Palace Site of Amenhotep III (Malqata)

An important archaeological site lies at the southern end of the Theban necropolis, about one kilometre south of the temple of Medinet Habu. This was the town and palace site of Amenhotep III of Dynasty XVIII, first discovered in 1888. The complex included a large number of buildings, courts and parade grounds, housing for the inhabitants and a large Temple of Amun as well as the royal palaces, and was strung out over a distance of around one kilometre. The modern track to Armant now bisects the site, with the palace and temple area on the eastern side and the town site to the west.

Palace site of Amenhotep III

A causeway originally enclosed the complex on the western side, connecting Amenhotep’s palace to his mortuary temple (behind the Colossi of Memnon) and ran south of Malqata to the site of a large platform used for the jubilee celebrations in the area now called Kom el-Samak. At the northern end of the site, to the east of the modern track, was the Temple of Amun (see the Destroyed Temples page). Amenhotep III chose to site his palace here, beginning work around Year 11 of his reign and completed it in time for the occasion of his first heb-sed, or jubilee festival in Year 30. It is not known whether the king lived here permanently or only around the times of the festivals. The first palace was destroyed, a new larger structure built and the site extended for the occasion of his second jubilee in Year 33.

The main area included the king’s apartments which comprised a series of rooms and courts around a central columned banqueting hall and covered an area of around 50m by 25m. There was a large throne room with a dais and several small rooms which were probably smaller audience chambers, waiting rooms, offices and storerooms. The area to the east of the king’s palace accommodated the harem and kitchens. Three other structures known as the North Palace, Middle Palace and South Palace surrounded the king’s apartments and was where the Great Royal Wife Tiye, the king’s eldest daughter Sitamun and other family members or minor wives would have had their quarters. It is thought that the South Palace may have belonged to Queen Tiye.

Decorated plaster from the palace

There was a very limited use of stone at Malqata. This was reserved for column bases, door lintels and flooring, with the main structures built from mudbricks, stamped with the king’s names. Columns and roofing joists were wooden, as was usually the case in domestic architecture. The walls, floors and ceilings were plastered and painted – white for the outer walls and vivid colours in the interiors. The interior decoration was similar to Akhenaten’s Amarna palaces which were built later, having bright geometric designs and frescoes of birds and animals. The ceiling of Amenhotep’s robing room was decorated with spiral designs and stylised bulls-heads in reds, blues and yellows, while his bedroom had a ceiling decorated with flying vultures and amulets. The floor of the columned banqueting hall was plastered and painted to represent the Nile with fish and birds in naturalistic motifs. Many fragments of painted plaster have been recovered from the ruins of Malqata, some of them still attached to the lower parts of remaining walls, and excavators have been able to reconstruct on paper the colourful designs of the palace interior.

Decorated plaster from the palace

There was also a large administrative area to the west of the king’s palace, known as the ‘West Villas’ where the vizier and high officials would have been accommodated. Beyond this was the town or residential area where other officials, administrators and the families of the men who serviced the palaces had their dwellings. The craftsmen who were involved in the construction of the palace and its furnishings lived in their own village to the south of the town.

Adjacent to and south of the palace and town site, Amenhotep constructed a huge artificial lake or basin called Birket Habu. The area is still bordered by the earthwork created by its original digging – a series of artificial hills which enclosed the lake’s southern shore and a vast amount of pottery dating from the New Kingdom onwards was found here. In addition there was a large artificial canal and harbour which connected Malqata to the River Nile.

The hills of Birket Habu

To the south of Birket Habu, in the area known as Kom el-Samak a building was uncovered which proved to be a central platform with a superstructure and staircases on two sides, where fragments of painted murals were found. This had been extended later by the addition of another staircase of 20 steps, with paintings on each step. Bricks found in the building bore the cartouche of Amenhotep III and it is thought to have been a ceremonial building of the king.

Excavations have been periodically carried out at Malqata since its discovery in 1888 by J. Daressy. Although much of the site was removed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 20th century, it was re-excavated in the 1970s by David O’Connor and Barry Kemp who clarified the basic stratigraphy of the site. The Japanese Archaeological Mission of Waseda University first began excavating in 1972 with the discovery of the painted staircase at Kom el-Samak in 1974. They have conducted field surveys of the area, covering Palaeolithic, Predynastic, New Kingdom and Roman-Byzantine periods of occupation. Since 1985 Waseda have had the concession to re-excavate the palace area, uncovering a number of rooms including the columned hall and king’s bedchamber.

Today, there is little to see at Malqata. The excavated areas have been backfilled for protection and the low remains of mudbrick walls are the only indications that there was ever anything there. There is, however a tremendous atmosphere at the site. While the evening sun slides down behind the Theban hills across the desert, the visitor can sit in this wonderfully peaceful place and conjour up colourful images of palaces, kings and queens, the young Tutankhamun (said to be born at the palace) and everyday life in an ancient Egyptian town.

How to get there

Malqata is not officially open to visitors. There is a police checkpoint on the road to Armant and they strongly discourage tourists from going beyond it into the desert. However, if you go in a taxi with a local guide or get permission from the Antiquities Inspectorate, a visit is usually possible. There is a guardian at the site who is caretaker for the French excavation house on the southern side of the palace and will usually show any serious visitors around.

Malqata Palace Project

For greater detail and photographs from the excavations by the Archaeological Mission of Waseda University see their Interim Report.

~ by Su on February 10, 2009.