Who Was King Akhenaton?
Akhenaton, or Amenhotep VI, was the 10th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty during the New Kingdom in ancient Egypt. He ruled Egypt from 1352 B.C. until 1336 B.C. His ruling period was among the most controversial periods of ancient Egyptian history for various reasons.
The Father of Akhenaton was Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt from 1390 until 1352 B.C. Akhenaton's mother was called Tepi, and she came from a joint family, which was very different from most kings and Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Maybe this was why Akhenaton thought differently than many of his forbears.
Akhenaton ruled the country for around 20 years and tried to unify the polytheist system spread all over Egypt in the period of the Old Kingdom and even afterward to worship one god: the sun god, Aten.
Akhenaton also transferred the traditional capital of Egypt from Thebes to his new city, Akhet Aten, located near the city of El Minya today.
The new king was too busy with the religious reforms he was trying to initiate that he neglected the relations with his neighboring countries and the administration of his empire that extended from Nubia in the South to Syria in the East.
Unfortunately, even the religious reforms of Akhenaton were all reversed after his death. When his son Tutankhamun became the ruler of Egypt, everything went back to normal in Egypt, just the same as before Akhenaton appeared. The capital returned to Thebes, and people returned to their complete polytheist system.
The Reign Of Akhenaton And His Religious Reforms
In 1380, the King of Egypt, Amenhotep III, passed away after a long period of prosperity and greatness, and his son Akhenaton became his successor. Nobody knew then that the new king would be an important historical character. Due to a statue that was found in Tell El Amarna, where the new Capital of Akhenaton was located, we were able to find out that King Akhenaton was extremely thin, unlike many of the kings and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, who usually had solid and robust bodies.
Akhenaton was a sensitive person and a poet who contributed a lot to a new style of literature created during his reign. During the first years of his reign, Akhenaton rebelled against the rituals of the cult of King Amun in Thebes. Akhenaton felt disgusted because of the so-called magic practiced by the priests of Amun and how unethical they were.
The priests of Amun used the prophecies of Amun as a tool to pressure the people in the name of the gods and to spread the political and administrative corruption that had a stranglehold on the country. Akhenaton was brave enough to inform his people that all the rituals carried out in the temples of Amun and all the statues that his people used to worship for a very long time were corrupt and decadent.
The new king declared that there was only one god, Aten, the god of the sun. Akhenaton preached, the same as Akbar 30 centuries later in India, that divinity does not exist on earth and centers in the sun, the only light source over our planet. At this point, Akhenaton changed his name from Amenhotep VI to Akhenaton, "the satisfied worshiper of the god Aten," and he created some hymns to be practiced during the worship of the god Aten.
The new religious reforms led by Akhenaton were reflected in the style of life and not the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. They were met with strong objections from many sectors, especially the priests of the temples of Amun and the royal family who used to live in Thebes. This was why they fought as hard as they did to get back the conditions that Akhenaton had changed, and just after his death, when King Tut, his son, became the king of Egypt, he was titled Tutankhamun, or "the true worshiper of the god Amun" and the priests of Amun regained their power and importance, pushing Akhenaton's reforms aside.
Tell El Amarna Today
Tell El Amarna contains the city's ruins constructed by Akhenaton and his wife, Queen Nefertiti, who built the city to be the center of a cult to the sun god Aten. Situated around 12 kilometers southwest of Al Minya, little remains today of this once great city that used to extend over a surface area of around 15 kilometers from south to north and contained many magnificent temples and palaces.
The ruins and the remains of the city of Akhenaton are scattered over a large area of land, with the River Nile situated to its west and the desert cliffs of Upper Egypt to its south.
This piece of land hosted the Great Temple of Aten, now covered by a cemetery. The Great Temple of the god Aten had a distinctive style and architecture.
For example, the temples of ancient Egypt generally had roofed chambers and sanctuaries. At the same time, the Temple of Aten had a roofless sanctuary to allow the sun's rays to enter the complex to showcase the power and glory of the sun god Aten.
Situated to the South of the Great Temple of Aten lies the smaller Temple of the god Aten, which is now restored and hopefully open to the public. A better-preserved complex is the Northern Palace of Nefertiti, where the structure's layout can still be observed beside some of the beautiful mosaic floors of the Palace.
The Tombs Of Tell El Amarna
The most exciting sections of the historical site of Tell El Amarna today are the two sets of cliff tombs at each end of the ancient city of Akhet Aton.
These tombs display some wall paintings and carvings that are extremely interesting and matchless all over Egypt as it gives the guests a chance to view the distinctive art of this period of the New Kingdom in ancient Egypt, where many features of the classical art that was practiced in the Old and the Middle Kingdom were modified and transformed.
The Tomb Of Huya
The northern section of the tombs of Tell El Amarna has some wonderfully decorated tombs. There is the beautiful tomb of Huya, the superintendent of the Royal Harem and steward to the mother of Akhenaton, Tiye. This magnificent tomb has some of the most remarkable royal banquet scenes of the tomb's owner serving the royal family. One of the most notable scenes located inside the tomb of Huya, Tomb number one in Tell El Amarna, displays King Akhenaton dining with his mother and enjoying himself.
The Tomb Of Mery-Re I
This tomb is one of the finest decorated tombs of Tell El Amarna, and it is famous for its beautiful colors that seem as if they were never created more than 3,500 years ago. Some of the scenes displayed in the Tomb of Mery-Re, the High Priest of the Temple of the Sun God Aten, include Akhenaton presenting the tomb owner with the golden collar as a reward for his achievements in the temple of Aten.
On the eastern section of the tomb's walls, other reliefs display Akhenaton carrying out the religious rituals of worshiping the sun god in the Great Temple of Aten, which gives us a view of how wonderful this temple once was.
The Tomb Of Aye
Situated in the northern section of Tell El Amarna ruins, another section hosts the royal tombs of this historical site. These tombs are far less accessible than the others in the southern area but still very enjoyable.
Aye was the vizier during the period of King Akhenaton and one of the king's favorite royal officials. This was why his tomb is considered the most beautiful in Tell El Amarna, and such care was taken on it. Many fascinating paintings are spread all over the inner walls of the Tomb of Aye. These include scenes showing Aye and his wife receiving the great honor of a ceremonial golden collar from King Akhenaton and his wife, Nefertiti.