Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 March 2010
Issue No. 988
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


WHILE Cairo is the largest capital Egypt has ever had, historic Thebes is the most famous with its splendid temples and tombs. But Egypt has also had other capitals. Mohamed El-Hebeishy heads to Memphis.

Founded in 3100 BC, Memphis was united Egypt's very first capital. It is located not far from today's capital, close to the small village of Meet Raheena. In its heyday, Memphis was a glamorous cosmopolitan city which attracted a sizable population of Egyptians and foreigners. To best visualise the city, just imagine what Dubai with a dash of history could have looked like 5,000 years ago.

Although splendid in its own right, Memphis was soon overshadowed by the rising Thebes (today's Luxor) in the south. Memphis descended into oblivion and the once populated capital was reduced to a quarrying site by the time Arab conquerors marched through the gates of Babylon Fort. There is even evidence that some of the stone blocks used for the fortification of Cairo's Bab Al-Nasr in 1087 AD came from the ancient city. When visiting, look for Pharaonic inscriptions which are still visible.

Today, the ruins of Memphis are piled up in the small and shabby open-air Memphis Museum. It is a rather limited collection, but boasts a true masterpiece: a gigantic 13-metre limestone statue of the deified Pharaoh Ramses II. As shown in the photo, an average human is dwarfed next to the goliath-in-size statue.

Memphis today makes for a mega one-day excursion out of Cairo, especially when included with visits to the nearby sites of Saqqara and Dahshur.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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