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Memphis Memphis Memphis

All that is left of the ancient city of Memphis can be seen at the present day town of Mit Rahina. All historical accounts, which refer to Memphis and its greatness, indicate that it was once an extremely large city with a population of around 30,000 people, serving as Egypt’s capital for the majority of the pharaonic period. Sadly, over the millennia, the River Nile changed it course and even though archaeologists have surveyed the whole area time and again, they have failed to find any more than the few ruins that are visible today. Many put the blame on movement of the river Nile to be the main cause of the loss of Memphis: as the waters slowly started to flood the city, anything composed of mudbrick would have been lost forever. Today, the only remains of the city are the following ruins:

  • The Great Temple of Ptah
  • The Temple of Ptah of Ramses II
  • The Temple of Ptah and Sekhmet of Ramses II
  • The Temple of Ptah of Merenptah
  • The Temple of Hathor
  • The Temple of Mithras

Situated 12 miles (18 kilometres) south of Cairo, Memphis was built in a strategic position where the River Nile started to open up into the Delta. It was also the main focal point for the separation of the two parts of Egypt. Anywhere north of Memphis was considered as Lower Egypt (symbolised by the red crown, or Deshret) and lands to the south were Upper Egypt (symbolised by the white crown, or Hedjet): the double crown, or Pschent, being a unification of the red and white crowns, symbolising a united Egypt. Manetho (the Egyptian historian and priest who lived during the Ptolemaic Period, approximately 300BCE) appears to have been the person that started the legend of Memphis being named after King Menes, though historically there is no actual proof of this even though it is known that Memphis was originally built sometime during the Old Kingdom. Throughout its life, Memphis was known by different names: Inbu-Hedj (translated as "white walls"), Djed-Sut ("everlasting places"), and Ankh-Tawy ("life of the two lands"),  being the best known. However, at the beginning of the New Kingdom the city became known as Men-nefer (“enduring and beautiful”) and this became Memfe when Coptic became the main language. This translated into Μέμφις when the Ptolemaic Period started, which is Memphis in English. It also happens to be the name of the pyramid of Pepi I, which is located to the west of the city.

Part of the city that has been completely lost is its great and principal port: Peru-nefer. This site had a multitude of workshops, factories and warehouses that were used for the distribution of food and general merchandise throughout the country, and contributed to the city’s importance as the main centre for trade and commerce. It was also recognised as the main centre for religion, with many important buildings used solely for this important aspect of ancient Egyptian life.

As mentioned previously, most of ancient Memphis is now lost and only a few ruins remain. These can be seen at Mit Rahina and include part of the great temple that was dedicated to the patron god of the city, Ptah. This temple, called hut-ka-Ptah (enclosure of the ka of Ptah), is important in the naming of Egypt as its Greek name (according to Manetho) was Aί γυ πτoς, better known as Aigyptos, which becomes Egypt in English.

Because of its importance as a religious centre, Memphis was the epicentre of burial rituals, which is why the main funerary area is today known as the Memphite Necropolis. This stretches from Dashur, in the south, to Abu Rawash, in the north, a distance of approximately 22.5 miles (36 kilometres), and encompasses the pyramid fields of Dashur (6 pyramids); Sakkara (17 pyramids); Abu Sir (14 pyramids); Zawyet El Aryan (2 pyramids); Giza (9 pyramids); and Abu Rawash (2 pyramids). 51 of Egypt’s pyramids plus a vast number of tombs, temples, and sun temples!

Ramses II built many statues in Memphis and two of the most famous once guarded the eastern entrance to the temple of Ptah. They are the  33 foot (10 metre) long statue that is to be found in the Memphis Museum, and the restored 36 foot (11 metre) tall statue that used to stand in Ramses Square (Bab Al-Hadid square), in Cairo, but has since been moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza. Nowadays most visitors go to Mit Rahina to see the Memphis Museum, especially to have their photograph taken with the above mentioned statue. The museum also houses many other antiquities that were found in the area, beautifully set out in its own gardens. These include: an 80 ton alabaster sphinx; a plethora of statues, most carved from granite; commemorative tablets; granite coffins; and much more.

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