The North City occupies a triangular piece of ground between the river and the lower slope of the approaching cliff that eventually reaches the river bank and closes the Amarna plain to the north. The present extent of ancient remains runs for a distance of 800 metres from south to north, and measures 250 metres at its widest point along the southern margin.
Its principal feature is a length of massive brick double wall, pierced by a gateway, that runs almost parallel to the edge of the fields. Buttresses against the east face show that this was its outside surface. Towards its northern end the widening strip of desert behind the wall preserves the foundations of a large group of storerooms and what look like other service buildings, and then, just as the fields truncate the ruins, comes the corner of another major building that stood further inside and is now otherwise completely lost.
When excavated in 1930–2 many fragments of painted mud plaster were found in the rubble that filled the large gateway. The excavator, John Pendlebury, thought that they had fallen from a room over the top of the gateway that had possessed a window where the king could appear to the outside world. His architect, Ralph Lavers, included the paintings in an elaborate reconstruction drawing which is, nonetheless, only one interpretation of the evidence. The paintings could, for example, have been on the side walls of the gateway.
The fragments of painting depicted a scene of a royal chariot drive, floral patterns, wooden stands with pendant flowers, and areas of imitation wood panelling. Several of the fragments contained parts of cartouche names that seem to have included the name of Akhenaten and that of a consort: ‘Ankhkheperura beloved (fem.) of Neferkheperura’ and ‘Nefernefruaten-beloved of her husband’.
|Limestone block sculpted with a frieze of cobras, from the gateway of the North Riverside Palace|
The whole large enclosure can be interpreted as the main Amarna residence for the royal family. It has been given the name North Riverside Palace. It stood at the northern end of the broad straight thoroughfare that ran through the Central City (Royal Road), which could have provided the route along which Akhenaten and his family made the chariot drives that were a popular motif in the decoration of the tombs of senior courtiers and officials.
Across the other side of the road lay a series of very large houses and compounds. The largest of all, U25.11, stood immediately opposite the gateway and presumably belonged to someone very close to the king. It shared with the city house of the high priest Panehsy the distinction of having a private chapel built of stone. In 1924 the Egypt Exploration Society began to build an expedition house on the ruins of this house. Somewhat enlarged and enhanced it became the base for John Pendlebury who directed the excavations in the 1930s, and is the house described in Mary Chubb’s book of reminiscences, Nefertiti lived here (London, Bles: 1954; reprinted London, Libri: 1998, 2001). It is now a picturesque ruin.
The greater part of the North City remains unexcavated by archaeologists though the appearance of the surface shows that it has been thoroughly dug over in the past by people looking for antiquities.
At the far northern end the character of the site changes. A single major building ran down the slope on a series of terraces, effectively blocking land access from the north. At its centre was a large courtyard cut back into the rocky slope, leaving a projecting platform of rock. The plan of the whole buildings suggests that storage and administration were its main functions, but in what ways it fitted into the organization of the city is not known. For convenience it is known as the North Administrative Building. It was excavated by T. Whittemore in 1924–5.
Only preliminary reports of the excavations of the North City have yet been published:
Pendlebury, J.D.S., 1931. Preliminary report on excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah 1930–1. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 17, 233–43.
Pendlebury, J.D.S., 1932. Preliminary report on excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah 1931–2. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 18, 143–9.
Whittemore, T., 1926. The excavations at El-‘Amarnah, season 1924–5. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12, 3–12.
Kemp, B.J., 1983. Preliminary report on the El-‘Amarna expedition, 1981–2. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 69, 18–20.
Kemp, B.J. and S. Garfi, 1993. A Survey of the Ancient City of El-‘Amarna. Occasional Publications 9. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
A discussion of the cartouches in the painting in the gateway of the North Riverside Palace is in M. Gabolde, D’Akhenaton à Toutânkhamon (Lyon, Université Lumière-Lyon 2 and Paris, Boccard 1998), 153–7.