Amarna: The Lost City of Akhenaten – Ancient Egypt’s Heretic Pharaoh

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For the first time ever, researchers were able to recreate a 3D model of the Lost City of Akhenaten: Amarna.


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Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, also known as Akhenaten, was one of the most controversial Pharoah ever to rule over Ancient Egypt. Considered by many as a heretic, Akhenaten imposed, for the first time, single religion solely based on the worship of the Sun Disk ‘Aten’ which has earned him a place in history as the first ever ruler to abandon traditional Egyptian polytheism, replacing it with a complete innovative monotheistic religious system.

Akhenaten could have been the first monotheist in all of history, a precursor to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Muhammad as prophets who worshiped one God.

The Aten, the sun-disk, is first referred to as a deity in The Story of Sinuhe from the 12th dynasty, in which the deceased king is described as rising as a God to the heavens and uniting with the sun-disk, the divine body merging with its maker. By analogy, the term “silver Aten” was sometimes used to refer to the moon.

Akhenaten claimed, “There is only one God, my father. I can approach him by day, by night.”

Among the numerous changes implemented by Akhenaten, he is also credited with building an incredible new Capital City called Amarna, with never-before-seen architectural techniques.

Now, for the first time, researchers have been able to reproduce 3D models of some of the buildings of the capital of Akhenaten: Amarna.

As explained by the French National Center for Scientific Research(CNRS), with the numerous changes imposed by Akhenaten, the walls no longer had to support massive, ten-to-twenty ton roof slabs, a new architectural standard was established: The huge blocks of stone previously used to erect temples, and royal edifices were replaced by standard-sized stone bricks—Talatats—which had the advantage of being quicker to build with.

However, before introducing the revolutionary building methods on a larger scale, builders first tested their new methods at Karnak, an extensive religious complex located north of Thebes.

Robert Vergnieux former director of the Archéovision Laboratory and steward of an ongoing Akhenaten exhibition in Bordeaux explains: “Because Aten, the sun disk, became the only God to converse with, temples were built without roofs, bathed by the ‘divine rays.’”

However, Researchers had a hard time reconstructing Ancient Amarna since Akhenaten’s capital was wiped off the map. Because of his revolutionary ideas and changes in Ancient Egyptian society, Akhenaten made more enemies than friends, the reason why after his reign, ancient Egyptians tried hard to erase from history anything related to Akhenaten.

“No sooner had he died, than the clergy of other religions, notably those of Amon, who were very powerful, systematically erased all traces of his reign,” says Vergnieux.

Some of the remains of Akhenaten’s legacy can be found at Karnak, where sandstone blocks belonging to Akhenaten’s buildings survived, but were later used in other constructions. Even though Amarna was razed to the ground, steles describing its spatial layout were found on the edges of the town, and all foundations have survived.

Experts of Archéovision had a hard time putting together the pieces, imagining what Amarna might have looked like thousands of years ago when it was under the reign of Akhenaten. However, they had a solid starting point. Vergnieux explains that “2D reconstructions of several buildings, notably at Karnak, had already been proposed, and I had formulated several hypotheses during my Ph.D. work on Amarna.”

Moreover, a 3D application developed by Archéovision proved to be an essential research tool that has helped experts with the reconstruction of the lost city of Amarna.

“For each building, several versions were proposed and submitted to partner Egyptologists in the project,” says Loïc Espinasse, a 3D engineer at Archéovision. Thanks to 3D, the large and small temples of Amarna could also be reconstructed “virtually,” as could two houses of dignitaries.

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