Tell el Amarna, Capital of the Disk: Introduction

Descending the Nile, as we follow its flow from south to north, we leave Thebes behind. After admiring the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, the sanctuaries of Osiris at Abydos, the Coptic monasteries at Sohag, we arrive at Tell el Amarna, on the east bank of the Nile. There we set foot on a vast desert tract limited to the east by the first foothills of the Arabian mountain chain.

Here, long ago, a major capital city saw the light of day, a city teeming with workers, craftspeople, court officials, dignitaries and princes. Here once stood temples, palaces, government buildings, stores; here, too, had been traced streets that boasted whitewashed residences. All this was the realization of a dream harbored by one of the most disconcerting figures in all of history.

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.