The rough desert plain to the south of the Temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu has revealed many monuments of Amenhotep III. His vast palace was sited at Malqata, bordered by the artificial mounds and the lake of Birket Habu and other structures such as his building at Kom el-Samak have been excavated in recent decades. Beyond Malqata, about 2km to the southwest of the mounds of Birket Habu, is a large isolated mudbrick platform known today as Kom el-’Abt. This now lies on the edge of the cultivation just beyond the modern Suzanne Mubarak Village.
The monument was first excavated by O H Myers for The Egypt Exploration Society during 1936-7 and while detailed records and plans were made, the structure remained unpublished. It was later briefly included in a survey of the Malqata area in 1969 by the University Museum of Pennsylvania and a review published as ‘A Building of Amenophis III at Kom el ‘Abd’ by Barry Kemp (JEA, 1977).
This enigmatic desert structure consists of a rectangular platform of 45m by 40m and about 3.75m high. On the northwest side, a row of tree-pits suggests that the monument was once landscaped. The structure is divided into two main areas: the platform area and to the southeast of this, a complex of seven houses now mostly destroyed down to foundation level. The platform was filled with sand and gravel which has revealed Predynastic pottery sherds and flints and the top was paved over with mudbricks. It possibly had rooms built into the northeast wall, though it has been suggested that these may have been only temporary as the walls of these had also been paved over. The southwest side of the platform was accessed by a wide mudbrick ramp which is still in place. The purpose of the structure is somewhat of a mystery, though it has been likened to the desert altars at Akhetaten.
The houses contain many elements to those at Malqata from the time of Amenhotep III and some also bear a resemblance in plan to Amarna-style villas at Akhetaten. During the 1937 excavations Myers found bricks stamped with the cartouche of Amenhotep III, giving a secure date to the buildings, as well as sherds of blue-painted and Mycenaean pottery typical of the period. The complex was later extended to include an unexcavated settlement from the Third Intermediate or Late Period.
Due west of Kom el-’Abt is a 5km long cleared strip of desert heading in a straight line towards the western foothills. This may have been the initial stages of a road or causeway leading to a monument that was never started, or interrupted by the death of the king. We know that the road was left unfinished as there were small piles of surface stones which were not cleared away. The strip began at a hill known as Kola el-Hamra on which a Coptic hermitage was later built, but which has also revealed a number of Dynasty XVIII pottery sherds. It was Myers’ own opinion that the road may have been used for chariot races or games (although there is no evidence that the Egyptians ever raced chariots) and that the platform was an observation point for these activities. This seems unlikely as the hill of Kola el-Hamra would have partly obscured the view from the platform.
Whatever its purpose, Kom el-’Abt is an interesting structure about which there is little known. Standing on top of the platform looking out across the bleak stony plain with the cliffs of the High Desert rising in the distance, it is easy to speculate about festivals and games or races perhaps once enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians which have left no echo for us to hear in the mudbrick remains.