Her face is one of the most well-known in the world, her name evokes the magic of pyramids, vaults and hidden tombs – Nefertiti, Queen of Egypt, a 14th-century BC beauty who lives on today through a startlingly lifelike bust displayed in a Berlin museum. While the ancient bust itself fills us with awe, the story of its 20th-century escapades is no less enthralling …
“Description pointless, one has to see it,” wrote Ludwig Borchardt on 6th December 1912 in his diary. In the ruins of the desert city of Amarna, built by the Pharoah Akenaton 3,500 years earlier, the German archaeologist makes the find of the century: the colourful bust of Queen Nefertiti.
The greatest attraction at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin is even today full of mystery. Her discoverer secured the unique treasure for Germany, but in Cairo he is still suspected of deceiving the Egyptians about the true value of the bust.
In World War II, a legend came into being that Adolf Hitler commissioned a copy. Even the experts started to wonder whether it was the real Nefertiti or a fake that had been lost in the chaotic last few months of the war. Another secret was what lies hidden behind the mask of the queen and how the sculptor Thutmose created the “Mona Lisa in stone” in a dark hut made of clay.
Renowned archaeologist Professor Barry Kemp has reconstructed the odyssey of the world-famous bust especially for this film. His expedition leads from the long-lost desert city of Amarna to the labyrinthine passages of a salt mine 600m beneath the earth, where the “most beautiful woman in the world” was hidden in the Second World War. In archives in Cairo and Berlin, Kemp follows Borchardt’s tracks and for the first time has access to the scientist’s personal records.
Here made public for the first time, these documents provide the basis for tense, atmospheric dramatizations of the moment the bust was discovered and what really happened when the finds were divided up. They bring the fascinating personality of a man to life who studied the clans of forgers and their methods like a detective and who was the first to catalogue the treasures in the Egyptian Museum.
For the first time, a film crew were allowed into the archaeologist’s villa on the Nile, where scenes from the life of Ludwig and Mimi Borchardt could be re-enacted with a high degree of authenticity.
The highlight of the film is the examination of Nefertiti at the Imaging Science Center in Berlin: after months of preparation, the bust, whose value is put by insurers at $390m, undergoes a state-of-the-art X-ray scan which reveals the “second face” of Nefertiti, the limestone portrait of an older woman with wrinkled neck, hidden inside the perfect plaster bust. The true face of the legendary Queen of the Nile?
Produced by Digital Drama GmbH for ZDF and National Geographic Channels International