Main City & South Suburb
‘Main city’ is a convenient term to apply to the area of the city, largely given over to housing, that extends southwards from the Central City for a distance of 2.7 kms. Before reaching the southern limit, at a distance of 1.8 kms where there is now a slight depression in the desert, the character of the area seems to change. The houses become more thinly dispersed and the archaeological debris less in quantity. It is helpful to give this part a designation of its own, namely, South Suburb. The two parts are described separately here.
Most of the area that lies to the east of the modern road seems to consist of closely packed houses. It is subdivided by a wadi that has washed away a broad swathe of the houses. The extensive archaeological excavations that have been conducted here since the early part of the 20th century have concentrated on the easternmost zone, the part where the site has been least disturbed by modern digging for bricks and treasure. The further west one goes the greater is the denudation and the disturbance from villagers who seem to have turned over much of the site in the 19th century. The site has always been visible, the larger buildings marked by low mounds of debris.
Excavation and visible surface indications show that the Main City was arranged along three north-south thoroughfares which connected to the Central City. They did not run in straight or parallel lines but probably represent pathways that spontaneously developed as the city grew, though keeping a general parallel course to the riverbank. A modern terminology recognises an East Road South (which incorporates the older term High Priest Street), West Road South, Main Road (roughly the line of the modern road), and perhaps a continuation (after two right-angled turns) of Royal Road, now largely lost beneath the modern fields. Within the areas defined by these roads access to individual houses varied from place to place, sometimes having the form of a well-defined narrow street or alley, sometimes consisting of a joining of irregular spaces that eventually terminate.
The Main City, as with the rest of Amarna, is covered by a notional surveyor’s grid of squares with sides of 200 metres, created by the German expedition (directed by Ludwig Borchardt) in the years before 1914, Each square has a letter and number prefix, for example, Q44. Within each of these squares individual buildings are numbered in a sequence beginning with 1, for example, P47.3 is the house of the sculptor Thutmose, where the famous painted bust of queen Nefertiti was discovered in 1912; N48.18 is the house of the chariot officer Ranefer (see the section /Recent Projects/Excavation/House of Ranefer). Originally, the larger houses announced the name of their owner on carved limestone doorframes. Very few of these have been found, and so most of the houses, even some of the very largest, are known only by their reference number. A large house at the southern end of the Main City (L50.9A) was rebuilt in 1907 by Ludwig Borchardt as his expedition house. It was taken over by the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1921 and used for three seasons. In ruins by 1977 it was repaired and, with successive enlargements, is now the field station and house for the Egypt Exploration Society expedition.
The house of the sculptor Thutmose is in the middle of the picture
The housing areas display endless minor variations in the placing and mixing of houses of different sizes. The whole is probably the result of choices made by officials in locating their residences and then the ensuing filling of adjacent areas by their dependents without it being necessary for one set of dependants – one extended household that might have amounted almost to a village – to make a clear demarcation from another. Despite the relative closeness of the river, the city was abundantly supplied with wells for water. Some lay in the private compounds of the officials, some were in open spaces clearly serving a community of people living in the smaller houses.
The houses themselves are rarely preserved to beyond shoulder height. Much discussion has been devoted to how tall they rose. There is good evidence that they had upper floors and were thus of more than one storey. The ground floors often preserve architectural fittings, such as bathrooms and lustration slabs. Collectively the houses provide a unique collection of evidence for domestic architecture and domestic economy.
Not all of the buildings have the plans of houses. Some were for storage, some were places where craftsmen worked, whilst others must have served functions that are still not understood. They are part of continuing research into the economic basis of the city, that involves consideration of where things were manufactured and how they were distributed. (see the section /Recent Projects/Excavation/Grid 12).
Most conspicuous amongst the non-residential buildings in the Main City are huge rectangular blocks that lie west of West Road South. They are heavily denuded, and are progressively lost beneath the modern fields. Only small parts have been excavated (including one, Grid 10, part of building O43.1, excavated by the Amarna Project between 1998 and 2000). Large-scale storage was clearly one function, and they must have stood close to the city’s river frontage and thus been convenient for storing commodities brought to Amarna by river. Another portion of the same area, building O45.1, was the site of glass kilns and faience and pottery manufacture although subsequently these installations were replaced by buildings probably intended for storage. This part of the site, first explored by Petrie, has seen excavation under the direction of P. Nicholson.
The general area of these buildings was later used as a place of burial not only for humans but also for dogs.
The southernmost continuation of the Main City did not extend so far back into the desert, stopping at the line of East Road South. Little of it has been excavated, and most of the southern part has been destroyed by the modern cemetery attached to the village of el-Hagg Qandil. Old aerial photographs show the outlines of two or more very large houses and estates at the very southern end, that must have housed some of the richest people in the city. The smaller houses further north are laid out with much intervening space. The evidence we have is consistent with the South Suburb having been a late addition to the city. At its north-western end stood the house of the vizier Nakht (K50.1), excavated in 1922.
Borchardt, L. and H. Ricke, 1980. Die Wohnhäuser in Tell el-Amarna. Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 91. Berlin: Mann.
Peet, T.E. and C.L. Woolley, 1923. The City of Akhenaten, Part I. Excavations of 1921 and 1922 at El-‘Amarneh. London, Egypt Exploration Society, Chapters I and II.
Kemp, B.J. and S. Garfi, 1993. A Survey of the Ancient City of El-‘Amarna. Occasional Publications 9. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Kemp, B.J., 1998. More of Amarna’s city plan. Egyptian Archaeology 13, 17–18.