Tell El Amarna

Tell El Amarna

Tell El Amarna (also spelt Tall al-Amarna or Tall al-ʿAmārinah) is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site containing the remains of what was the capital city of the late Eighteenth Dynasty. The city was established in 1346 BC, built at the direction of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and abandoned shortly after his death in 1332 BC. the ancient Egyptians’name for the city is transliterated in English Akhetaten or Akhetaton, meaning “the horizon of the Aten“. Activity in the region flourished from the Amarna Period until the later Roman era.

Location of Tell El Amarna

Tell El Amarna site is on the east bank of the Nile River, in what today is the Egyptian province of Minya. It is about 58 km (36 mi) south of the city of al-Minya, 312 km (194 mi) south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and 402 km (250 mi) north of Luxor (site of the previous capital, Thebes). The city of Deir Mawas lies directly to its west. On the east side of Amarna, there are several modern villages, the chief of which are el-Till in the north and el-Hagg Qandil in the south.


Amarna comes from the Beni Amran tribe that lived in the region and founded a few settlements. The ancient Egyptian name was Akhetaten.

(This site should be distinguished from Tell Amarna in Syria, a Halaf period archaeological tell.

City of Akhetaten

English Egyptologist Sir John Gardner Wilkinson visited Amarna twice in the 1820s and identified it as Alabastron, following the sometimes contradictory descriptions of Roman-era authors Pliny (On Stones) and Ptolemy (Geography). However, he was unsure about the identification and suggested Kom el-Ahmar as an alternative location.

The area of the city was effectively a virgin site, and it was in this city that the Akhetaten described as the Aten‘s “seat of the First Occasion, which he had made for himself that he might rest in it”.

It may be that the Royal Wadi’s resemblance to the hieroglyph for the horizon showed that this was the place to found the city.

The city was built as the new capital of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, dedicated to his new religion of worship to the Aten. Construction started in or around Year 5 of his reign (1346 BC) and was probably completed by Year 9 (1341 BC), although it became the capital city two years earlier. Most of the buildings were constructed out of mudbrick and whitewashed to speed up the town’s construction. The most important buildings were faced with local stone.

It is the only ancient Egyptian city which preserves excellent details of its internal plan, in large part because the city was abandoned after the death of Akhenaten, when Akhenaten’s son, King Tutankhamun, decided to leave the city and return to his birthplace in Thebes (modern Luxor). The city seems to have remained active for a decade after his death. A shrine to Horemheb indicates that it was at least partially occupied at the beginning of his reign, if only as a source for building material elsewhere.

Once it was abandoned, it remained uninhabited until Roman settlement began along the edge of the Nile. However, due to the unique circumstances of its creation and abandonment, it is questionable how representative of ancient Egyptian cities it is. Amarna was hastily constructed and covered approximately 8 miles (13 km) of territory on the east bank of the Nile River on the west bank. The land was set aside to provide crops for the city’s population. The entire city was encircled with 14 boundary stelae detailing Akhenaten’s conditions for establishing this new capital city of Egypt.

The earliest dated stele from Akhenaten’s new city is Boundary stele K, dated to Year 5, IV Peret (or month 8), day 13 of Akhenaten’s reign. (Most of the original 14 boundary stelae have been badly eroded.) It preserves an account of Akhenaten’s foundation of this city. The document records the pharaoh’s wish to have several temples of the Aten to be erected here, for several royal tombs to be created in the eastern hills of Amarna for himself, his chief wife Nefertiti and his eldest daughter Meritaten as well as his explicit command that when he was dead, he would be brought back to Amarna for burial. Boundary stela K describes the events that were being celebrated at Amarna.