The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
THE AMARNA PERIOD 1372-1350 B.C.

The City of Tell el Amarna

WE must now turn to an examination of the new city, called Akhetaten (The Horizon of Aten), which was at least sufficiently habitable for the court to move there some time between the 5th and 6th year of Akhenaten's reign (Figure 63).1 The site chosen was on the cast side of the river on sandy desert ground lying a little higher than the cultivation which hugs the river-bank in a narrow strip. The eastern cliffs here open out to form a semicircular plain seven miles long and two to three miles deep. The place has been given the name of Tell el Amarna, apparently from a modem misunderstanding of the village names of El Till and Beni Amran. It lies about half way between Cairo and Luxor, in the region of the ancient town of Hermopolis, but several miles to the south of it on the other side of the river. The region to the north of Amarna, and roughly opposite Hermopolis, contained the Old Kingdom cemetery of Sheikh Said, as well as the betterknown Middle Kingdom rock tombs of El Bersheh, which belonged to the Nomarchs of Hermopolis. In late times Hadrian founded nearby the town of Antinoupolis in memory of his favourite Antinous, while some miles farther south, opposite Amarna on the western desert edge, there was to grow up the extraordinary Graeco-Roman cemetery of Hermopolis at Tuneh el Gebel. Actually Hermopolis itself lay too far to the north to impinge upon the boundaries which Akhenaten established by a series of rockcut stelae which were cut in the desert cliffs on both sides of the river.

The alabaster quarries in the eastern hills had been worked as early as the reign of Cheops in Dynasty IV, but, in spite of attempts to identify earlier traces of habitation at Amarna, there seems no doubt that Akhenaten was founding his capital where there had never before been a city, on new ground as he claimed on his boundary stelae. At least three of these fourteen stelae contained a first version of a proclamation concerning the founding of the city. A dating in the year 4 for two of these (Stelae K and X) is now questioned, but their broken text refers to something which happened in the year 4, and this is thought to reflect events in Thebes which brought about the removal of the capital to Amarna.2 The other stelae contain a second version of the proclamation dated to the year 6, while a later edition of the year 8 was appended to two of them (Stelae A and B on the Western Bank) during a further inspection of the boundaries. The first proclamation contains a statement that, if the king, queen, or the Princess Meritaten should die in any town of the north, south, west, or east, their bodies should be brought back to Akhetaten for burial. This statement suggests that the king's oath should not be interpreted too rigidly to mean that he would never quit the boundaries of Akhetaten. Certainly he meant, when he stated that he would not pass beyond the limits of his

-186-

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