describing the founding of the city are a primary source of
information about it.
Away from the city Akhenaten's Royal necropolis was started in a
narrow valley to the east of the city, hidden in the cliffs. Only one
tomb was completed, and was used by an unnamed Royal Wife, and
Akhenaten's tomb was hastily used to hold him and likely Meketaten,
his second daughter.
In the cliffs to the north and south of the Royal Wadi, the nobles of
the city constructed their Tombs.
See also Workmen's Village, Amarna
Life in ancient Amarna/Akhetaten
Amarna portrait. Altes Museum, Berlin
Much of what is known about Amarna's founding is due to the
preservation of a series of official boundary stelae (13 are known)
ringing the perimeter of the city. These are cut into the cliffs on
both sides of the Nile (10 on the east, 3 on the west) and record the
events of Akhetaten (Amarna) from founding to just before its
To make the move from Thebes to Amarna,
Akhenaten needed the support
of the military. Ay, one of Akhenaten's principal advisors, exercised
great influence in this area because his father
Yuya had been an
important military leader. Additionally, everyone in the military had
grown up together, they had been a part of the richest and most
successful period in Egypt's history under Akhenaten's father, so
loyalty among the ranks was strong and unwavering. Perhaps most
importantly, "it was a military whose massed ranks the king took every
opportunity to celebrate in temple reliefs, first at Thebes and later
Limestone fragment column showing reeds and an early
Reign of Akhenaten. From Amarna, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian
Siliceous limestone fragment of a statue. There are late Aten
cartouches on the draped right shoulder. Reign of Akhenaten. From
Amarna, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
While the reforms of
Akhenaten are generally believed to have been
oriented towards a sort of monotheism, this may be rather
oversimplifying to state than monolatrism. Archaeological evidence
shows other deities were also revered, even at the centre of the Aten
cult – if not officially, then at least by the people who lived and
..at Akhetaten itself, recent excavation by Kemp (2008: 41-46) has
shown the presence of objects that depict gods, goddesses and symbols
that belong to the traditional field of personal belief. So many
examples of Bes, the grotesque dwarf figure who warded off evil
spirits, have been found, as well as of the goddess-monster, Taweret,
part crocodile, part hippopotamus, who was associated with childbirth.
Also in the royal workmen’s village at Akhetaten, stelae dedicated
Isis and Shed have been discovered (Watterson 1984: 158 and
Limestone trial piece of a private person. Head of a princess on the
reverse. Reign of Akhenaten. From Amarna, Egypt. Petrie Museum of
Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, London
Children with pens and papyrus scrolls. Relief from Amarna
Amarna art-style broke with long-established Egyptian conventions.
Unlike the strict idealistic formalism of previous Egyptian art, it
depicted its subjects more realistically. These included informal
scenes, such as intimate portrayals of affection within the royal
family or playing with their children, and no longer portrayed women
as lighter coloured than men. The art also had a realism that
sometimes borders on caricature.
While the worship of
Aten was later referred to as the
and suppressed, this art had a more lasting legacy.
Rediscovery and excavation
Alabaster sunken relief depicting Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and daughter
Aten cartouches on king's arm and chest. From Amarna,
Egypt. 18th Dynasty. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
One of the
The first western mention of the city was made in 1714 by Claude
Sicard, a French
Jesuit priest who was travelling through the Nile
Valley, and described the boundary stela from Amarna. As with much of
Egypt, it was visited by Napoleon's corps de savants in 1798–1799,
who prepared the first detailed map of Amarna, which was subsequently
Description de l'Égypte
Description de l'Égypte between 1821 and 1830.
After this European exploration continued in 1824 when Sir John
Gardiner Wilkinson explored and mapped the city remains. The copyist
Robert Hay and his surveyor G. Laver visited the locality and
uncovered several of the Southern Tombs from sand drifts, recording
the reliefs in 1833. The copies made by Hay and Laver languish largely
unpublished in the British Library, where an ongoing project to
identify their locations is underway.
The Prussian expedition led by
Richard Lepsius visited the site in
1843 and 1845, and recorded the visible monuments and topography of
Amarna in two separate visits over a total of twelve days, using
drawings and paper squeezes. The results were ultimately published in
Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien between 1849 and 1913,
including an improved map of the city. Despite being somewhat
limited in accuracy, the engraved Denkmäler plates formed the basis
for scholastic knowledge and interpretation of many of the scenes and
inscriptions in the private tombs and some of the Boundary Stelae for
the rest of the century. The records made by these early explorers
teams are of immense importance since many of these remains were later
destroyed or otherwise lost.
In 1887 a local woman digging for sebakh uncovered a cache of over 300
cuneiform tablets (now commonly known as the
These tablets recorded select diplomatic correspondence of the Pharaoh
and were predominantly written in Akkadian, the lingua franca commonly
used during the
Late Bronze Age
Late Bronze Age of the
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East for such
communication. This discovery led to the recognition of the importance
of the site, and lead to a further increase in exploration.
Between 1891 and 1892
Alessandro Barsanti 'discovered' and cleared the
king's tomb (although it was probably known to the local population
from about 1880). Around the same time Sir
Flinders Petrie worked
for one season at Amarna, working independently of the Egypt
Exploration Fund. He excavated primarily in the Central City,
investigating the Great Temple of the Aten, the Great Official Palace,
the King's House, the Bureau of Correspondence of
Pharaoh and several
private houses. Although frequently amounting to little more than a
sondage, Petrie's excavations revealed additional cuneiform tablets,
the remains of several glass factories, and a great quantity of
discarded faience, glass and ceramic in sifting the palace rubbish
heaps (including Mycenaean sherds). By publishing his results and
reconstructions rapidly, Petrie was able to stimulate further interest
in the site's potential.
The copyist and artist Norman de Garis Davies published drawn and
photographic descriptions of private tombs and boundary stelae from
Amarna from 1903 to 1908. These books were republished by the EES in
In the early years of the 20th century (1907 to 1914) the Deutsche
Orientgesellschaft expedition, led by Ludwig Borchardt, excavated
extensively throughout the North and South suburbs of the city. The
famous bust of Nefertiti, now in Berlin's Ägyptisches Museum, was
discovered amongst other sculptural artefacts in the workshop of the
sculptor Thutmose. The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914
terminated the German excavations.
From 1921 to 1936 an
Egypt Exploration Society expedition returned to
Amarna under the direction of T.E. Peet, Sir Leonard
Woolley, Henri Frankfort, Stephen Glanville and John Pendlebury.
Mary Chubb served as the digs administrator. The renewed
investigations were focused on religious and royal structures.
During the 1960s the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (now the
Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities) undertook a number of
excavations at Amarna.
Exploration of the city continues to the present, currently under the
direction of Barry Kemp (Emeritus Professor in Egyptology, University
of Cambridge, England) (until 2006, under the auspices of the Egypt
Exploration Society and now with the
Amarna Project). In 1980
a separate expedition led by Geoffrey Martin described and copied the
reliefs from the Royal Tomb, later publishing its findings together
with objects thought to have come from the tomb. This work was
published in 2 volumes by the EES.
From 2005 to 2013, the
Amarna Project excavated at a cemetery of
private individuals, close to the southern tombs of the Nobles.
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Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Freed, Rita A., Yvonne J. Markowitz, and Sue H. D’Auria, eds. 1999.
Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamun. London: Thames
Giles, Frederick John. 2001. The
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Akhenaten and Nefertiti:
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Watterson, Barbara. 1999. Amarna: Ancient Egypt's Age of Revolution.
Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Amarna.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Amarna.
Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
The University of Cambridge's
Amarna Art Gallery Shows just a few, but stunning, examples of the art
The Amarna3D Project 3D visualisation of the city developed by Paul
c. 1353 BC – c. 1332 BC
City of Akhetaten — Amarna
North Riverside Palace
Great Temple of the Aten
Bureau of Correspondence of Pharaoh
Tomb of Akhenaten
Tombs of the Nobles
Southern Tombs Cemetery
Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten
"The Younger Lady"
Amarna Art Style
Glossary of artifacts
Architecture (Egyptian Revival architecture)
Great Royal Wives