History of the Site

While the tombs of the pharaohs, from the Old Kingdom pyramids to the Valley of the Kings, are familiar the world over, the settings in which the kings of ancient Egypt lived and ruled are comparatively poorly known. One of the few royal cities surviving from ancient Egyptian times is at Malqata in western Thebes. It was built by the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned for thirty-eight or thirty-nine years, from about 1390–1352 B.C. Located on the edge of the cultivation at the southern end of the Theban necropolis, the site today is marked only by the low mud brick ruins and the great mounds that border the huge harbor known as the Birket Habu.


Artist’s re-imagination of the central part of Malqata, with the Birket Habu in the background

One of the most significant urban sites surviving from ancient Egypt, Malqata was established by Amenhotep III in the 30th year of his reign (about 1360 B.C.) when he celebrated his first heb sed, a royal jubilee intended in part to rejuvenate the king. The great festival city was constructed to the south of the large funerary temple the king was building for himself at the site now known as Kom el-Hettan. In all, Amenhotep celebrated three sed festivals: in years 30, 34, and 37 of his reign. After his death, the city was largely abandoned. Because Malqata was only occupied for a limited time, the site presents an unusual opportunity to view a settlement at one of Egypt’s principal urban centers without the intrusion of later occupation.

Palace and Birket Mounds (YK10170) small

A view of Malqata from a hot air balloon

In an area of late 18th Dynasty occupation that extends roughly seven kilometers along the floodplain, Amenhotep III built several palaces and cult areas. At the north end of the site, the complex of mud brick buildings includes the King’s Palace, the North Palace, the Middle Palace, the so-called Audience Pavilion, administrative buildings, a Temple of Amun, and the remains of residential and industrial areas.

The immense harbor known as Birket Habu begins east of the King’s Palace and extends to the south for two and one half kilometers. The enormous mounds created from digging out the floodplain rise up along the harbor’s edge, making a monumental statement about Malqata’s importance. Heading south from the end of the Birket Habu mounds, one finds the Kom el-Samak, a platform built for the celebration of ceremonies connected with the heb sed. An ancient raised roadway lay beyond the western edge of the site. It probably began at the king’s funerary temple (Kom el-Hettan), continued past the city, and terminated at Deir esh-Shelwit, a Ptolemaic temple that likely sits on the site of a much earlier structure.

Birket Habu

The Birket Habu, now under cultivation, seen from a balloon

Some three kilometers south of the Kom el-Samak, the Kom el-Abd rises out of the low desert. The purpose of this mud-brick platform is not clearly understood, although one suggestion is that it supported temporary structures.

But this was not the last of Amenhotep III’s construction projects in the area. At some point near the end of his reign, the king cleared a giant strip of low desert. The strip, made visible by the large stones piled along its edges, extends to the foot of the natural terraces leading up to the cliffs of the high desert. The purpose of this strip is difficult to determine because it was never finished.


  1. Thanks Cathy for the email with blogs.
    I look forward to the next posting

  2. looking forward to future blogs about this interesting site!

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