Akhet-Aten (view map)
was built very quickly, using sun-dried mud brick rather than
stone in most capacities. The archaeologists often comment in
their reports about the shabby construction work hidden beneath
the white-washed and often painted walls of the city buildings.
The city was demolished and defaced by the Egyptians after Akhenaten's
reign ended. For these reasons little remains of the site today,
even though it was occupied for only a decade or two. However,
from aerial photos you can still clearly read the lines of the
walls of buildings. Currently teams are working under the direction
Kemp of the EES in Amarna, reconstructing and studying the
Though Akhet-Aten was occupied for only a handful
of years by the Egyptians, there have also been monastic settlements
and roman camps, and part of the site is still unexcavated beneath
modern cultivation closer to the nile.
Akhenaten choose to move there in his fourth year
as Pharaoh, soon carving beautiful boundary
stelae into the cliffs around the city, attributing the choice
of the site to the Aten. Many of these
stelae have since been destroyed, in at least one case by treasure-seekers
trying to open the "door" in the stone.
The city itself is divided into suburbs, with the
so-called "central city" housing the Royal Palace and
The Great Temple (The Per-Aten), as well as various buildings
archaeologists have labelled official (police, taxes...). It is
here in one such building, the 'records office' that the Amarna
Letters were found by a peasant woman.
Further south, the famous bust
of Nefertiti was discovered in Thutmose's
workshop at Akhet-Aten.
To the east there is an interesting settlement dubbed
workmen's village" - it is a walled enclosure of very
regular houses along several parallel streets. Archaeologists
believed it housed workers working on the rock tombs nearby (which,
incidentally, though built for the royalty and courtiers, were
never occupied). However, this walled town had a guard house at
the only exit, and it seems more likely to have been to keep the
workers in than anything out (the main city was protected by no
such wall, for the whole site, including the workmen's village,
is enclosed by high cliffs).
Elsewhere the city has grown up as cities are wont;
in an irregular haphazard way, as citizens erected buildings where
they felt it was convenient. Some suggst Akhenaten lacked the
resources to control the rapid growth of his new city and regulate
its plan (other Egyptian cities are much more carefully laid out).
The archaeological history
of the site is fascinating. As one reads the archaelogical reports,
one comes across the various excavators fiercely critisizing each
other's methods, and it seems they knew little of each other's
activities. The British, at one point, wonder on a heap of badly
excavated rubble, the creator of which no one can decide. The
Germans sneak the Bust of Nefertiti back to Germany under the
noses of the British by a clever ruse (they hid it with the pot
sherds and garbage that they were allowed to take for themselves).
Poor Petrie conserved a beautiful floor fresco in the palace by
applying a laquer to the entire floor with the side of one finger,
hoping not to damage it, only to have it hacked to bits by an