Architecture During the Reign of Amenhotep III

From the Lecture Series: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

Amenhotep III was a diplomat and had worked out trade agreements with foreign lands. He was also a builder and contributed immensely toward making Thebes a beautiful city. Read on to know about the many architectural wonders that Amenhotep III built during his lifetime.  

Image of the ruins of Luxor Temple.
Amenhotep III built the temple, now known as Luxor Temple, in honor of the god Amun. (Image: Waj/Shutterstock)

Thebes during the Reign of Amenhotep III

The XVIIIth Dynasty, in some respects, was the high point of Egyptian civilization. It was where it got superpower status, and where it was right on top of the world. Amenhotep III was an incredible pharaoh who contributed significantly to the growth of Egypt.

Amenhotep III was a builder. The skyline of what tourists today know as Luxor is to a great extent due to Amenhotep III. He was the one who really started building up the city and making it great. So, Thebes was in the process of becoming a beautiful city.

This was the city that Homer called “100-gated Thebes” because it had so many temples with so many doors. Amenhotep III built what is today called Luxor Temple. He built a temple dedicated to the god Amun. His own name meant ‘Amun is pleased’.

Learn more about the fabulous XVIIIth Dynasty.

Amenhotep III’s Malkata Palace

Amenhotep III also built a palace, which was rather unusual. It was called the Malkata palace. Malkata is an Arabic word that means ‘where you find stuff’. The pharaohs built their temples and tombs for eternity, but a palace was meant to last for only a generation or two.

The Malakata Palace was built out of mud-brick. As a result, it got terribly damaged. Today, there are only short walls that exist. These walls are at best two to three feet high. But one can get a glimpse of how it was done and how it was decorated. The mud-brick was plastered over with white gesso, white plaster. And then on the plaster, they had made frescos, depicting beautiful scenes of the gods, of plants, and of animals.

Also, it was next to this palace that Amenhotep III built the pleasure lake for Queen Tiye. This lake was about a mile long. Amenhotep III had even sent out commemorative scarabs to tell the world about this lake. He said on the commemorative scarabs that it was so large that Queen Tiye could sail her boat on this lake. He even gave the name to the boat, ‘The Aten Gleams’.

The palace was large. It sprawled because he had to have plenty of rooms for children, concubines, and wives, and sections for the cook and the kitchen.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Amenhotep III’s Religious Shift

Amenhotep III became a bit of a god in his own day. The pharaoh, of course, was always a god. He was the falcon on earth. But Amenhotep III also took another name: the ‘Dazzling Sun Disk of All Lands’. Moreover, Queen Tiye’s boat was named ‘The Aten Gleams’. What this shows is that there was a gentle shift in religion. It seems that the Aten or sun disk was gradually becoming important.

Another interesting thing that happened with Amenhotep III was that he moved permanently to Thebes to live in the Malkata palace. Normally, the pharaoh would have lived at Memphis, the administrative center, and on vacation or for religious ceremonies would have gone to the south.

While it is possible that Amenhotep III was getting old and so wanted to head south, another possibility is that religious things were becoming more important to him. It could be that the ‘Dazzling Sun Disk of All Lands’, as he was called, wanted to be in the religious capital of Egypt.

The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III

Amenhotep III also built his mortuary temple. The mortuary temple was where he was going to be worshipped forever. This was different from where he would be buried.

Now the mortuary temple has virtually disappeared. The water table has risen in Thebes, and the place where the mortuary temple was is right next to the cultivated fields and is quite moist. So the temple has literally sunk underground.

However, what fronted the temple is still standing there. These are two huge statues, about 60 feet high, and they are of Amenhotep III. They were so big that they didn’t sink in the ground. They are called the ‘Colossi of Memnon’. When people entered the mortuary temple to pay respects, they had to pass between these two colossal statues of Amenhotep III.

Image of the Colossi of Memnon.
The Colossi of Memnon are the only parts of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III that have not sunk. (Image: Tomasz Czajkowski/Shutterstock)

One of the colossi became famous in the ancient world because it was called the ‘vocal Memnon’. People said that it spoke in the morning.

However, what actually happened was that there were cracks in the statue, and in the morning, when the sun rose and hit the statue, it would warm up the rocks of the statue, and it would expand a little and the wind would whistle through it and one would hear a sound. That was the ‘vocal Memnon’. Now the statue has been restored, and it does not say anything anymore.

Learn more about ancient Egypt.

End of Amenhotep III

When Amenhotep III died, he was buried in an unusual place. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but not in the same section as his great ancestors. He decided to be buried off to the side, in an area called the West Valley. No one had ever been buried there. He was the first pharaoh ever to be buried in the West Valley.

A corridor descending into a tomb in the Valley of Kings.
The ancestors of Amenhotep III had all been buried in the Valley of Kings. (Image: EvrenKalinbacak/Shutterstock)

Amenhotep III and his great wife, Queen Tiye, had six children. There were four daughters and two boys. The eldest boy was going to be the king of Egypt. His name was Tuthmosis, and he had an important title—high priest of Memphis. Even the girls had been given important titles. However, young Tuthmosis, the prince, died before he became the king, which left his younger brother to rule over Egypt.

This other brother was never mentioned in the records until the end of the pharaoh’s reign. Amenhotep III made this son his co-regent. Co-regencies were started by the Middle Kingdom pharaohs with the notion that if one wanted to make sure who his successor was going to be, he took him as co-regent and both ruled together. This young prince, who was not supposed to be the king, later turned Egypt upside down.

Common Questions about Architecture During the Reign of Amenhotep III

Q: Why was Thebes important during the reign of Amenhotep III?

Thebes was the religious capital of Egypt during the reign of Amenhotep III. Amenhotep III built a temple dedicated to the god Amun there. Moreover, he, unlike the other kings, moved permanently to Thebes during his old age.

Q: Where was Amenhotep III’s palace?

Amenhotep III built the Malkata palace in Thebes. This palace was made of mud-brick. During his old age, Amenhotep III moved permanently to Thebes to live in the Malkata palace.

Q: What was Aten the god of?

Aten was a sun god in ancient Egypt. During the reign of Amenhotep III, Aten or sun disk had gradually become important. Amenhotep III had taken on another name: the ‘Dazzling Sun Disk of All Lands’, and Queen Tiye’s boat was named ‘The Aten Gleams’.

Q: What was the Colossi of Memnon used for?

The Colossi of Memnon fronted the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. They are two huge statues of Amenhotep III. When people entered the mortuary temple to pay respects, they had to pass between them.

Keep Reading
Religion and Deities of Ancient Egypt
Social Life in the Ancient Egyptian Society
Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World: Egyptian Pharaohs