malqata - palace of amenhotep iii
Charles Woods - photos by Robyn Webb

Malkata covered a huge area and little remains of it now but there is still colour to be found on tiles

Malqata lies in a desert area to the south of the Medinat Habu. It covers a vast area that is not easily accessible and is generally not open to the public but the site can be accessed if you locate the Guardian who oversees the site's security. He will usually allow you to visit the ruins and take photos of items of interest. There is no charge but the Guardian should be compensated for his time.
Despite the dereliction there is still evidence of wall paintings

Malqata (Malkata) is a name which means “the place where things are picked up”  It is situated on the West Bank of the River Nile in Luxor.  It lies just south of  Habu Temple, and is famous for being the largest mud-brick palace in Egypt.  It covers an area of approximately 30 hectares and built by the illustrious King Amenhotep III (Amenophis) .   It is believed that building began in Amenhotep’s 11th year and was completed some time before his 29th year, when he moved there and made it his permanent home. Today very little remains of the complex apart from the foundations and many items found there which give us a glimpse of the luxurious lifestyle once enjoyed at Malkata.

The main palace consisted of a central courtyard adjacent to which were the King’s apartments featuring a bedroom, dressing room,  audience chambers, festival hall, offices, kitchens, storerooms, and a library,   Close by was an extraordinarily large harem to accommodate, in part, some 317 Hittites that Amenhotep received as a dowry when he married a Hittite princess. In addition accommodation was provided for an army of attendants and servants. Opposite to the King’s rooms were apartments for his daughters and son.  It is believed that Tutankhamun was born at Malkata giving rise to the suggestion that he was a son of Amenhotep. There was a further additional palace built on a smaller scale for his Great Royal Wife, Queen Tiye. Separate apartments were provided  for his eldest daughter Sitamun, and additional quarters for the rest of the royal family and minor wives. There were separate residences for the king’s Vizier,Chancellor, Steward and  high officials, and  quarters also provided for their staff and servants.


All the mud bricks used in the construction of the main palace complex were stamped with the name of Amenhotep and those used for constructing the palace of Tiy were stamped also with her name. In addition to the main buildings, accommodation was provided for a huge number of staff, administrators, cooks, gardeners, chamber maids and servants of all kinds, all enclosed within the complex.  

The internal decorations for the palace included walls painted with scenes of wildlife, flowers, reeds, marsh animals, birds and various geometric designs.  Many of the window and door frames were augmented with wood or stone and wooden shelving, and stone was used for steps, column bases, bathrooms and drainage systems.  There was a central pool, en-suite bathroom facilities, and well-tended walled gardens.  Cedar wood was imported from Lebanon in Syria and used for beams, pillars and doors.  

 The Harem quarters and private suites of the king’s closest family and royal women were painted with red and white calves in motion, birds in flight and floral motifs.  The naturalistic themes were extended to the floors of the hall which included a river filled with fish and birds flying out from the banks. Ceilings were similarly adorned with vines.   Windows, doorways and balconies were decorated with brightly coloured tiles and painted with grapevines, flowers, birds fish, feathers or spiral and geometric designs.    The King’s dressing room was originally decorated in a more masculine geometric design and stylized bulls heads, and everywhere throughout the palace, the name of the king would appear written in gold to remind all the occupants just whose palace it was.  

The Jubilee of Amenhotep
Amenhotep raising the Djed pillar at his Jubilee festival. Scene from the tomb of Kheruef. Amenhotep III..

Whilst today we might consider the palace decoration gawdy, in their day they were considered the height of fashion.   By looking at some of the furniture recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun, we get a glimpse of the luxury enjoyed by the royal family and their high officials.    Living close to the palace complex, just south of it, was an entire village of craftsmen; here all kinds of craftsmen would work under the supervision of the Chamberlain to the Great House.  Finely crafted furniture would be made for the palace as well as for export to Mycenae and Babylon where examples have been found.  Glass was manufactured in a small glass works, maybe under the supervision of Phoenician experts from Sidon or Tyre in Syria. 

The Amarna letters give us a glimpse of the diplomatic ties that Amenhotep III had with their contemporaries in other countries. Amenhotep III was on very friendly terms with the Kassite king of Babylon, Kadashman-Enlil and he married one of his daughters.   When he heard that he was building a new palace, he sent many gifts including a large bed and 9 chairs and 10 footrests made of ebony (a very expensive and rare wood)  and ivory.  These were overlaid in gold, the weight of which was almost 8 minas.  He also sent a further 8 minas of silver.  In addition, there would be thousands of smaller items, all hand-crafted nearby to the Palace complex.

Although we call the site “Malkata”, the original name of the palace was called “House of the Dazzling Aten”.  Amenhotep III may have built on the West Bank to distance himself from the Amun Priesthood who was becoming at least as rich and powerful as the monarchy itself due to enormous amounts of tribute coming in from countries subdued by Thuthmosis III and subsequent kings interested in expanding the Egyptian empire.  The King seems to have made moves to separate the monarchy from the close ties with the Amun priesthood, and this policy seems to have been, rather disastrously, continued by his successor, Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV).

Birket HabuBirket HabuBirket Habu
Birket Habu

In addition to the palace complex proper, there were many other buildings occupied by high officials in the surrounding neighbourhood.   Amenhotep III also built one of the largest mortuary Temples nearby of which only the two famous statues of Memnon remain standing.  The site is being excavated, and many new finds are being discovered.    All these places were connected by a canal dug from the Nile right up to the palace itself, and continued for about 2 further kilometers.   These linked to an enormous harbor, known today as Birket Habu.   Very little of these canals or the harbour exist today as they have been in filled, but at the time of Amenhotep this canal and harbour was the main highway linking the palace to the mortuary temple, to the River Nile and the entire Egyptian empire.  Boats and river craft would be sailing up and down in continuous streams bringing in supplies, carrying dignitaries, foreign envoys, goods for export with all the attendant mercantile interests of a busy port and lively town.

The causeway ended up about 2 Kilometres beyond the palace at a place called Kom el Samak.  This is where the king enacted out his Jubilee.   The site for this celebration took place on a raised mud brick platform, brightly painted.  It was accessed by 20 steps onto which were painted depictions of all of Egypt’s enemies so that when the king ascended the steps he ceremoniously trod on them. Further south at Deir el Shelwit is a Roman temple to Isis.