The Maru-Aten
Written by Tia

Many were the honors bestowed on the royal women of Akhetaten, but few were so prominent and permanent as their own cult centers. These open-aired temples, or “sunshades,” represented the “back to nature” side of the Aten religion: extravagant gardens, pools rippling with fish and lotuses, and an artificial island enriched the already lavish temple grounds. One can hardly blame the area’s first excavators for thinking it more of a pleasure palace than a place of worship. But worship was what the temples were built for. Interspersed among the gardens were sanctuaries and open-aired kiosks with sunshade platforms, after the which the temples were named. There were various sunshades at Amarna, and each of them was dedicated to an important royal woman. The Dowager Queen Tiye received one early in her son’s reign; while the site of the temple is largely lost, reliefs in the tomb of her steward Huya show Akhenaten giving her a tour of the building. The Great Royal Wife Nefertiti had a sanctuary at Kom el-Nana, and her many daughters had their own shrines within the larger temples.

The largest and most extravagant sunshade by far was the Maruaten. More a complex than a temple, Besides the regular pools, gardens, and kiosks, the Maruaten also included smaller shrines and temples belonging to other royal women. Most interesting of all, it was to the “other woman” that the temple was dedicated. The riches of the Maruaten had been built not for the Nefertiti, but the Favourite, Kiya.

Thought by many to be the Mitannian princess Tadekhupa under a new name and married to a new king, Kiya was Akhenaten’s secondary wife. In temple inscriptions, she is referred to as “Wife and greatly beloved of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands Neferkheperure Waenre, the perfect child of the living Aten who shall live forever.” Most often, however, Kiya is simply and affectionately referred to as “The Favorite.” Aside from being a touching nickname, the title lends this secondary wife a rare public distinction, which helps us to understand why she, not Nefertiti, was the recipient of such an impressive temple. Another, less romantic reason lies in the fact that construction on the Maruaten began just about the time that little Tutankhaten would have been born. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments for Kiya being the boy king’s mother is the coinciding of his birth and her rise to prominence. Akhenaten may have doted on his stunning chief wife and their many daughters, but a son and heir was what Egypt desperately needed and what Akhenaten prayed for. All in all, a new temple was the very least he could give Kiya in return.

Well, not quite the least. The Maruaten was extravagant even by Amarna standards, and the land endowments that came with it would have ensured a comfortable life for the royal favorite. Kiya’s estates continued to produce wine for at least four more years after she died in Year 12, and perhaps even until Akhenaten’s own end; this is hardly the work of a poor and ill-managed estate.

Kiya’s private lands undoubtedly contained an equally private palace for her, as did her temple. Here, she could escape the confines and competition of the harem and occupy herself with the management of her estate. She almost certainly participated in temple rites; relief after carved relief shows her undergoing purification and officiating at the Aten’s daily ceremonies. Most often she stands by herself; occasionally, she shares company with Akhenaten, the two eldest of princesses, and at least once with her own little daughter. Never does Kiya appear with her supposed son or Nefertiti. As the son of a secondary wife, Tutankhaten was just royal enough for the throne, but not for the official family portraits. (Not to mention that the artists already had enough work trying to keep track of Pharaoh’s many daughters!: ). As for Nefertiti…. Royal wives of any time period rarely don’t appear together, particularly when there is such a vast difference in rank and importance. Kiya owed her fame to giving Akhenaten a son; Nefertiti was the High priestess of the Aten and her husband’s confidante. She had politics and temples enough to keep her happy; the Maruaten was Kiya’s for the reigning.

And a rich kingdom it was inside the temple’s painted walls. An elaborate frieze of gray granite uraii were inlayed into the tops of the brown quartzite walls. The reliefs below were delicately carved, plastered, painted, and sometimes even inlayed with precious stones and glass. The temple columns have largely disappeared, but left behind were their bases, elaborately carved with duck heads, flower petals, and grape clusters. This naturalistic theme was carried all the way down to the temple’s stunning floor pavements, which were alive with painted and glazed fish, plants, ducks, lotuses, even the ripples they made in the water. The pavements, themselves, surrounded raised stone water tanks that may have been used in purification rites, though it is equally likely and more charming to think of the tanks as homes for all the creatures pictured in the floor paintings.

Whatever the wildlife the temple was home to, its main population consisted of statues of the royal family. No statues of Kiya are known to have survived, but among the few fractured candidates is a particularly stunning fragment of a face carved in yellow jasper. When whole, the statue would have immortalized a voluptuously rounded beauty, quite unlike the austere and slender Nefertiti. Nor is the Maruaten the only place where we can look for Kiya’s image. Among the many plaster casts of faces found in Thutmose’s sculpting studio were two faces belonging to an unknown royal woman. These faces both wear the Nubian wig and heavy ear ornaments that are Kiya’s particular trademark in reliefs, and if they do represent her, they might have been used as models for her official statues. When the temple grounds were complete, one could have seen Kiya in stone, worshipping the Aten and her king, perhaps with her little daughter at her side.

Kiya’s disappearance, presumably from death, has been placed as early as Year 9 by some scholars, but most agree that the Favorite slips from the Amarnan scene sometime in Year 12. The Maruaten continued to function as a cult center, and we know from wine jar dockets that Kiya’s estate was profiting from its vineyards well into Year 16. It is at about this time, maybe a little earlier, that Akhenaten’s two eldest surviving daughters, Meritaten and Ankesenpaaten, undergo a sudden change in status. Be it political expedience or a simple need to fill the gap left by the dead Favorite and other deceased family members, the two girls became their father’s queens. As Royal Wives, the former princesses now deserved temples in their own right. As time and resources were winding down, Akhenaten foregoed the construction of a new temple and simply had the Maruaten made over. Everywhere she appeared, Kiya had her full Nubian wig shorn away into a modified side lock and the back of her normally shaped head was extended to mimic the princesses’ elongated skulls. Her soft, rounded facial features were left intact; the changing of her name and titles to those of Meritaten, and more rarely Ankhes, were what made the change good in Pharaoh’s fickle eye. Where once the hieroglyphs had praised Kiya as “beloved“ and “the perfect child of the living Aten,” they now read “Daughter of the king of his flesh, his beloved… Meritaten.”

This sort of alteration would have been unthinkable during Kiya’s lifetime; for it to take place, she either had to be dead or living in extreme disgrace. There is no evidence for the latter, but scenes in chamber Alpha in the Royal Tomb suggest that she died in childbirth, perhaps to Tutankhaten himself or another little daughter. Strangely, she does not seem to have made any use of her magnificent funerary equipment; her coffin and canopic jars were later appropriated for Smenkhkare, Akhenaten’s short-lived successor.

As for the Maruaten, it was converted one last time. At Pharaoh Horemhab’s command, it and the other buildings of Akhetaten were dismantled and shipped across the river to Hermopolis, where they were used as filler in other building projects, thereby disposing of the city of the Aten, and in a useful way. Ironically, Horemhab’s intentions backfired in that the temple blocks, though fragmented, were protected from the elements and further defacement. When they were discovered at last, they maintained much of their color, relief, and nearly all of their inscriptions, altered or otherwise. When reconstructed, either in fact or on paper, and put together with the Maruaten’s floor plan, the blocks reveal that the “other woman” of Amarna was a woman like no other, a woman of honor, a Favorite. One need look no further than the quiet smile carved into her delicate face to know that as her temple remains, so does she.

Works Cited

Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: King of Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1988.

Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten and Nefertiti. New York: Viking Press, Inc., 1973.

Arnold, Dorethea. The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

Reeves, Nicholas. Akhenaten: Egypt's false Prophet. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2001.

Tyldesley, Joyce. Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999.

Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamun. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1999.