By Paul S. Docherty
The Arabic name of the site that served as the capital, Akhetaten, “The Horizon of ATEN,” it was built by AKHENATEN (Amenhotep IV of the Eighteenth Dynasty, r. 1353–1335 B.C.E.) as his capital and destroyed by HOREMHAB a few decades later. Erected on a level plain between the Nile and the eastern cliffs north of Assiut, ’Amarna was six miles long and marked by boundary stelae. The districts of the city were well planned and laid out with geometric precision and artistry. All of the regions of ’Amarna were designed to focus on the royal residence and on the temple of the god Aten.
Officials and courtiers lived in the principal districts, and the homes provided for them were large and lavish. Most contained gardens, pools, and summer villas, as well as reception areas. The temple and the palace were located on the royal avenue, designed to run parallel to the Nile. This thoroughfare was spanned by an immense brick bridge, which was not only a startling architectural innovation but achieved an artistic unity that became the hallmark of the god’s abode. The bridge joined two separate wings of the royal residence and contained the famed WINDOW OF APPEARANCE, which was discovered in reliefs of the area. Akhenaten and NEFERTITI greeted the faithful of the city in the window and honored officials, military leaders, and artisans, forming an appealing portrait of regal splendor in this setting.
The palace did not serve as a royal residence but as a site for rituals and ceremonies. The royal family occupied limited space in separate apartments. The remaining parts of the structure were designed as altar sites, halls, stables, gardens, pools, throne rooms, and ceremonial chambers. The entire palace was decorated with painting in the ’Amarna style. Waterfowl and marsh scenes graced the walls, adding a natural pastoral quality to the residence. The main throne room for official ceremonies in honor of Aten was set between pillared chambers and halls, one with 30 rows of 17 pillars each. Adjacent to the palace was the temple of the god. This site had a rectangular wall that measured 2,600 by 900 feet. The temple, as many of the structures in ’Amarna, was adapted to the Nile climate and designed for outdoor services. There were few roofs evident in the architectural planning of the complexes. The homes of the ’Amarna artisans were in the southeast section of the city, surrounded by another wall. Six blocks of such residences were laid out in this area, between five parallel streets.
Akhetaten, also called “the City of the SOLAR DISK,” is supposedly named ’Amarna or Tell el-’Amarna today to commemorate a tribe of Bedouins that settled on the site approximately two centuries ago. A vast cliff cemetery was established nearby linked to ’Amarna by the ROYAL WADI.