Memphis, Egypt’s first ancient capital, has recently revealed the accomplishment of the “Memphis Site and Community Development Project” (MSCD). The festivity was attended by Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Sahar Nasr, Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Thomas Goldberger, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires and Kamal Eldaly, Governor of Giza.
The MSCD, first initiated in 2015 as a mutual agreement between Egypt and The United States, connects a number of archeological sites surrounding Memphis’ main Open Air Museum, in which the developmental project was funded by USAID, with a collective cooperation between the Ministry of Antiquities, Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) and the University of York, London.
The project established a field school including inspectors from the Ministry of Antiquities, to receive on site training on cultural heritage management and preservation to enhance Egypt’s heritage and promote tourism. They worked on restoring and documenting the monuments in situ, while developing newly designed signs supporting the visitor route or the so-called “walking circuit”, while recounting the stories behind archaeological sites. The project also launched a website called “Memphis Egypt” (memphisegypt.org) that provides detailed information about the site.
The project’s sites include: Ptah Temple West Gate; Apis House; Hathor Temple; Ramses II Chapel; Ramses II Temple; Seti I Chapel and Tombs of the High Priests, which are located outside the open air Museum, on each side of the road. You could freely walk outside and attempt to see through the fences, until they open their doors to the public soon.
The Open Air Museum
On the right, upon entry, you can observe the hard, fine-quality colossal limestone statue of King Ramses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, in a building especially made for its preservation. The statue, which originally measured around 13 meters high and weighed approximately 80 tons, is currently missing its feet and base and is unfortunately damaged by water. It shows the king in his regular royal posture wearing the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt that are partially destroyed and his body is perfectly shown with detailed muscles and cartouches. This statue is one of the few that you encounter on the site for Ramses II.
Once you exit the building and stroll outside into the museum’s complex, you will find other statues for the same king. There used to be one that was moved to the railroad station in the fifties and has recently been relocated and positioned at the open court of the New Grand Egyptian Museum near the Pyramids. The existing statue once flanked the entrance portal of the temple of Ptah at Memphis, which was at once a predominant highlight of the city. Ptah was considered one of the great gods of Egypt, a patron deity of artists and craftsmen and also a god associated with the creation of world order.
In the middle of the museum, you will be overwhelmed by a massive alabaster Sphinx weighing roughly 80 tons. Despite its partial deterioration, it is considered as another highlight of the site along with the statue of Ramses II as it is most probably attributed to one of the Kings of the New Kingdom; yet remains obscure due to the lack of detailed inscriptions.
When you stroll around the complex, you can catch a glimpse of other miscellaneous objects ranging from statues, bases of columns and a capital of a column showcasing goddess Hathor – the goddess of joy, love, music, beauty and maternity – in the shape of a human face with the ears of a cow.
Among the collection is the Stelae of Apries erected by this 26th Dynasty pharaoh, which is a huge round-topped stelae made of whitish–grey Nubian sandstone – measuring over three meters high and 77 centimeters thick. This is regarded as one of the most historically significant monuments in Memphis as it bears a royal decree dedicating certain lands, farms and estates as offerings to the temple of god Ptah at Memphis.
The site was chosen by King Menes or Narmer – the first king who unified the two split parts of Upper and Lower Egypt – to be the first historical capital in Egypt due to its strategic location southwest of the apex of the Delta, marking the ancient administrative boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt on the western bank of the Nile; hence a perfect and suitable location for local and foreign trade.
Memphis has been the capital of Egypt since BC 3100 for almost a thousand years, and remained an important and religious center throughout the country’s ancient history. Several names have been given to the site, first of which was “Ineb Hedj” or the White Walls representing the wall that surrounded its fortified complex. However, its Greek name Memphis has been derived from “Mennefer”, which means the beautiful monument, referring to the sixth Dynasty-old kingdom Pyramid complex of King Pepi I in the nearby vicinity of Saqqara.
Back in history, Memphis used to encompass temples, palaces and other historic monuments, but unfortunately everything was destroyed, usurped or used as quarries with the exception of a few statues and different ruins currently on display in its Open Air Museum. Any records of the site were probably acquired from historical descriptions by classical writers, as well as carvings on different monuments, objects, statuary and blocks of stone.
Lastly, visiting Memphis on your day off is certainly an opportunity that you should not miss, and will unquestionably inspire you to explore more of Egypt’s history and remarkable historical sites. I advise you to take your car one morning and drive to Memphis while enjoying an early breeze. To get there, drive onto Pyramids road, take the exit to Saqqara and drive parallel to the Maryotteya canal for a little more than 20 km until you reach the Saqqara entrance on the right hand side of the road. Keep straight for a few more minutes and then turn left and you will find yourself in Memphis.