Journal: Saturday 18 October 1997
This was my last full day in Egypt and most of it had been spent on Luxor West Bank. We were going there again today. Robin and I had visited Malqata earlier this year and I had fallen in love with this remote site on the edge of the desert, once the palace and town of Amenhotep III but now deserted, the ruins mostly devoured by the blowing sand and the natural destruction of the centuries. The area was first excavated in 1888 and later much of the remaining monument was removed by Metropolitan Museum excavations during the early years of the 20th century. Most of the palace and town was constructed from mud brick and wood, which doesn’t often survive the ravages of time and which is why there is little left of the buildings. There were originally four palaces with service areas plus several large villas for the elite of Amenhotep’s court, as well as homes for the local population. There was also a Temple of Amun here.
We wanted to see the site again and perhaps walk over the area of Birket Habu where Amenhotep had constructed an artificial lake for the entertainment of his queen, the Great Royal Wife, Tiye. Birket, in Arabic, means ‘lake’, and this was part of a T-shaped harbour, connected to the River Nile by a canal. The excavation of the harbour left huge earthworks, mounds of sand up to 14m high in a line which are now part of the natural landscape at the edge of the cultivation. These high mounds are populated by a few small villages, whose children (and dogs) ran over the hills to meet us. They had curious home-made toys which were fascinating, made of a tin can on a long pole which they would push along in front of them. No Gameboys for these children! Robin and I wandered along the base of the Birket Habu mounds towards the southern end of Malqata, followed by our inquisitive tribe of children. Amenhotep’s palace was given the name ‘The Dazzling Aten’ and a great golden barge was said to have been housed on the lake. A commemorative scarab of Amenhotep III dated to year 11 of his reign states that:
‘….His majesty commanded a lake to be built for the Great Royal Wife Tiye…. His majesty celebrated the festival of the opening of the lake on day 16 of the third month of Akhet (Season of inundation)….His majesty sailed on it the royal barge, named “The Aten Gleams”….’
The name Malqata, in Arabic, means ‘place of debris’ and there was plenty of this. The mounds were covered in red clay pottery sherds, mostly modern, but quite a few pieces of pottery that looked quite ancient too. More recent debris consists of tin cans and windblown plastic water bottles and carrier bags. But the romance of the site will always remain in my imagination.