t: +20 12 5113357 (mobile)
t: +20 27955666 (office)
The rear part of the North Palace, showing repairs to brickwork and replacement of lost stone pavements.

North Palace


The North Palace was completely cleared of its debris by the Egypt Exploration Society in two seasons, of 1923 and 1924. A detailed photographic record is in the Society’s archives. The building was then left exposed and unfenced. By the 1970s the walls had eroded considerably, losing much of their original surfaces and part of their volume (perhaps up to a half in places). Local farmers drove their animals diagonally across it on their way to and from their fields. In 1983 the Egyptian Antiquities Department (as it then was) cleaned the accumulated sand and dust from the rear (eastern) part of the palace and added it to the embankment of spoil which is heaped against the outer wall and helps to protect the palace from wind erosion. At the same time the entire enclosure was protected by a barbed-wire fence with a small gateway in the southern side. Since then the palace interior has been closed to visitors who view it from the top of the embankment on the east, outside the fence. This is necessary in order to protect the still fragile brickwork.

Deterioration of the brickwork nonetheless continued, perhaps accelerated by an increase in humidity brought about by an extension of irrigated agriculture on to the desert behind the palace. It had reached alarming proportions by 1997 when the expedition began a programme of consolidation and repairs, which has extended in some places to clarifying the plan for visitors by marking the positions of missing elements.

A wall at the North Palace which separates two adjacent chambers in the garden court. The brickwork has been cleaned prior to repairs. The erosion of the surface has occurred since the wall was exposed in 1923
A wall at the North Palace which separates two adjacent chambers in the garden court. The brickwork has been cleaned prior to repairs. The erosion of the surface has occurred since the wall was exposed in 1923

The walls of the North Palace are built from mud bricks some of which are of poor quality, although in other places the bricks have hardened through a build-up of calcium carbonate. Erosion has been intensified by the ancient practice of strengthening the walls by inserting lengths of timber amongst the courses of bricks. The wood was subsequently eaten by termites, leaving a line of weakness which weathering opens up, leading to the collapse of overlying top-heavy sections of brickwork.

A wall at the North Palace which separates two adjacent chambers in the garden court. The long horizontal groove which runs the full length of the wall is where the builders had inserted a length of wood to reduce the danger of the wall cracking. The wood was eventually eaten by termites, leaving a space. Bricks from above this space are falling away
A wall at the North Palace which separates two adjacent chambers in the garden court. The long horizontal groove which runs the full length of the wall is where the builders had inserted a length of wood to reduce the danger of the wall cracking. The wood was eventually eaten by termites, leaving a space. Bricks from above this space are falling away

A view of the chambers in the north court, showing the remains of a staircase. The scale marks the location of a groove, once the location of a wooden beam, as illustrated above
A view of the chambers in the north court, showing the remains of a staircase. The scale marks the location of a groove, once the location of a wooden beam, as illustrated above

A section across a wall at the North Palace showing where, on either side, timber beams had originally been inserted in place of a course of bricks. The timbers have long since been eaten away, leaving the brickwork above unstable
A section across a wall at the North Palace showing where, on either side, timber beams had originally been inserted in place of a course of bricks. The timbers have long since been eaten away, leaving the brickwork above unstable


The expedition’s approach is to:

  • replace badly eroded bricks where they form the face of the wall especially towards the base where erosion creates a danger of collapse
  • cap the tops of walls with new bricks where the existing top is soft
  • recreate in a few new courses walls and brick columns which are either entirely missing or are represented by only a low mound of decomposed bricks

The replacement bricks are newly made at the site, on a patch of flat desert outside the enclosure wall. The new bricks are made from locally available materials using a formula which is the result both of analysis of the old bricks and of testing alternative formulae. The ingredients are:

  • local soil from the fields mixed with plant material
  • small stones
  • fire ash
  • animal dung
  • slaked (burnt) lime

Two important stages in manufacture are:

  • dissolving the slaked lime in water and soaking the soil in it in order to impregnate the mud mixture with the lime, to add to the hardness and, in effect, to simulate the build-up of calcium carbonate which occurs naturally in the course of time
  • making the bricks from a relatively dry mud mix which can be compressed through manual hammering in very strongly made moulds (specially made in England to the correct ancient dimensions).

The resulting bricks are quite hard and dense and relatively free from the organic content which attracts termite attack.

Mixing the lime in which the mud mix is soaked prior to using it for making the bricks
Mixing the lime in which the mud mix is soaked prior to using it for making the bricks

The making of new mud bricks
The making of new mud bricks

Each of the brick moulds has a wooden lid which is pressed on to the newly made brick as the mould itself is pulled up to free it Each of the brick moulds has a wooden lid which is pressed on to the newly made brick as the mould itself is pulled up to free it

Where a timber slot exists it is filled with mud to just below the wall surface so that it remains visible as a separate structural feature. In the ‘garden court’ part of the palace (which occupies the north-east corner of the palace), a wood-coloured compound has been applied experimentally to the mud filler and coated with dust before drying, in order to convey more clearly the significance of this feature.

The plan has been to carry out repairs along the rooms of the rear part of the palace. These are the best preserved and also the part most visible to visitors. The work has proceeded since 1997 from north to south, taking in the central columned hall in 2004.

One of the dividing walls in the row of chambers on the west side of the garden court. The horizontal groove where the original timber had been inserted has been filled with mud, and the surface coated with a wood-coloured compound. When first discovered in 1923 the wall was covered with a layer of mud plaster on which was painted a scene of geese feeding. The lower part of the wall plaster had been painted black, small patches of which still adhere to the surface of the wall
One of the dividing walls in the row of chambers on the west side of the garden court. The horizontal groove where the original timber had been inserted has been filled with mud, and the surface coated with a wood-coloured compound. When first discovered in 1923 the wall was covered with a layer of mud plaster on which was painted a scene of geese feeding. The lower part of the wall plaster had been painted black, small patches of which still adhere to the surface of the wall

Reconstruction of the painted wall plaster on the wall shown above. The scene of the geese is an original water-colour made at the time of discovery by F. Newton. The coloured bands and deep black dado have been reconstructed from archive material
Reconstruction of the painted wall plaster on the wall shown above. The scene of the geese is an original water-colour made at the time of discovery by F. Newton. The coloured bands and deep black dado have been reconstructed from archive material


Column bases

Column bases. The rear part of the palace originally possessed many columns set on stone column bases. Several of them survive. The positions of the missing ones are visible from traces left in the mud-brick floors, often as patches of gypsum plaster. For the garden court at the north end of the site, in 2000 the missing column bases were replaced with new ones. These were made from a mixture of white cement and white sand poured into a special mould and strengthened internally with iron rods. In 2004 the positions of the missing columns in the central hall were marked not by replacement column bases but by plain circular white-concrete pads laid flush with the floor itself. The mud-brick floor had eroded for much of its depth. To protect what was left and also to bring the floor back to its original level, a layer of mud-brick dust was spread over it.

The repairs to the garden court of the North Palace. The row of column bases has been completed by the insertion of casts into the gaps left by the loss of some of the original bases The repairs to the garden court of the North Palace. The row of column bases has been completed by the insertion of casts into the gaps left by the loss of some of the original bases


Stonework

In places the builders of the North Palace used limestone blocks, all of which were removed after the end of the Amarna Period, although their positions often remained marked in an underlying layer of gypsum concrete. One of these places lies in the front part of the central columned hall. The shape of the foundation layer points to a broad staircase leading to an external platform originally made from limestone blocks. The gypsum underlay has survived well and still bears clear imprints of the lowest layer of blocks. A detailed plan of this has been made and it is now protected beneath a thick layer of clean sand. Over the top of the sand-bed the shape of the staircase and external platform has been reproduced in new limestone blocks. These have been cut to approximately the dimensions of the original blocks (which were one cubit in length, that is, 52 cm).

Stone was also used for door thresholds. We have replaced several of these with new stonework.

View of the central columned hall. The positions of the missing column bases are represented by circular pads made from a mixture of white stone chippings and white cement. The stonework in the background marks the outline of a staircase or ramp which led up to a platform. The orignal stone blocks had been removed at the end of the Amarna Period, but their impressions remained in layer of gypsum concrete
View of the central columned hall. The positions of the missing column bases are represented by circular pads made from a mixture of white stone chippings and white cement. The stonework in the background marks the outline of a staircase or ramp which led up to a platform. The orignal stone blocks had been removed at the end of the Amarna Period, but their impressions remained in layer of gypsum concrete

Aerial photograph from a tethered balloon of the centre-rear part of the North Palace. The photograph was taken prior to the start of the repairs. In the middle is the columned hall, the positions of the column bases clearly visible. Note their unusual layout which suggests that the outer rows of columns were smaller (they are more closely set together), and supported a slightly lower roof than that which covered the central part. The extent of the ancient gypsum-concrete foundation layer is also clear
Aerial photograph from a tethered balloon of the centre-rear part of the North Palace. The photograph was taken prior to the start of the repairs. In the middle is the columned hall, the positions of the column bases clearly visible. Note their unusual layout which suggests that the outer rows of columns were smaller (they are more closely set together), and supported a slightly lower roof than that which covered the central part. The extent of the ancient gypsum-concrete foundation layer is also clear

The garden court with the central columned hall beyond, at the end of the 2004 season. View to the south
The garden court with the central columned hall beyond, at the end of the 2004 season. View to the south

Aerial photograph from a tethered balloon of the rear (eastern) part of the North Palace Aerial photograph from a tethered balloon of the rear (eastern) part of the North Palace

The central columned hall after the completion of repairs
The central columned hall after the completion of repairs

Masons at work laying the new stone blocks which mark the outline of the ancient stonework. The ancient layer of gypsum concrete which provides the evidence for the original presence of this stonework is buried beneath a thick layer of sand. The stone blocks are cut approximately to the ancient dimensions
Masons at work laying the new stone blocks which mark the outline of the ancient stonework. The ancient layer of gypsum concrete which provides the evidence for the original presence of this stonework is buried beneath a thick layer of sand. The stone blocks are cut approximately to the ancient dimensions

Completion of repairs to the garden court of the North Palace
Completion of repairs to the garden court of the North Palace

Repairs to the brickwork at the back of the North Palace
Repairs to the brickwork at the back of the North Palace

 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated November 2010 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk