Malkata is the name of the site of the palace of Amenhotep III, which is situated to the south of Medinet Habu close to the workman’s village at Deir el-Medina on the West Bank of Luxor (Thebes). In ancient times, the palace was called “the House of Rejoicing” and “the Palace of the Dazzling Aten” (the latter being one of Amenhotep’s epithets also made famous by his son), but is today better known by its Arabic name of “Malkata”, meaning “the place where things are picked up” after the piles of ancient rubble and debris which still litter the area.
The site covers a massive thirty thousand square meters (30 hectares) and there is evidence that Amenhotep III had not finished building when he died (probably in the thirty-ninth year of his reign).
The pharaoh’s apartments are located in the south-east corner of the structure and include audience chambers, festival halls, extensive gardens, administrative offices, a library, kitchens, and numerous storerooms. His principal wife, Tiy, had her own apartments to the south and Sitamun (eldest daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiy) had her own apartments to the north.
The palace also incorporated extensive quarters for the other members of the royal family (including the harem of minor wives and their children and attendants) and favoured and powerful officials such as the vizier, the chancellor, and the steward (and all of their respective servants).
As well as the apartments and associated buildings, the complex included a large temple dedicated to Amun. A processional way led from the temple to a large T-shaped harbour known as the “Birket Habu” which is thought to have originally formed the front of the palace.
This harbour linked the palace to the Nile (and thus to the whole of Egypt) and would have played host to a huge volume of commercial and administrative traffic. It was also the home of the golden barque known as “The Dazzling Aten” which Amenhotep and Tiy used on state and religious festivals. Amenhotep II also ordered the construction of a nine hundred acre T shaped artificial lake so that he could sail in his royal barque with Tiy and the other members of the royal family.
In order to run the palace and kingdom, there were extensive administrative buildings known as the “West Villas” and royal workshops in the south with a large settlement to the north (Dier el Medina) which acted as a support town to the palace. A causeway connected the site with Amenhotep’s mortuary temple (where the Colossus of Memnon stand) and Kom el-Samak (where a mudbrick platform was erected for his Heb Sed festival). A further two kilometres west of this lay a similar monument at Kom el-Abd, together with a royal rest house and its associated buildings.
After the reign of Amenhotep, the royal chambers were converted into storage rooms, and during the Roman period a temple was constructed to the south of the complex (at Deir al-Shalwi) which was dedicated to Isis.
The complex was largely constructed from mud-bricks onto many of which was stamped the cartouche of Amenhotep III. The cartouche of Queen Tiy was also added to the mud bricks used to construct her lavish quarters. However, the complex also incorporated wood, limestone, and sandstone, as well as thousands of beautifully painted ceramic tiles.
The mud brick walls were plastered and then painted brilliant white on the outside and painted in rich vibrant colours on the inside. Fragments of these murals give us some indication of the skill with which the interior was decorated. While there were many scenes incorporating the gods, scenes of nature also played a prominent role in the art from this period. The interior decorations also include a wide array of beautifully glazed tiles decorated with geometric patterns and more representations of fish, birds, and nature.
The walls of the harem had a floral pattern also featuring birds and red and white calves. The floors were painted to resemble the Nile teeming with fish and the river banks teeming with birds. Some chambers were decorated with brightly coloured tiles depicting flowers, grapes and vines, birds and fish, while others included glyphs offering protection, health, and good luck. The name “Nebmaatre” (the throne name of Amenhotep III) was written everywhere, along with the epithet “Horus, strong bull appearing in Thebes, perfect god, lord of joy, lord of crowns”.
The audience chambers leading to Amenhotep’s chambers were decorated with images of bound captives so that anyone who walked along their corridors would symbolically trample them underfoot. Similar designs were incorporated into the steps leading up to the platform which supported his throne. The pharaoh’s own dressing room was originally decorated with a red, blue, and yellow ceiling of S-shaped spirals and stylized bulls heads (perhaps hinting at a Greek or Minoan influence), but also featured paintings of the goddess Nekhbet on the ceiling of the royal bedchamber. The ceiling was supported by beautifully carved wooden columns painted to resemble lilies.
The interior would have been filled with beautiful furniture and pottery. Examples from his reign are among the finest recovered from any period of Ancient Egyptian history. Amenhotep III was very wealthy, and was a great patron of craftsmen and artists. Furniture and pottery recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun gives some suggestion of the beautiful items which would have graced his palace.
It is thought that Amenhotep III began the construction of the Malkata Palace during the eleventh year of his reign. Although he officially moved his court permanently to Thebes in the twenty-ninth year of his reign he seems to have made this palace on the West Bank the administrative centre of his kingdom as well as his home.
Amenhotep housed his extensive harem in quarters in the palace complex. Like many pharaohs, he had several wives (many of whom married him in order to cement relationships between Egypt and a foreign power) and all of these ladies had their own servants. Apparently one foreign princess brought with her an entourage of around 300 women! Amenhotep also used the palace to receive dignitaries and celebrated his Heb Sed (jubilee) in the palace grounds.
In moving to Thebes, Amenhotep III abandoned the traditional capital of Memphis. As this would have enhanced the political clout of Thebes (which until then had only been the religious centre of Egypt but not its administrative capital) it is sometimes suggested that building a new palace at Malkata was a bid to retain some distance from the powerful priests of Amun who were based in the temple complex of Karnak across the water in Thebes. His son Akhenaten, went one step further and abandoned the palace (and Amun) moving his capital to a virgin site at Akhetaten (“the horizon of the Aten”).
There is some evidence that Tutankhamun moved back into the palace when he in turn abandoned Akhetaten and reinstated both the old gods and the priests that served them. Ay, the successor of Tutankhamun, also used the palace, but by the time of Ramesses II the palace was simply one of many royal residences and the capital had been moved to Pi-Ramesess in Lower Egypt.
Unfortunately, the site is now rather dilapidated and only the bottom course of the mud brick walls and the lower parts of a few murals remain. There are occasional splashes of colour and fragments of tile indicating how beautifully the palace was decorated, but little to catch the eye of all but the most dedicated of Egyptophiles. As a result, it is not really on the tourist trail. However, you can apply for special permission to visit the site and fragments of the decorations can be seen in the Cairo Museum.
Copyright J Hill 2010