Wednesday, December 5, 2012


NEFERTITI is marking her 100th anniversary as a resident of Berlin with a major exhibition which opens today at Berlin's NEUES MUSEUM, new home of the world-famous Berlin Egyptian collection.

It was on December 6, 1912, that a German archeologist, Ludwig Borchard, unearthed a 3,300-year-old painted stone bust of Nefertiti in southern Egypt and carried it off to Germany.

The centenary will turn up the volume on Egypt's demands for its return, and for the repatriation of other priceless antiquities discovered by foreign collectors and shipped out of the country.

Before he was fired by Egypt's new Islamist-led government, Egyptian antiquities minister Zahi Hawass campaigned unsuccessfully for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum and for the bust of Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, from Berlin’s Neues Museum.

Balking museum directors argue that the treasures are safer where they are, an argument supported by the looting of antiquities during Egypt's recent turmoil.

German officials also argue that Nefertiti was brought to Germany legally and is too fragile to move.

Turkey and Greece are also involved in trying to retrieve antiquities, while in Syria, they are reported to be looted to buy guns.

The early days of the uprising saw thieves taking advantage of the temporary lack of security to loot several archaeological sites and museums around Egypt, including the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the Saqqara and Abusir necropolises in Giza, and sites in the Delta and Upper Egypt.

Some of the stolen items were later recovered. Many are still missing. Though less intense, the turmoil and political upheaval continue, raising worries about the ongoing safety of the country’s pharaonic treasures.

At the Neues Museum, the Nefertiti bust will be on display from until Apr 13 as part of the "In the Light of Amarna - 100 Years of the Find of Nefertiti" exhibition.

Borchardt and his team excavated up to 7,000 archaeological objects in Akhenaten, located barely 20 kms south of ANTINOOPOLIS. About 5,500 of those objects made their way to Berlin.

Despite persistent rumors that Borchardt smuggled out the Nefertiti bust under a coating of mud, the plain truth of the matter is that Ottoman authorities failed to recognize the bust as a masterpiece. In those days, the uniquely fluid style of the Amarna Period was viewed as an "aberrant" deviation from traditional styles of other Egyptian periods.

The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 spawned an Egyptomania craze as well as the Art Deco style. King Tut's treasures flaunted the "aberrant" style of the late 18th Dynasty, and Nefertiti suddenly was a fashion trend-setter.

Crowds flocked to the Berlin museum to see Nefertiti and shame-faced Egyptian authorities realized they had made a ghastly mistake back in 1912.

"They suddenly realized that this bust, which had been dismissed as 'un-Egyptian' in 1913, was in fact one of the most exquisite examples of Egyptian art," the Berliner Zeitung newspaper quoted one expert as saying.

When Hitler came to power in 1933 the Egyptian government renewed its demands for Nefertiti's return -- counting on Hitler's anti-Semitism. Hermann Goering was new premier of Prussia, including Berlin. As head of Berlin's museums, Goering hinted to King Fouad I of Egypt that Nefertiti would indeed soon be back in Cairo.

But Hitler had other plans. Through the ambassador to Egypt, Eberhard von Stohrer, Hitler informed the Egyptian government that he was an ardent fan of Nefertiti:

"I know this famous bust," the fuehrer wrote. "I have viewed it and marvelled at it many times. Nefertiti continually delights me. The bust is a unique masterpiece, a precious adornment, a true treasure!"

Hitler said Nefertiti had a place in his dreams of rebuilding Berlin and renaming it Germania.

"Do you know what Im going to do one day? I'm going to build a new Egyptian museum in Berlin," Hitler wrote.

"I dream of it. Inside I will build a chamber, crowned by a large dome. In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti, will be enthroned. I will never relinquish this bust of the Queen."

Hitler and his mad dreams are long dead. But Nefertiti continues to smile serenely. In 2009 she and the entire Berlin Egyptian collection moved to new/old quarters in the Neues Museum, where the she and thousands of other Amarna treasures are on display in the historic new exhibition.

Many of these have never been on display before, but around 600 have been restored and are being unveiled as part of the exhibition. The display will be supplemented with loans from other museums abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris and London's British Museum.

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