The City of Akhetaten

North City -- North Palace -- North Suburb -- Central City -- Main City or South Suburb -- Workman's Village

Akhetaten is an interesting city because it’s a snapshot in Egyptian history: it was built and abandoned in 30 years or so. It is also the city Akhenaten created to house his history-making attempt to change the course of Egypt. While much of the western side, the harbor, and main palace are under modern cultivation, we can glimpse what a city of ancient Egypt looked like.

Akhetaten, the Horizon of the Aten, was built by Akhenaten and destroyed by Horemheb. It was 6-7 miles long, was defined by boundary stelae, and had possibly 20,000-50,000 people. Many in Akhetaten had their own well, which was unusual. There were 3-4 glass factories, and 2 large glazing workshops. While many districts were planned out, some grew haphazardly. The city was set in a plain between the Nile and some cliffs which were to the east. Modern people tend to divide the city into a North City, North Suburb, Central City, Southern Suburb, and Workman’s Village (plus tombs). Several articles have maps of the city.

North City

The North City was one of the three main residential areas. A little north of the residential area was the North Riverside Palace, which was a large villa for Akhenaten and his family. Near the palace is a mudbrick structure which may be a ramp going to a bridge like a bridge 3 kilometers south that also crosses the royal road. The northern bridge allowed access to the southern side of the palace, a nearly destroyed structure, perhaps 800 meters long, built on terraces. If this is the palace shown in the tomb of Mahu, Chief of Police of Akhenaten, then the entrance to the North Riverside Palace may have looked like a fortified gatehouse. The palace also had gardens and a chapel. When Akhenaten was in the city, he made a daily procession from the North Riverside Palace to the Central City. Once Akhenaten banned the worship of the gods (possibly in Year 9), his procession took the place of the processions of statues of gods, which was the closest most people got to their gods. Akhenaten’s procession took place over the royal road that ran in a straight line about 3.5 kilometers to the Central City and was parallel to the Nile. To the east of the North Riverside Palace, there were big mansions, possibly for the royal family, for the names of Tiye and Smenkhare are on door-jambs.

North Palace

The North Palace was roughly 200 meters south of the ramp going to the North Riverside Palace. People call the North Palace the Palace of Nefertiti or Meritaten. It was probably built for one of Akhenaten’s queens and later given to Meritaten. The residential part had gardens and reception rooms with columns. The northeast corner had a garden court. "The Green Room" was a central room on the north side that had a marsh frieze. Each room had a window to the sunken central garden. There was a courtyard for cattle, ibex, and gazelles, and it had aviaries with nesting-niches, a bird frieze on the walls, and large windows going to a garden court. It also had a court of solar altars and a throne room.

North Suburb

A kilometer and a half south of the North Palace was the North Suburb, which was another main residential area and was built between two wadis. It was started in the middle of Akhenaten’s reign and was still being built when it was abruptly abandoned. At first, the north suburb had large estates, but these were turned into middle class homes and slums that sometimes blocked streets. It probably ended up dominated by middle class merchants, for many have storage magazines. However, it was reinhabited for a bit by those who could not afford to travel back to Thebes.

Central City

The Central City was the administrative part of the city and was probably deserted at night, except for police patrols. The Central part was the most planned area of Akhetaten, while the three main residential areas were less planned. The city had two east-west streets that met at the street called the West Road. The southern east-west street ran by the King’s House, small temple, Record’s Office, and military quarters. The second street went by the royal estate (King’s House/Great Palace area). There were many structures in the Central City, including the Great Aten Temple, bakeries, the King’s House, the Great Palace, the Small Temple or Hut-Aten, the Record’s Office, and the House of Life. (Other structures included the Office of Works, Clerk’s Offices, Police Barracks and Military Quarters).

Great Temple

The Chapel in the Great Temple and the royal estate were the first structures built. Then the walls of the temple, and the sanctuary, which replaced the chapel. This temple was different from most Egyptian temples. Since it did not have a statue of a deity, it didn’t need a naos. Still, it did have a rectangular setup, a temenos wall, pylons in the front, and an entrance the kept the uninitiated from seeing into the temple. There was an altar to the Aten.


Archaeologists know that there were bakeries to the south of the temple because of an east-west mound of broken bakery molds.

King's House

Most people do not believe Akhenaten lived in The King’s House or the Great Palace, but he spent a lot of time there. The King’s House was built around a garden in a U-shape around the garden. The king’s living quarters were at the back. There was a pylon at its northern entrance, but there were two other entrances. It seems to have had a nursery by the bedrooms, which were behind the main hall.

Great Palace

The Great Palace shouldn’t be confused with the North Riverside Palace or the North Palace! It was an administrative center more than it was a residence, and was used for state occasions and for greeting foreign officials. This one was probably the "House-of-Rejoicing-of-the-Aten." It had white limestone walls and glazed tiles with plants, flowers, and swimming fish. It had inlays of colored stone, faience, and glass, and it had palm-leaf capitals with red and blue glazed chevrons between gilded capital ribs. It had state apartments made of stone, and this was the only section made of stone. To the east of the state apartments were the servant’s quarters in the north, the harem in the middle, and the magazines in the south. It had a Coronation Hall which was built after the rest of the palace. The houses for the servants are nicer than the ones for the workers in the village. The harem, or women’s quarters, did not have a direct entrance to the road or the main entrance. It had a sunken garden with a narrow hall on each of its two long sides. The narrow halls had a colonnade in the center and a row of small rooms by it which were perhaps storage rooms. The main hall of the harem was square and had a large room to the southeast with twelve columns inlaid with faience. The pavement had motifs of birds in the marsh and captives. Adjacent to the main hall were three rooms to the west and two to the east. Each of these adjacent rooms were square with a central column and had two small adjacent rooms of their own. These rooms were probably for the court ladies, and this is the general plan of the women’s quarters at Malqata as well.


A huge brick bridge connected the King’s House and the state apartments of the Great Palace. It had three spans, crossed the royal road, and passed between the harem and the magazines in the Great Palace. The Window of Appearances might have been here, as it was next to the Great Palace.

Temple of the Aten or Hut-Aten

The Small Temple of the Aten or Hut-Aten was similar to the large temple. It has also been called the Royal Temple. The Hwt-Aten means "Castle of Aten." It may have been connected to the royal palace area.

Record's Office

The Record’s Office is where a peasant woman found the famous Amarna letters in 1888. These letters record communication between Egyptian pharaohs and foreign kings.

House of Life or Per Ankh

The House of Life or Per Ankh was between the Record’s Office and the Clerks’ Offices, just beyond the King’s House. Archaeologists know the House of Life was in the city because bricks were stamped with the words "Per Ankh" on them. The House of Life was a place where priests read and copied texts, taught other priests to do the same, and perhaps taught scribes and the children of the powerful. Copies of funerary texts may have been offered for sale. The priests also seem to be connected with medicine.

Main City or South Suburb

South of the Central City was the Main City, also called the South Suburb. It was the other main residential area. The most important people (except for the king) lived here, including the vizier Nakht, the high priest Panehsy, the priest Pawah, the general Ramose, the architect Manekhtawitf, and the sculptor Thutmose. It was probably planned right after the Central City. Further south is Thutmose’s workshop where the famous Nefertiti bust was found. While most of the homes were of mudbrick, some had stone doorways and other stone supports. The rich had square houses with a central living area with walls that went higher than the outer house walls. They had gardens, granaries, bathing areas, and at least one shrine.

Workmen's Village

The Workmen’s Village is to the east, so it is also called the Eastern Village. It is a walled section with similar houses along several parallel streets. The Workmen’s Village had a guard at its only exit, and no other section is enclosed by a wall.


Aldred, Cyril. (1988). Akhenaten: King of Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Dunn, Jimmy. (1999-2005). "El Amarna." Tour Egypt Feature. InterCity Oz, Inc.

Dunn, Jimmy. (1999-2003). "The Royal Estate in Central City at Amarna (Ancient Akhetaten)." Tour Egypt Feature. InterCity Oz, Inc.

Shaw, Ian. (Ed.) (2000). The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. NY: Oxford University Press.

Shaw, Ian, and Paul Nicholson. (1995, 2003). "House of Life (Egyptian per ankh)." The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc.

Sitek, Dariusz. (2000-2005). Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna).