Memphis (Egypt)

Memphis, on the west bank of the Nile, 25 km (16 mi) south of Cairo, was a major city of ancient Egypt. According to legend, Menes, the first king of united Egypt, built Memphis as his administrative capital at the juncture of Upper and Lower Egypt . Throughout the Old Kingdom (c.2686–2181 B.C.) Memphis served as the capital city of Egypt. Few remains at Memphis itself date from this period, but nearby are the pyramids and sphinx of Giza as well as the necropolis of Saqqara; these funerary monuments, considered one the Seven Wonders of the World in ancient times, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Outside the modern village of Mitrahine lie scant traces of the once vast Temple of Ptah (begun c.3000 B.C.), built to honor the primary deity of Memphis.

From the 25th dynasty (716–656 B.C.) to the Roman occupation (from the 1st century B.C.) Memphis returned to prominence. Monuments include the palace of Apries, the fourth king of the 26th dynasty (664–525 B.C.), and, nearby, the ruins of stone tables used by the priests of the Late Period for embalming the Apis bulls that were buried at Saqqara. During the 27th dynasty (525–404 B.C.), when the Persians ruled Egypt, Memphis again served as the capital. The crafts flourished and a faïence industry remained active well into the 2d century A.D. A museum at the site containing objects found at Memphis includes an alabaster sphinx of the 18th dynasty and a colossal statue of the pharaoh Ramses II (r. 1304–1237 B.C.), originally more than 13 m (43 ft) tall.

Robert Bianchi

Further Reading:

Bunson, Margaret, Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (1991).

Petrie, W. M. F., Memphis, 6 vols. (1909–15).

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SOURCE: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

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