Franck Fernandez – Translator, interpreter, philologist
No one cares that she is over 3,300 years old and that her right eye is missing. There are queues to see her for a few seconds and you can even buy her exact replica for the modest sum of €7,800. If you want to see her in person, you will have to go to the Neues Museum in Berlin where she is jealously kept in a room reserved only for her and nobody gets permission to photograph her. We are talking about the splendid Queen Nefertiti of whom so many images have been created and that has given so much to talk about all over the world.
The name Nefertiti means “the beauty one has arrived” and, despite the fact that the canons of beauty vary from one era to another, since 1912 when she was discovered in what is supposed to be the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose in the city of Tell-el-Amarna, to whom the work is attributed, is recognized as of unparalleled beauty. It is necessary to say that its sphinx is made of limestone covered in plaster and painted with beautiful colors that represent her with jewels and toga.
There is nothing clear about Nefertiti life. Nor can anyone say whether she was an Egyptian or a foreign princess. Although it is believed that she was the daughter of some dignitary of the court, nobody knows who her parents were or her date of birth or how her days ended. It is not even known where his mummy was buried.
What is known for sure is that Nefertiti was the main wife of Akhenaten, one of the last pharaohs of the 18th dynasty of the 30 that Egypt had and who passed into history as the pharaoh who broke with the established polytheistic religion. According to the few effigies left of him, Akhenaten had very strange features. An extremely long skull, a very long face and huge almond-shaped eyes. With Nefertiti, Akhenaten had six daughters and all of them had the same extended features as their father. There is talk of some genetically transmitted disease (Marfan syndrome), by the consanguinity in marriages between brothers and cousins of the pharaohs to preserve the divine lineage, some even dare to say that it was an alien.
His name as Pharaoh was Amenhotep IV, which changed to Akhenaten in the fifth year of his reign. He is also known as the Heretic Pharaoh, as he moved away from the official religion of Egypt and that for centuries had formed with strange gods, with figures half human half animal and who were venerated in different aspects of daily life. Suddenly, Akhenaten censures all idolatry to these ancient gods and establishes a new monotheistic religion that only worshiped the sun: Aten, generating discontent among the high priests and a large part of the population accustomed to their ancestral gods.
He left his capital, Thebes, accompanied by his entire court, his wife Nefertiti and their six daughters. In the middle of the desert founded his new capital, Akhetaten, which means “horizon of Aten, that is, horizon of the sun” (now Tell-el-Amarna), flanked by large precipices on three of its sides and by the Nile River on the fourth, which protected the new capital from possible incursions by those unhappy with its new religion.
Something we do owe to this stage of Egyptian history is the treatment of art (or rather what remained). Its realism was never the same in the past, nor will it ever be in the future. From this, the images of Nefertiti (the one that concerns us) and many others, all beautiful, preserved in other museums in the world and the images of Akhenaten and those of his daughters, deformed and ugly … but natural. Something that also left us this time were the “domestic” scenes: the pharaohs in scenes that were never before or never later represented by other pharaohs, playing with their children, praying…
Another of the enigmas that covers Nefertiti is what happened to her at the death of her husband. One theory says that Nefertiti took the reins of power under a masculine name, another that Meritaten, another of Akhenaten’s wives, took his place. It is also said that she was the mother of Tutankhamun (the famous boy pharaoh who ruled for a few years and who went down in history when the British Howard Carter discovered his grave in 1922 and whose golden death mask is so well known). Another hypothesis says that after the death of her husband, but officially withdrawn from public affairs, she would have ruled in the shadows as regent considering the young age of the pharaoh.
The latest studies suggest that Nefertiti really died in the third year of the kingdom of Tutankhamun, around 1331 AD, and thereafter the young pharaoh rejected the monotheistic cult of Akhenaten, reestablished the ancient polytheistic religion, abandoned Tell-el-Amarna and returned with his court to Thebes.
At that time, the images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were banned and their images hammered into the stone. In fact, Akhenaten’s own name was removed from the official list of pharaohs, it was necessary to wait for the 17th century of our era for a Jesuit priest to discover the ruins of Akhenaten (or Tell-el-Amarna), and the 19th century for its remains and its history became known thanks to the excavations of archaeologists. Only in 1901, a sarcophagus was discovered, nothing worthy of a pharaoh, where his remains rested.
Although the place where the Nefertiti mummy rests is not known, several mummies have been discovered that may correspond to the queen. One of them has a broken mouth hammered with the idea that the mummy could not pronounce her name before the gods and wandered for eternity between the world of the living and the dead ones.
Recently, the British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves suggested that Queen Nefertiti’ tomb could be attached to the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. The studies carried out then reveal the very probable existence of a supplementary chamber, but to the present day, Nefertiti, his mummy and his grave are kept by the cloud of time.