Egypt Exercise 7.1 - Amarna & Egyptian Temples
Part 1: The City of Amarna
Akhetaton, capital of Pharaoh Akhenaton (c. 1350-1334 BC)
The city of Akhetaton, called Amarna today, gives us a remarkable insight into ancient Egyptian town planning. This urban center of around 50,000 (a large number by ancient standards) was built quickly on virgin desert when Akhenaton decided to move the capital and religious center of Egypt from its traditional location at Thebes to a new place where he could realize his radical monotheistic religious "revolution" to the worship of the sun god in the form of the Aton, represented as the sun disk with rays of light shining down, bringing life and propserity to the people of Egypt and the world through his main representative on earth, Akhenaton (literally "Servant of the Aton"). Akhetaton means "Horizon of the Aton," reflecting
the importance of the sybmolic sacred landscape at Amarna and more
generally in the other citys of ancient Egypt. Since Amarna was abandoned
only about 25 years after its creation, when Tutankhamun brought the
capital back to Thebes, the houses, palaces, workshops, storerooms and
temples lie just below the sand covered surface. Barry Kemp of the
MacDonald Institute for Archaeolgoical Research at University of Cambridge has employed a combination of excavation and survey using the latest high-tech methods to recover most of the ancient city's plan, giving us an insight into the layout of an ancient Egyptian city that is not possible at places like Luxor (ancient Thebes), where the modern town covers the ancient settlement. For this part of the exercise, explore Amarna through Kemp's excellent Amarna Project web site: http://www.amarnaproject.com/
Start by hitting the link "Amarna the Place" and move on to the "Model of the City." Once you have reviewed these web pages, feel free to explore the other materials on this site.
Part 2: "Temple as Cosmos"
Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramses III (c. 1182-1151 BC)
Akhenaton's monotheistic vision of the Aton led to a complete emphasis on temples characterized by large open spaces. Where better to worship a solar god like the Aton? Similar temples probably existed at the ancient city of Heliopolis, today a trendy part of Cairo, but the normal Egyptian temple plan had a very different plan and symbolic layout. Ramses III's mortuary temple of Medinet Habu in the great necropolis of Thebes was dedicated to Amun-Re, the head of the Egyptian pantheon at that time, and reflects the ideal layout of an Egyptian temple better than any other surviving monument.
By acting as a bridge between divine and mundane, Egyptian temples
reinforced and legitimized the rule of Pharaohs by linking them to the
titanic battle between good and evil, and placing them in the position of
divine intermediary, ensuring that the gods were satisfied. After reading the
passage below, explore the temple of Medinet Habu and put yourself in the place
of the ancient worshipper.
The archetypical Egyptian temple linked heaven, earth and the Netherworld through mystical and magical connections. The ideal temple plan moves from open to restricted and light to dark space. A bright courtyard is followed by the twilight of the hypostyle “Hall of Appearances,” which is in turn followed by a series of inner rooms of increasing darkness, with only a few openings in the ceilings and walls casting mysterious, isolated shafts of light, a hidden realm largely restricted to the priesthood and elite.
|The mortuary temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu illustrates how temple planning reflected the solar theology of the state, materializing the cosmology of the sun god Re’s daily cycle of rising and setting. Here the massive pylons flanking the entrance explicitly represent the Akhet, (horizon) in spite of the fact that the temple is really oriented more North-South than East-West. Here the Nile becomes the main compass referent, as is often the case with Egyptian temples.