The “Painted Palace” of Amenhotep III

This week I am going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of the Palace of Amenhotep III at Malkata. A palace that once counted among its residents a young Amenhotep IV, or as you might know him, Akhenaten the so-called Hieratical King and husband of Nefertiti. But we are not here to discuss him, not this week anyway. This week we are looking into the impressive and colourful palace of his father.

Amenhotep III founded this site and began in earnest a massive building project and there is evidence to suggest he wasn’t done before he died, a safe assertion as pharaohs generally wanted to build the best to make sure they left their mark on the world and would be remembered. You build it big and impressive and they won’t forget your name in a hurry. His wish seems to have come true as he is known to some as Amenhotep the Magnificent (Figure 1), not a bad title if you ask me!  

Figure 1 A Quartzite head of Amenhotep III wearing the Blue (khepresh) crown
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544477

The palace itself fitted into a much wider set of temples, palaces and ceremonial pathways from the east to west bank of the Nile and measured roughly 30 hectares. There are several sets of buildings within the site including four probable palaces, kitchens, storerooms, residential area and a Temple to Amun[1]. The palace had to accommodate a large number of people due to the important role this site played in the Sed festival of the king. This festival is thought to be a great jubilee celebration of the king’s earthly rule over a period of 30 years, although second and third celebrations took place at shorter intervals[2]. In early examples part of the festival was the running of a sacred course, an example of which can be seen at Saqqara and the Step Pyramid of Djoser. At Malkata this ritual had changed and was transformed into a water ceremony.

Figure 2 Plan of the King’s Palace
https://www.arce.org/resource/virtual-malqata

Amenhotep referred to this palace, which became his residence around year 29 of his reign, as the House of Joy and ‘the Palace of the Dazzling Aten’ which also functioned as one of his epithets[3], it sounds like a great place to be.

The main focal point of all these buildings was the king’s palace. The Palace of the King covers an area of more than 150 x 100 metres, with a central palace being more or less symmetrical in plan, with a long narrow hall running along its central axis[4] Figure 2. At the southern end of the hall was a throne room and behind it the private apartments of the King, which included a bedroom, antechamber and bath[5]. At the northern end of the palace was another series of courts, many with a raised dais opposite the entrance. To the south are the apartments of the King’s great Royal Queen Tiy and those of their oldest daughter Sitamun to the north. Another portion of the site is referred to as the ‘West Villas’ which housed the administrative portion of the city, royal workshops and a workers’ village to the south[6]. Further to the north there is a large settlement acting as a support town to the palace and which is passed by a causeway leading to the King’s mortuary temple which today is believed to have stood behind the Colossi of Memnon 1.5 km away[7]. This causeway carried on into the desert to a site known as Kom el Samak which is a brightly painted mud-brick platform for the King’s Sed festival with 20 steps decorated with images of Egypt’s enemies on each step, which the King could ceremonially trample to reassert Egypt’s dominance over their enemies. This motif was also depicted on the throne of Amenhotep, a virtual reconstruction of that throne was present as part of the American Research Centre in Egypt’s Virtual Malkata Project Figure 3. A huge artificial basin was also dug where the flood plain met the desert designed in the shape of a T[8]. Later this false lake was named Birket Habu and covered 900 acres. The evidence for it being a man-made lake can be seen from the fact that the earth dug out from the ground was partly spread out to make an artificial terrace on which the King’s mortuary temples and part of his adjacent palace stood and was partly heaped up into artificial hills, which can still be seen today[9].

Figure 3 – A digital reconstruction of Amenhotep’s Throne
https://www.arce.org/resource/virtual-malqata

The palace today is in a large state of disrepair as is the case with many mudbrick structures constructed by the ancient Egyptians. However, the most well-preserved portion on the palace is the throne room and audience chamber. This and other evidence from across the site suggests the palace was a colourful and vibrant place, just think stereotypical Egyptian grandeur and rich colours.

One of the most memorable features of the main palace are the well-preserved painted mud decorations on the floor walls and ceilings that have been recovered by excavators. Designs painted on the mud brick include running spirals, block boarders and rosettes, whilst others are representations of animals and plants[10]. The central hall’s floor was decorated to resemble a pool filled with plants and fish, with ducks paddling every so often amongst them, which is labelled H on the map in Figure 2.

Figure 4 The Ceiling of the King’s Ante Chamber https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544502

Alongside this the ‘ante chamber and ‘kings bed chamber was richly decorated. The ceiling of the ante chamber was painted with an elaborate pattern of running spirals, cow heads and rosettes (Figure 4). This design is possibly Greek-inspired. Running alongside this cow motif are birds in flight (Figure 5). The King’s bedchamber, on the other hand, had a ceiling decorated with flying vultures and the panel dado as in the ante chamber and surmounted by paired figures of the god Bes[11]. Alongside this, walls, doorways, windows and balconies were decorated with brightly coloured glazed tiles of flowers, grapes, birds, fish, spirals and feathers, all of which were considered symbols of good luck, health and protection.

Figure 5 Ceiling fragment showing pigeons in flight https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544505

We are often said to be spoiled in Egyptology due to the intricate details and rich colours that survive. For me though the brightness of colours and these details always hold as much fascination, whether it is the first or fiftieth time I have looked at the same object and the paintings at Malkata. Peter Lacovara and Alexandra Winkles describe the Palace of Malkata as ‘The Painted Palace’ and in my mind it more than lives up to that name.


Figure 6 – Calf playing in the marshes, part of the decoration on the supports of low benches that were used to store clothing and other personal items from the western Harim wardrobe room. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/544503

References

[1] Nicholson, P. and Shaw, I. (1995) The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press. Page 188

[2] Kemp, B. J. (2006). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization. London, Routledge. Page 105

[3] Palace of the Sun King Today by Dr. Joann Fletcher http://www.touregypt.net/egypt-info/magazine-mag03012001-magf4.htm accessed 10.11.2020

[4] Lacovara, P. and Winkels, A., (2018) ‘Malkata – The Painted Palace’ in Tracing Technoscapes. The Production of Bronze Age Wall Paintings in the Eastern Mediterranean Becker, J., Jungfleisch, J. and Von Rüden, C. (eds) 2018: Leiden: Sidestone Press. Page 152

[5] Lacovara, P. and Winkels, A., (2018) ‘Malkata – The Painted Palace’ in Tracing Technoscapes. The Production of Bronze Age Wall Paintings in the Eastern Mediterranean Becker, J., Jungfleisch, J. and Von Rüden, C. (eds) 2018: Leiden: Sidestone Press. Page 152

[6]Palace of the Sun King Today by Dr. Joann Fletcher http://www.touregypt.net/egypt-info/magazine-mag03012001-magf4.htm accessed 10.11.2020

[7] Palace of the Sun King Today by Dr. Joann Fletcher http://www.touregypt.net/egypt-info/magazine-mag03012001-magf4.htm accessed 10.11.2020

[8] Kemp, B. J. (2006). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization. London, Routledge. Page 277

[9] Kemp, B. J. (2006). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization. London, Routledge. Page 277

[10] Lacovara, P.(1994) In the realm of the Sun King Malkata Palace-City of Amenhotep III. In Amarna Letters Essays on Ancient Egypt ca.1390-1310 B.C. Volume 3, pp6-20. Page 14

[11] Lacovara, P. and Winkels, A., (2018) ‘Malkata – The Painted Palace’ in Tracing Technoscapes. The Production of Bronze Age Wall Paintings in the Eastern Mediterranean Becker, J., Jungfleisch, J. and Von Rüden, C. (eds) 2018: Leiden: Sidestone Press. P 155

1 thought on “The “Painted Palace” of Amenhotep III”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s