Developing sustainable heritage at Tell el-Amarna, Egypt

Amarna Visitor Centre
The Amarna Visitor Centre (credit: Amarna Project)

Amarna is one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt and globally. The city was built c. 3300 years ago under the pharaoh Akhenaten as a centre for his revolutionary monotheistic theology, and since the 1970s has been researched by Barry Kemp and colleagues from the Department of Archaeology.

Their work on the Amarna Project inspired the creation of a visitor centre (opened 2016) and led to the development of high-quality educational and heritage management resources. Their studies have focused on social archaeology, investigating the ordinary people who lived and died there.

The site is in a socio-economically deprived area that receives few visitors. To help improve local conditions and fully realise the potential of Amarna-focused research to promote a positive awareness of past and present Egyptian society, Cambridge researchers Kate Spence, Anna Stevens and Gemma Tully, together with Egyptian colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities, created a comprehensive site management plan. The plan provides a roadmap for mitigating local conflict and balancing community, economic, access, interpretation, conservation and research interests within the available means.

The Amarna Visitor Centre now provides heritage infrastructure in an area with little public cultural provision. Both the construction and operation of the Centre represent a major socio-economic, educational and heritage benefit to a disadvantaged area – influencing perceptions of Egypt and ensuring the long-term sustainability and international recognition of Amarna.

The team also developed a children’s book, Amarna: Life Under the Sun (published May 2020), for use in the Visitor Centre, and as a national and international teaching resource. Workshops using excerpts from the book held in the Visitor Centre, Awlady orphanage in Cairo, British International School in Cairo and a Cambridge primary school have impacted children’s perceptions by challenging negative views of the modern Middle East and stereotypes of ancient Egypt.

“The role of the University of Cambridge in working with the Ministry of Antiquities to build and equip the Amarna Visitor Centre… was a very good step in raising the profile and facilities of the site and increasing site visits. This was a very important development for the local economy.”

– Director Amarna Visitor Centre