A Dream Destination for Egyptologists: The Amazing Amarna Necropolis
Amarna is a dream destination for many Egyptologists. The temples, tombs, and houses left by the people who lived in the area thousands of years ago make up one of the most impressive discoveries in Egypt. The city of Akhenaten was destroyed, but the ruins and tombs tell its eternal story.
Before the city of Amarna was abandoned the inhabitants had created a magnificent group of tombs. The Royal Wadi contains the tombs of the pharaoh’s family, including the final resting place of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tiye, Kiya, and others. All of the tombs were heavily damaged, however, the reliefs and artifacts which survived still tell a beautiful and touching story of the city which was inhabited for a very short time, but continues to be a key site in the country’s history.
An award scene with Akhenaten and Nefertiti from the tomb of Parennefer (Amarna tomb 7). ( Public Domain )
The Tombs of the Royal Family
Entering the tombs of the Royal Wadi, visitors can see walls full of reliefs damaged by priests in ancient times, but also by other people over the years. Looted an unbelievable number of times, currently the tombs are protected by guards and gates, but there is still a lot to do to preserve them. The most important part of the necropolis is comprised of just a few tombs, of which at least three are unfinished.
The tomb known as Tomb 26 is the only decorated tomb which belonged to Akhenaten. The story which appears on the tomb’s walls is a tale of a family and a visionary ruler. Researchers believe that it was prepared as an eternal house for the king, his mother, and at least one wife – Nefertiti. But were they ever really buried there? It is still unknown.
Fragment of a statue of Akhenaten. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Hajor/ CC BY SA 1.0 )
The mummies of Tiye and Akhenaten were discovered in the Valley of the Kings. The same happened in the case of the so called ‘Younger Lady,’ who obviously belonged to Akhenaten’s family and was Tutankhamun’s mother. Even if the royal family of Amarna was buried in their city of dreams, they were reburied in the Theban necropolis after the fall of Akhenaten’s dynasty.
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Tomb 27 brings another mystery. Perhaps it was made for the female pharaoh Neferneferuaten, but it was never finished and there is no evidence of any burial there. Another tomb – 28 – was probably prepared for Kiya, the second wife of Akhenaten. What's interesting about this tomb is that it is the only finished tomb in this complex. Tomb 29 was unfinished and its owner is unknown. Egyptologists speculate that it could have belonged to one of Akhenaten’s children.
An Amarna relief depicting a woman undergoing a purification ritual. While the figure has been recarved, the large earings and style of wig are thought to be representative of Queen Kiya. (Keith Schengili-Roberts/ CC BY SA 2.5 )
A Poem That Changed the World
Apart from the royal tombs, there are also the Tombs of the Nobles, which is the common name for a burial place of at least 25 Amarna noble citizens. The tombs are the best insights to the priorities, personalities, and beliefs of the owners.
One of the noble tombs belonged to the future pharaoh and father of Nefertiti – Ay. Researchers discovered a text on the walls in the corridor of his tomb. It appears to have been a poem by the pharaoh Akhenaten. Researchers still debate this possibility, but it seems that it was probably poetry by the pharaoh himself. However, why did it appear in this specific tomb? Was it a custom in Amarna, if so, then why were most of them destroyed? There are still many unsolved issues surrounding the text.
Relief of a man, likely once part of a group welcoming Ay. Originally from the Tomb of Ay at Tell el-Amarna. UC 409. (Captmondo/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
According to some enthusiasts who like to link ancient history with the history of Christianity, the Hymn to Aten by the Egyptian pharaoh is similar to Psalm 104. Regardless if it influenced the Psalm or not, it is one of the most fascinating texts of its era:
“Praise of Re Har-akhti, Rejoicing on the Horizon, in His Name as Shu Who Is in the Aton-disc, living forever and ever; the living great Aton who is in jubilee, lord of all that the Aton encircles, lord of heaven, lord of earth, lord of the House of Aton in Akhet-Aton; (and praise of) the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, who lives on truth, the Lord of the Two Lands: Nefer-kheperu-Re Wa-en-Re; the Son of Re, who lives on truth, the Lord of Diadems: Akh-en-Aton, long in his lifetime; (and praise of) the Chief Wife of the King, his beloved, the Lady of the Two Lands: Nefer-neferu-Aton Nefert-iti, living, healthy, and youthful forever and ever; (by) the Fan-Bearer on the Right Hand of the King ... Eye.
He says: Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven,
Thou living Aton, the beginning of life!
When thou art risen on the eastern horizon,
Thou hast filled every land with thy beauty.
Thou art gracious, great, glistening, and high over every land;
Thy rays encompass the lands to the limit of all that thou hast made:
As thou art Re, thou reachest to the end of them;
(Thou) subduest them (for) thy beloved son.
Though thou art far away, thy rays are on earth;
Though thou art in their faces, no one knows thy going.
When thou settest in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death.
They sleep in a room, with heads wrapped up,
Nor sees one eye the other.
All their goods which are under their heads might be stolen,
(But) they would not perceive (it).
Every lion is come forth from his den;
All creeping things, they sting.
Darkness is a shroud, and the earth is in stillness,
For he who made them rests in his horizon.”
Left: Panel with adoration Scene of Aten (detail). ( Public Domain ) Right: 1908 drawing of the Great Hymn to Aten. ( Public Domain )
An analysis of the text shows how talented the writer was. He accumulated all of the symbolism of his times, and the beauty of ancient Egyptian mysticism - something which fascinates people even now.
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Tombs for People Close to the Royal Family
Apart from Ay, the necropolis was shared with the people closest to the Royal Family. There was a place for people like Panehsy – the first servant of Aten, Huya - steward of Queen Tiye, Ipy – the King's scribe, and many others.
The most impressive thing about this necropolis is the fact that while exploring tomb by tomb, one may gain a glimpse of the times which passed thousands of years ago. All of these people lived and died in the same period of history, they all served the same people, and they were connected with the same idea and the cult of Aten.
Amarna T omb EA 6 which belonged to Panehesy. He held numerous offices such as 'Chief servitor of the Aten in the temple of Aten in Akhetaten' and 'Seal-bearer of Lower Egypt'. (kairoinfo4u: Mutnedjmet/ CC BY SA 2.0 )
The tombs of Amarna are like gates that open to the times of a rebellious king whose visions created one of the most fascinating stories of ancient Egypt. The shadows of the people who lived in the city of Amarna are still somewhat visible in their tombs, which still hide many secrets.
Top Image: View of the northern part of the Amarna necropolis. ( Olaf Tausch/ CC BY 3.0 ) Insert: Stone block portraying Akhenaten as a sphinx originally found in the city of Amarna/Akhetaten. Kestner Museum of Hanover, Germany. (Hans Ollermann/ CC BY 2.0 )
The Amarna Royal Tombs at Amarna, by Barry Kemp:
Royal tombs at Tell el-Amarna, available at:
Hymn to the Aten, available at:
Royal Tomb, available at: