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Aerial view of the Central City, looking towards the west (April 1993). The main building shown is the Small Aten Temple.

Mapping Amarna

Amarna was never a “lost” city. It lay as a visible ruin close to the Nile and close to inhabited villages. It was recognised as an ancient city by the French military expedition sent to Egypt by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. They made a rapid sketch plan before passing on.

During the 19th century more detailed and more accurate plans were made by European scholars. Their maps of the central parts of the city are surprisingly detailed in view of the fact that, as yet, no archaeological excavation had taken place. The explanation is likely to be that many walls had been recently exposed by people from the villages digging into the ancient remains to look for treasure and also to remove bricks for re-use.

Nevertheless, the outline of the city and the limits of the cultivated land have not changed greatly in the century and a half that has since passed.

The first known map of Amarna, made by the Napoleonic expedition in 1798/9 and published in the Description de l’Égypte, Antiquités, Planches IV (Paris 1817), Pl. 63.6.

The main central road of the city and the Small Aten Temple can be recognised, but otherwise the city has been given a more rectilinear plan than it actually has. The locations of the modern villages, the line of the river bank and the extent of the fields are similar to how they are today. The plan and elevation of the brick gateway shown above the plan is actually of the front pylon entrance to the Small Aten Temple. It then stood 7.5 metres in height, whereas now it is only 3 metres maximum.

The Wilkinson plan of Amarna made in the 1820s. The original is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford The Wilkinson plan of Amarna made in the 1820s. The original is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

In 1824 and 1826 the English Egyptologist Sir John Gardner Wilkinson visited Amarna and made this sketch plan in pencil of the central area. The many numbers written on the plan are the numbers of his paces, which he used as a means of measuring distances. The result is remarkably accurate. The original map is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The Lepsius plan of Amarna made in the 1840s The most thorough of the pre-modern plans of Amarna was made by the Prussian expedition of K.R. Lepsius who visited Amarna in the 1840s. The main improvement over the map of Wilkinson is the inclusion of most of the residential part of the city to the south of the Central City, an area which Wilkinson only roughly indicated. The map appears in K.R. Lepsius, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien (Berlin 1849–59), Abth. I, 64.

Between 1979 and 1988 the city was remapped by Barry Kemp and Salvatore Garfi. The series of eight map sheets and accompanying volume of text are published as B.J. Kemp and S. Garfi, A survey of the ancient city of El-Amarna (London, Egypt Exploration Society 1993)


Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk