Housing and Lighting: The Amarna House and Villa

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Housing and Lighting: The Amarna House and Villa


Amarna Houses. Though Egyptian houses changed over time, the best-understood houses were studied by German Egyptologist Herbert Ricke in the 1920s and 1930s at Tell el Amarna. Ricke described a public, private, and semiprivate section of each house. The public area was open to guests from outside the household. The semiprivate section was open to the family and special guests. The private area consisted of bedrooms and baths and would only been seen by members of the household.

Smaller Version. The smaller home was approximately two hundred square feet in size. It consisted of either three or four rooms and a forecourt, which was used to receive guests, grind grain, and feed animals. An entrance from the forecourt led to a square room called “the place of sitting.” Here guests could sit on low benches that were built into the walls. From this “place of sitting” the family had access to two other private rooms that were used for sleeping or storage. One room had a staircase that led to the roof, which was often used for cooking and for sleeping during warm weather.

Lighting. Unglazed windows were located high in the walls. Most interior light would have come from small oil-burning lamps. Most likely, however, the rooms remained dark.

The Villa. The larger houses, belonging to the elite, were called villas by Ricke. They were about 430 square feet in area. Villas were located behind enclosure walls, which also protected other buildings, such as separate granaries, stables, and servants’ quarters, as well as a garden.

Villa Plan. The entrance to the villa, which was square in shape, was reached by steps that led to a small entrance hall with a roof supported by a column in the middle. A room such as this one is sometimes called the “porters’ lodge” because it resembles the small spaces at the entrance of modern Egyptian villas where a servant stands guard. From the entrance hall the visitor would turn ninety degrees to enter a long, narrow room that ran almost the width of the house. This front hall had a roof supported by either two or four columns. Windows sometimes pierced the exterior wall, which formed part of the facade of the structure. From the entrance hall the visitor could enter the central hall, which was the main semiprivate room of the house. The central hall was square and had a roof supported by two columns. Raised platforms, built into at least two walls, were used as chairs. There was also a platform for water jars and a place to keep a large jar full of embers to serve as a heater during cold months. Windows again were placed high in the walls and were covered by wooden screens that controlled light levels. All other rooms and a staircase to the roof could be reached from the central hall. At least one room had a central column, while another always had two supporting columns. The room with the single column was square and served for private parties. Sleeping rooms had a niche where the bed was placed. Amarna villas also had bathrooms with a

toilet, which had a separate stone seat and a shower, which was a flat slab of stone with a hole in the middle. A servant would pour water over a kneeling person taking a shower. The staircase from the central hall led to the roof, where there was sometimes a second story with additional private rooms. Again, the roof could be used for storage and cooking. Amarna villas were decorated with paintings on plaster. Nature scenes, including flowers and marshes, were the most popular subjects.


Felix Arnold, “Houses,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, volume 2, edited by Donald B. Redford (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 122–127.

Alexander Badawy, Architecture in Ancient Egypt and the Near East (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966).

Rosalie David, Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt (New York: Facts on File, 1998), pp. 183–186.

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