Posted by: imalqata | February 8, 2012

A Palace By Any Other Name

Wednesday, February  8, 2012

The ancient Egyptian royal palace was much more than just the residence of the king, it was also the administrative center of the government. The monarch and palace were so closely connected that the name for the building, the per-aa, “the great house” became a term for the sovereign, “pharaoh.” Much as in the same way that statements from the American president are said to come from the White House.

The Palace at Malqata was known as Per-hay, “the house of rejoicing.” This name is thought to refer to the king’s jubilee, or sed festival. It was applied not only to the Palace of the King but also to the neighboring structure to the west, called the Middle Palace and also to the temple of Amun. The name is even inscribed on a statue of Amenhotep III thought to have come from the palace and now in the Brooklyn Museum.

Statue of Amenhotep III inscribed for “….Lord of Festivals in the Per-hay”

The rather loose use of the name probably reflects that all these different buildings were involved in the jubilee festivities. Per-hay, seems to have originally referred to just the Amun temple, and Amenhotep III’s palace was originally named Per neb-maat-Ra thenu Aten, “House of Neb-maat-Re (Amenhotep III) is the splendor of the Aten,” referring to the solar disk that would become so important in the reign of his son, Akhenaten.

The expansive use of the name Per-hay, is understandable given the amorphous plan of the palace which contains not only the royal residence but also kitchens, storerooms, workshops, and courts spreading out in a seemingly endless warren of mud brick constructions.

While this may seem a rather messy use of terminology, it reflects a pre-modern conception of a palace, which might more aptly be termed a palace-city. A description of the Old Palace of Westminster from the beginning of the Nineteenth Century gives us a glimpse into what early palaces were really like. “ It consisted of a ramshackle set of decaying structures, connected by narrow lanes and dark corridors, with a mixture of new and old chambers set on different levels, and surrounded by a bewildering maze of other buildings, which ranged in importance from the law courts and Westminster Abbey at one end of the scale, to pubs, shops and booksellers’ booths at the other.”

Peter Lacovara

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