Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Wednesday,14 November, 2018
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Memphis redeveloped

The ancient Egyptian site of Memphis has been made friendlier to tourists after two years of development, reports Nevine El-Aref

#Remains of Hathor Temple # El-Enany celebrating the completion of Memphis development project # Remains of Ptah Temple
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The serenity of the ancient site of Memphis, Egypt’s first capital city and one of the longest-inhabited major cities in the world, was disturbed earlier this week when Egyptian and foreign archaeologists, ambassadors, journalists, photographers and TV crews flocked to the site to celebrate the completion of the Memphis Walking Circuit Development Project.

The new circuit connects eight archaeological sites: a shrine of the Pharaoh Ramses II, a chapel to his father Seti I, the Apis House, the Great Temple of Ptah, two temples of the goddesses Hathor and Sekhmet and a series of tombs of high priests.

Visitors are taken back in time to the ancient city and are able to explore various parts of the settlement. Memphis is believed to have been the most populated city in ancient Egypt, reaching 100,000 inhabitants at its peak. The overall effect of the redevelopment has been to make the ancient site much friendlier to visitors.

Looking to the site today, Mark Lehner, director of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) which contributed to the project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it could be hard to imagine what Memphis would have looked like in the past. It was a cosmopolitan city, he said, where all the dramas of human life had unfolded. What could be seen today was just a snapshot of a once-bustling ancient city dating mostly to the New Kingdom, and there was much more waiting to be discovered.

The visitor route starts by the banks of the River Nile at the city’s famous docks, leading to the city itself through four areas around the Great Temple of Ptah. The royal palace is located to the east, and an area where many people once lived and worked is to the south. To the west, there is the oldest known remains of Memphis, including the cemetery of the high priests. The route ends at the centre of the city within the sacred temple complex.

“The project is the fruit of the strong relationship between Egypt and the United States in the field of archaeology, in collaboration with the AERA and the York University of London,” Khaled El-Enany, minister of antiquities, said.

He said the project came within the framework of the bilateral agreement between Egypt and the United States entitled “Sustainable Investment in Tourism in Egypt,” under which USAID had given some LE9 million in August 2015.

It aimed at cleaning, stabilising and documenting the site’s monuments. A visitor route was developed telling the story of the eight monuments on the site. During the project and within the Memphis Heritage Field Schools Programme, 89 inspectors from the Ministry of Antiquities were trained in site management, cultural-heritage planning and conservation.

A website called “Memphis Egypt” was launched to broadcast information on Memphis and its monuments. Videos to promote tourism at the site are on the site, and brochures and guidebooks have been issued.

El-Enany said that collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities and USAID had a long history, seen in different projects in Luxor, Alexandria, Sohag, the Red Sea and Giza. “Egypt is keen on encouraging and welcoming all kinds of cooperation in order to help preserve and conserve the country’s unique heritage,” he concluded.

“This project is an investment in both the past and the future,” US Chargé D’Affaires Thomas Goldberger said, adding that “the United States is committed to continuing our partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and increase tourism.”

NEW OPPORTUNITIES: Many tourists already visit the colossal limestone statue of Ramses II at Memphis, but fewer visit the surrounding eight sites where archaeologists have excavated important parts of the ancient city.

The new Walking Circuit, with signage developed by Ministry of Antiquities students with USAID support, will encourage visitors to learn more about ancient Memphis and contribute to the local economy.

Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr described the project as “a cornerstone in the long and continuing cooperation with USAID to protect Egypt’s cultural heritage. USAID has provided assistance valued at over $100 million since 1992 for the preservation and restoration of cultural-heritage sites in Old Cairo, Giza, Memphis, Luxor, Alexandria, Sohag and the Red Sea,” she said.

“Cooperation in the field of archaeology is very important because it not only provides job opportunities for Egyptian youth, but also supports the tourism sector, one of Egypt’s main sources of income,” Nasr added.

Memphis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but for the last three decades its spectacular monuments have been under threat from urban expansion. Thanks to the USAID grant, the two-year project will create a Walking Circuit at Mit Rahina as part of a wider heritage, outreach and training programme.

Lehner told the Weekly that this circuit would encourage visitors to learn more about ancient Memphis. He explained that the project had established a field school, the 13th of its sort in Egypt, to train Ministry of Antiquities inspectors and related professionals in cultural-heritage management and outreach.

“The inspectors, who play a key role in supervision at historic sites, will use their skills to enhance the management of other important locations across Egypt,” Lehner said. Once the first set of students have completed their training, some becomes instructors for the next set in an effort to make the school sustainable.

The aim of the project is also to work in partnership with the local population in helping to protect excavated sites, reduce incursions, and stop their use as rubbish dumps. Locally-run businesses will benefit from the increase in tourism resulting from the improvements.

“This project has inspired people both locally and globally in the regeneration of what is one of Egypt’s most important sites, giving the world a greater insight into its significance for human history,” Lehner told the Weekly.

Memphis has a history spanning over 3,000 years, making it one of the longest-inhabited major cities in the world. It was founded by the Pharaoh Mena who united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. Its early name was Ineb-Hedj, which means the “City of the White Walls”. This possibly referred to the whitewashed brick walls of the palace of the Pharaoh or the white limestone walls of an early fortress.

Later, the city was renamed Men-Nefer from which it gets the name of Memphis. The city maintained much of its importance during the Greek period, but began to decline in the Roman and Byzantine eras.

When the Roman emperor Theodosius banned pagan religions throughout the Roman Empire, all the temples were closed and pagan imagery removed or destroyed. Memphis was a victim of these measures as it was centred around the great Temple of Ptah.

The Romans built a fortress to the north of Memphis named Babylon and reused the city buildings as a quarry in its construction. The quarrying increased as Babylon grew, eventually developing into the new capital city of Fustat with the arrival of Islam in Egypt.

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