Today, nothing remains of this dream, lest it be the occasional wall segment or levelled column section. Lost to oblivion, Tell el Amarna has disappeared under the sands. Not only was this epic deed itself forgotten, but an anathema was pronounced on the person at its origin, Amenophis ( also spelled Amenhotep) IV Akhenaten. For almost three thousand years, his name was stricken from memory, with nothing but a total blank in its place. The defender of universal justice, peace, contemplation and fervor, was rejected by the very people to whom he had dedicated his life. His friends, even some of his relatives, and his people, relentlessly attacked his memory, razed his capital, mutilated his effigies, going so far as to hammer out his name from the walls of tombs that he himself had ordered to be dug. His unforgivable crime had been that of daring to defend the dignity of Man, of asserting his identity.
The people's hate bore fruit, since none of our usual sources of information - royal lists or archives - mention Akhenaten; not the Abydos Table, nor the Royal Papyrus of Turin, nor even Manetho's Chronology.
However, in the preface to the 1988 edition of one of the great monographs devoted to the Amarna drama, "Akhenaten", Cyril Aldred, its author, writes: "The character and deeds of King Akhenaten [...] continue to engross and mystify historians. From being one whom his people did their best to forget, he has become[...]the celebrated subject of novels, operas and other works of the imagination." His reinstatement owes all to those whose studies, whose passion above all, contributed to casting out the ancient curse, thus allowing Akhenaten to regain his former innovative status with respect to the universal conscience of humankind.
Ninetheenth-century travellers, mostly monks, hardly ever stopped over there. The French draftsman Nestor L'Hôte (1828 expedition under Champollion and 10 years later on his own account) was content to sketch several of the Boundary Stelae he came across in the neighboring desert. Finally, the great Prussian expedition directed by Richard Lepsius made an immense survey of the site in 1843. The Denkmaler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien published from 1849 to 1859 were a compilation of all the plottings of the Nile valley monuments made by the team's draftsmen; the third division (Vol. VI, pages XCI-CLXXIII) devotes twenty-one plates to the Amarna remains. Connoisseurs of the period thus discovered, much to their amazement, the strange facial features of the banished king. The very dry style proper to such highly scientific presentations notwithstanding, the subjects dear to the Amarna artists were at last revealed: the king being acclaimed by the throngs along the streets as he wends his way to the shrine, the king making an offering to the Disk, the royal family in the privacy of their apartments, the bestowing of favors upon the court's high officials. Above all, the city's temples and palaces were represented in plan, or to be more exact, at once in plan and in elevation, that is synthesized, in such detail that they served the archaeologists to confirm their own on-the-site discoveries.
18th Dynasty - The royal family being blessed by the Aten - Limestone - H 0.332 - Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum - This stela undoubtedly belonged to one of Akhenaten's domestic altars
18thDynasty - Sculptor's study for the profile of Akhenaten -Limestone - H 0.144 - Provenance unknown - Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum
Tablet No. 23 (British Museum), sent by Tushratta of the Mitanni to Amenophis III, to inform him that the goddess Ishtar of Nineveh had been sent off to Egypt.
As a child of the Aten, Akhenaten assumed the prerogatives which, until that time, had been reserved to the prohets and grand priests. And, truly a first in Egyptian history, he even claimed to guide his people along the way to revelation. Many a courtier from Tell el Amarna had the stelae at the entrance to their tombs carved with the boast of "having been taught the doctrine by the King himself" or "having listened to the doctrine day by day from the lips of the King himself."
Divested of their basic powers, the traditional clergy openly challenged the King, transforming what might have been but a positive cleansing of the dogma into a fierce battle for prestige between partisans of the Heliopolitan tradition and the upholders of Theban orthodox doctrine. The struggle gradually grew into a conflict between Re in his aspect of the Aten and Amon, and, finally, between the King and the priests. It was at this point that matters became dramatic, since Akhenaten, forced into a defensive position by the events, had to adopt a policy that was certainly more intransigent than he would have desired: in his fourth regnal year, he changed his name from Amenophis, Satisfaction of the Aten, to Akhenaten, Acting Spirit (that is, incarnation) of the Aten. Less than two years later, he left Thebes to found, "at a site belonging to no god or goddess, to no sovereign, to which no one had any rights," a new capital, a new epicenter of his authority, Akhetaten, Horizon of the Aten.
Despite being subjected to destructive attacks early in the century, the Boundary Stelae the King had set up to demarcate his territory - and they alone - continue to speak out of times past: Akhenaton's kingdom covered a territory the size of "six iteru, three-quarters of a khe and four cubits the side," - from the north stela to the south stela - or about thirteen thousand meters. They also proclaim that "His majesty mounted a great chariot of electrum,and, on the favorable day, marked out the limits of the site he had named The Horizon of the Aten; then, as men, women and all things rejoiced, he had set up an altar and made an unprecedented oblation to the Aten. Then, all those near to the King, the high-placed officials, the army chiefs, were brought before him and bowed low to him although he asserted that it was the Aten Himself who had designated this site (...), to which the court replied that Aten would unveil his plans to no one but him alone and soon all the nations of the world would come here to bring Aten, giver of life, the tribute they owed to him. Then the Pharoah had raised his hand towards the Disk at its zenith and had vowed he would build Akhetaten there for Aten his father, at this precise site and nowhere else; that he would listen to no one, not even the queen, should one try to persuade him to build Akhetaten elsewhere. Then he had listed all the grand and beautiful monuments he planned to set up, the House of the Aten, the Mansion of the Aten, the Pavilion for the Queen, the House of Rejoicing for the Aten in the Island "Exalted in Jubilees", and all the other buildings and works necessary to celebrate the Aten, the Apartments of the Pharoah and the Apartments of the Queen."
The foundations for most of the buildings listed in the royal text have been identified, in particular the Great Temple (House of the Aten) and the Smaller Temple (Mansion of the Aten) of the Aten, the vast palace onto the back of which were built the administrative buildings, the House of the King or Little Palace, the Apartment of the Queen. Above all, an eight hundred meter stretch of the royal street that ran through the center of the city has been cleared. Beyond this stretched the leisure quarters, the homes of the high-ranking officials, and further to the north, the suburbs, a complex mosaic of tightly grouped, small houses.
The city of Akhetaten
Allegedly written by Akhenaten himself, around 1360 BCE, this hymn of love and fervor conveys a vibrancy unparalleled in all the literature bequeathed to us from Ancient Egypt. Several versions and variations were discovered in the devastated tombs of the Tell el Amarna dignitaries. Below you will find the main excerpts from the completest version, found in the tomb of Ay:
Â« Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven,
O Living Aten, Beginner of Life.
When thou dawnest in the East,
Thou fillest every land with thy beauty.
Thou art indeed comely, great, radiant and high over every land.
Thy rays embrace the lands to the full extent of all that thou hast made,
For thou art Re and thou attainest their limits
And subdues them for thy beloved son.
Thou art remote yet thy rays are upon the earth.
Thou art in the sight of men, yet thy ways are not known.
When thou settest in the Western horizon,
The earth is in darkness after the manner of death.
Men spend the night indoors with their head covered,
The eye not seeing its fellow.
Their possessions might be stolen, even when under their heads,
And they would be unaware of it.
Every lion comes forth from its lair
And all snakes bite.
Darkness lurks and the earth is silent
When their Creator rests in his habitation.
The earth brightens when thou arisest in the Eastern horizon, [...]
Thou drivest away the night when thou givest forth thy beams.
The Two Lands are in festival.
They awake and stand upon their feet
For thou hast raised them up.
They wash their limbs, they put on raiment
And raise their arms in adoration at thy appearance.
The entire earth performs its labors.
Thou appointest every man to his place and satisfiest his needs.
Everyone receives his sustenance and his days are numbered.
Their tongues are diverse in speech [...]
And their color is differentiated,
For thou hast distinguished the nations.
Thou makest the waters under the earth
And thou bringest them forth [as the Nile] at thy pleasure to sustain the people of Egypt
Even as thou hast made them live for thee,
O Divine Lord of them all, toiling for them,
The Aten Disk of the day time, great in majesty!
All distant foreign lands also, thou createst their life.
Thou hast placed a Nile in heaven to come forth for them
And make a flood upon the mountains like the sea
In order to water the fields of their villages.
How excellent are thy plans, O Lord of Eternity!
- a Nile in the sky is thy gift to foreigners
And to beasts of their lands;
But the true Nile flows from under the earth for Egypt.
When you rise you stir everyone for the King,
Every leg is on the move since you founded the earth.
You rouse them for your son who came from your body,
The King who lives by Maat, the Lord of the Two Lands,
Neferkheperure, Sole-one-of Re,
The son of Re who lives by Maat, the lord of crowns,
Akhenaten, great in his lifetime;
And the great Queen whom he loves, the Lady of the Two Lands,
Nefer-nefru-Aten Nefertiti, living forever.!!Â»