The site of Amarna (commonly known as el-Amarna or incorrectly as Tell el-Amarna) is located on the east bank of the Nile River, some 58 km (38 miles) south of the city of al-Minya, 312 km (194 miles) south of the Egyptian capital Cairo and 402 km (250 miles) north of Luxor. The site includes several modern villages, chief of which are el-Till in the north and el-Hagg Qandil in the south.
The city was built as the new capital by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, dedicated to his new religion of worship to the Aten. Construction started in year 4 of his reign (1364 BC or 1346 BC) and was probably completed by year 9 (1359 BC or 1341 BC), although it became the capital city two years earlier. The name for the city employed by the ancient Egyptians is written as Akhetaten (or Akhetaton transliterations vary) in English transliteration. It translates literally as “the Horizon of the Aten”.
Amarna is the only ancient Egyptian city for which we have great details of its internal plan, in large part because the city was abandoned shortly after the death of Akhenaten and remained uninhabited thereafter. However, due to the unique circumstances of its creation and abandonment, it is questionable how representative of ancient Egyptian cities Amarna actually is.
The area was also occupied during later Roman and early Christian times, excavations to the south of the city have found several structures from this period.
The frequent designation “Tell el-Amarna” for the city is inaccurate: nowhere do the ancient remains constitute a mound of eroded architecture that would warrant the description of a “tell” (Arabic: “city mound”), so common elsewhere in the region. Cyril Aldred notes that the name “Tell el-Amarna” is a misunderstanding of the name for one of the modern villages near the ruins, Et Til el Amarna. The name “Amarna” itself comes from the name of a tribe of nomads, the Beni Amran, who left the Eastern Desert in the 18th century to settle on the banks of the Nile along this stretch.
Rediscovery and excavation – The site was discovered in 1887 when a local woman digging for sebakh uncovered a cache of over 300 cuneiform tablets (now commonly known as the Amarna Letters). These tablets recorded select diplomatic correspondence of the Pharaoh and were predominately written in Akkadian, the lingua franca commonly used during the Late Bronze Age of the Ancient Near East for such communication.
The Deutsche Orientgesellschaft, led by Ludwig Borchardt, excavated the North and South suburbs of the city from 19071914. The famous bust of Nefertiti now in Berlin’s Ägyptisches Museum was discovered among other sculptural artifacts in the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose.
For more than a century, archaeologists looked in vain for any trace of the abandoned city’s dead. Recently, British archaeologists made a breakthrough when they found human bones in the desert, which had been washed out by floods. Originally thought to be of a later period, surrounding pottery confirmed that the remains were from people who worked and lived during the 18th Dynasty. They also reveal a grim picture of disease, injuries, poor nutrition and a short life span as a result of hard working and living conditions, very different from the murals depicting the ruling class blessed by the beneficial light of the Aten.
ARRIVAL: Road and rail links with Amarma are currently accessible only on the opposite (west) bank of the Nile, making a river crossing necessary. An eastern access by a feeder road from the Cairo-Asyut desert highway is reportedly planned for the future.
For the northern and central parts of Amarna (including the North Tombs), the tourist ferry to el-Till should be used. This can be reached by tourist car / taxi from Mallawi (which has a railway station) or from Minya. Vehicles are available for hire at el-Till. This is the usual means of tourist access.
For the South Tombs the ferry to el-Hagg Qandil is an alternative, if perhaps somewhat risky. This is accessible by vehicle from Deir Mawas, along the road which passes the village of Beni Amran. From Deir Mawas to the ferry the distance is about 1.75 kms (just over one mile). Deir Mawas also has a local railway station. Transport is far less likely to be available for hire from el-Hagg Qandil.
NB: On account of current security worries foreign visitors are escorted around the site by representatives of the Tourist Police who are based at the el-Till ferry. For this reason use of the el-Hagg Qandil ferry by foreigners is at present discouraged. Persistence in this route may lead to your enforced escort to el-Till or being taken back to the train stations at Mallawi or Minya.
TOUR ATTRACTIONS: Small Aten Temple / Northern Tombs / Southern Tombs – from el-Till to the North tombs, nos. 3-6 (1 and 2 require an extra excursion), returning to el-Till via a detour to the North Palace. The Central City can be added as a further detour. This can be accomplished in half a day or less. A much longer excursion can be taken to the South Tombs along the road beside the cultivation. This passes through much of the ancient city. The greater part of a day should be allowed for this extended trip. The Royal Tomb can be reached by an extension to the asphalt road which leads out to the North Tombs. The driving time from the North Tombs is around half an hour.
FOOD: A small, privately-run tourist kiosk with toilets is located at the foot of the slope beneath the North Tombs. A second has been built below the South Tombs but is reportedly not yet in operation. Prudence would suggest that you bring food and water with you (and maybe some toilet tissue as well!)
STAY: There are, at present, no accommodation options whatsoever at the site of Amarna. Travelers are generally advised to seek accommodation in one of the nearby cities of Mallawi or Minya.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Open daily, 9 AM – 5 PM
Egyptian: 2 LE
Foreign: 25 LE
12 km southeast of Mallawi and 58 km south of Al-Minya on the east bank of the Nile
BY TRAIN: to Al-Minya railway station, from there the best option is to take a taxi to the ticket office in the village of Et-Till at the entrance to the site
BY TAXI: ask for “Tell el-Amarna”
NOTE: Due to heightened security, private taxis are the only reliable way to visit this site. Local police will provide an escort for the vehicle.
ON THE SITE: The distances within the site are quite large (e.g. 3.5 km from the entrance at Et-Till to the North Tombs and another 10 km from there to the Royal Tombs) so prepare for long walks and hikes up the mountain if you are on foot. Vehicles can use the asphalted roads that run between the monuments within the site.
There is a cafeteria and a gift shop next to the ticket office as well as toilets. A site museum is under construction and is expected to be opened in 2009.
There is a marked visitor route of the Central City.