Wednesday, June 5, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -3

The great Temple of Aten was situated slightly to the north of the private palace, in a vast sacred enclosure measuring 800m (2,625 ft) by almost 300m (984 ft). Like other Egyptian temples, the sanctuary consisted of a series of courtyards radiating from a single axis, and the entrance to the complex was framed by tow pylons – huge, tapering stone masses. But the likeness to traditional temples ended here, because the Temple of Aten had been conceived in a revolutionary way. In traditional temples, such as those at Karnak and Luxor, a courtyard led into a succession of increasingly dark and small rooms, with lowered ceilings and raised floors, culminating in the sanctuary itself, away from the crowds and from daylight. But the temple at Amarna had no roof – the walls acted merely as partitions between chambers open to the sky. Akhenaten was anxious that nothing should block the Sun’s holy rays. Reliefs from Amarna evoke the grandeur of the ceremonies held inside the Sun-drenched sanctuary. Events are presented frame by frame, with an almost cinematic effect. The king drove his own chariot to the temple. Nefertiti drove a second chariot. Behind came the princesses and ladies of the court, and soldiers carrying standards ran beside the procession. At the temple, servants led the horses and their chariots away, and priests greeted the royal couple with a bow. Women beat tambourines, and subjects raised their arms in homage.

 Luxury verging on decadence is apparent everywhere. The women wore diaphanous pleated dresses. The king and queen were similarly attired in fine fabrics revealing the contours of their limbs. Feathers decked the horns of the sacrificial oxen, whose bodies were so fattened that they could barely move. Within the temple enclosure, the king approached the main gate. The little princesses trooped in after their parents. The children were naked and their heads were shaved, except for a single lock of hair, as was the practice for Egyptian children. Each of them carried a sistrum, a musical instrument used in Egyptian religious ceremony. It consisted of a metal ring fastened to a handle. Rods loosely attached to the ring tinkled when the instrument was shaken. The sound was associated with love and joy, and was credited with warding off evil spirits. The music of the sistrum provided a familiar background to the ceremonies, but the rites of Aten were startlingly new. Egyptian gods were traditionally worshipped in effigy: a statue would be washed, dressed and perfumed exactly like a living being, and presented with offerings of food. No such idolatries attended the new religion.

The Aten had no statue; it was never represented in human or animal form. Offerings were piled on a great altar – gifts of bread, poultry, beef and garlands of flowers – and the Disc of the Sun witnessed the rites as the pharaoh consecrated gifts, burned incense, and poured water, with the queen officiating at his side. The temple site contains an astonishing number of lesser altars – some 2,000 in all – which may have been used by Amarna’s citizens. The possibility that the king and his subjects worshipped the Aten in the same sacred space indicates another revolutionary departure form the conventions of earlier Egyptian rites. Residential areas grew haphazardly to the north and south of the city’s official buildings. The homes of he wealthier citizens were spaced out along the streets at irregular intervals, and humbler citizens occupied the areas in between, different classes living side by side. Whatever their size, whether humble dwellings or princely palaces, houses in Amarna were laid out according to the same basic plan. All were divided into three parts: an antechamber, a living room, and a private area with bedrooms.

The antechamber was a long and often beautiful room, its ceiling supported by wooden columns, and it was sometimes surrounded by a suite of smaller rooms. The square living room was the centre of the house. The walls were not open the sun, so the room temperature was cool and comfortable. They led up to a ceiling higher than that of the rest of the house, supported by wooden columns. Daylight entered through small windows set high in the walls. The private apartments consisted of the master’s chamber and rooms reserved for family and guests. There were no true bathrooms – a simple chamber provided a space where servants would shower family members with water from a jar. A small adjacent room provided somewhere to relax, and a staircase led to the terrace roof where the family might sleep if the summer heat made the house unbearable.

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