Location: 20 km (12 miles) south of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile
History: Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Helwan, south of Cairo. According to legend related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, it remained an important city throughout ancient Mediterranean history. It occupied a strategic position at the mouth of the Nile delta, and was home to feverish activity. Its principal port, Peru-nefer, harboured a high density of workshops, factories, and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the ancient kingdom. During its golden age, Memphis thrived as a regional centre for commerce, trade, and religion. Memphis was believed to be under the protection of the god Ptah, the patron of craftsmen. Its great temple, Hut-ka-Ptah (meaning "Enclosure of the ka of Ptah"), was one of the most prominent structures in the city. The name of this temple, rendered in Greek as AÎ¯ Î³Ï… Ï€Ï„oÏ‚ (Ai-gy-ptos) by the historian Manetho, is believed to be the etymological origin of the modern English name Egypt. The history of Memphis is closely linked to that of the country itself. Its eventual downfall is believed to be due to the loss of its economical significance in late antiquity, following the rise of coastal Alexandria. Its religious significance also diminished after the abandonment of the ancient religion following the Edict of Thessalonica. The ruins of the former capital today offer fragmented evidence of its magnificent past. They have been preserved, along with the pyramid complex at Giza, as a World Heritage Site since 1979. The site is open to the public as an open-air museum.
Remains: During the time of the New Kingdom, and especially under the reign of the rulers of the 19th dynasty, Memphis flourished in power and size, rivaling Thebes both politically and architecturally. An indicator of this development can be found in a chapel of Seti I dedicated to the worship of Ptah. After over a century of excavations on the site, archaeologists have gradually been able to confirm the layout and expansion of the ancient city.
Great Temple of Ptah: The Hout-ka-Ptah (meaning "Castle of the ka of Ptah"), dedicated to the worship of the creator god Ptah, was the largest and most important temple in ancient Memphis. It was one of the most prominent structures in the city, occupying a large precinct within the city's centre. Enriched by centuries of veneration, the temple was one of the three foremost places of worship in Ancient Egypt, the others being the great temples of Horus in Heliopolis, and of Amun in Thebes. Much of what is known about the ancient temple today comes from the writings of Herodotus, who visited the site at the time of the first Persian invasion, long after the fall of the New Kingdom. Herodotus claimed that the temple had been founded by Menes himself, and that the core building of the complex was restricted to priests and kings. His account, however, gives no physical description of the complex. Archaeological work undertaken in the last century has gradually unearthed the temple's ruins, revealing a huge walled compound accessible by several monumental gates located along the southern, western and eastern walls. The remains of the great temple and its premises are displayed as an open-air museum near the great colossus of Rameses II, which originally marked the southern axis of the temple. Also in this sector is a large sphinx monolith, discovered in the 19th century. It dates from the 18th dynasty, most likely having been carved during the reign of either Amenhotep II or Thutmose IV. It is one of the finest examples of this kind statuary still present on its original site. The outdoor museum houses numerous other statues, colossi, sphinxes, and architectural elements. However, the majority of the finds have been sold to major museums around the world. For the most part, these can be found on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The specific appearance of the temple is unclear at present, and only that of the main access to the perimeter are known. Recent developments include the discovery of giant statues which adorned the gates or towers. Those that have been found date from the reign of Ramsses II. This pharaoh also built at least three shrines within the temple compound, where worship is associated with those deities to whom they were dedicated.
Temple of Ptah of Ramses II: This small temple, adjoining the southwest corner of the larger Temple of Ptah, was dedicated to the deified Rameses II, along with the three state gods: Horus, Ptah and Amun. It is known in full as the Temple of Ptah of Rameses, Beloved of Amun, God, Ruler of Heliopolis. Its ruins were discovered in 1942 by archaeologist Ahmed Badawy, and were excavated in 1955 by Rudolf Anthes. The excavations uncovered a religious building complete with a tower, a courtyard for ritual offerings, a portico with columns followed by a pillared hall and a tripartite sanctuary, all enclosed in walls built of mud bricks. Its most recent exterior has been dated from the New Kingdom era. The temple opened to the east towards a path paved with other religious buildings. The archaeological explorations that took place here reveal that the southern part of the city indeed contains a large number of religious buildings with a particular devotion to the god Ptah, the principal god of Memphis.
Temple of Ptah and Sekhmet of Ramses II : Located further east, and near to the great colossus of Rameses, this small temple is attributed to the 19th dynasty, and seems to have been dedicated to Ptah and his divine consort Sekhmet, as well as deified Rameses II. Its ruins are not as well preserved as others nearby, as its limestone foundations appear to have been quarried after the abandonment of the city in late antiquity. Two giant statues, dating from the Middle Kingdom, originally adorned the building's facade, which opened to the west. They were moved inside the Museum of Memphis, and depicted the pharaoh standing in the attitude of the march, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, Hedjet.
Temple of Ptah of Merneptah: In the southeast of the Great Temple complex, the pharaoh Merneptah, of the 19th dynasty, founded a new shrine in honour of the chief god of the city, Ptah. This temple was discovered in the early 20th century by Flinders Petrie, who identified a depiction of the Greek god Proteus cited by Herodotus. The site was excavated during the First World War by Clarence Stanley Fisher. Excavations began in the anterior part, which is formed by a large courtyard of about 15 sq meters, opening on the south by a large door with reliefs supplying the names of the pharaoh and the epithets of Ptah. Only this part of the temple has been unearthed; the remainder of the chamber has yet to be explored a little further north. During the excavations, archaeologists unearthed the first traces of an edifice built of mud brick, which quickly proved to be a large ceremonial palace built alongside the temple proper. Some of the key elements of the stone temple were donated by Egypt to the museum at the University of Pennsylvania, which financed the expedition, while the other remained at the Museum in Cairo. The temple remained in use throughout the rest of the New Kingdom, as evidenced by enrolment surges during the reigns of later pharaohs. Thereafter, however, it was gradually abandoned and converted for other uses by civilians. Gradually buried by the activity of the city, the stratigraphic study of the site shows that by the Late Period it is already in ruins and is soon covered by new buildings.
Temple of Hathor: This small temple of Hathor was unearthed south of the great wall of the Hout-Ka-Ptah by Abdullah al-Sayed Mahmud in the 1970s and also dates from the time of Rameses II. Dedicated to the goddess Hathor, Lady of the Sycamore, it presents architecture similar to the small temple-shrines known especially to Karnak. From its proportions, it does not seem to be major shrine of the goddess, but is currently the only building dedicated to her discovered in the city's ruins. It is believed that this shrine was primarily used for processional purposes during major religious festivals. A larger temple dedicated to Hathor, indeed one of the foremost shrines of the goddess in the country, is thought to have existed elsewhere in the city, but to date has not been discovered. A depression, similar to that found near the great temple of Ptah, could indicate its location. Archaeologists believe that it could house the remains of an enclosure and a large monument, a theory attested by ancient sources.
Statues of Ramses II: The ruins of ancient Memphis have yielded a large number of sculptures representing the pharaoh Rameses II. Within the museum in Memphis is a giant statue of the pharaoh carved of monumental limestone, about 10 metres in length. It was discovered in 1820 near the southern gate of the temple of Ptah by Italian archaeologist Giovanni Caviglia. Because the bottom of the sculpture has been broken off, it is currently displayed lying on its back. Some of the colours are still partially preserved, but the beauty of this statue lies in its flawless detail of the complex and subtle forms of human anatomy. The pharaoh wears the white crown of Upper Egypt, Hedjet. Civilian offered the statue to Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, through the mediation of Ippolito Rosellini. Rosellini advised the sovereign of the terrible expenses involved with transportation, and considered as necessary the cutting of the colossus into pieces. The British viceroy Muhammad Ali offered for it to be donated to the British Museum, but the museum declined the offer because of the difficult task of shipping the huge statue to London. It therefore remained in the archaeological area of Memphis in the museum built to protect it. The colossus was one of a pair that historically adorned the eastern entrance to the temple of Ptah. The other, found in the same year also by Caviglia, was restored in the 1950s to its full standing height of 11 meters. It was first displayed in the Bab Al-Hadid square in Cairo, which was subsequently renamed Ramses Square. Deemed an unsuitable location, it was moved in 2006 to a temporary location in Giza, where it is currently undergoing restoration. It is due to be exhibited at the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, scheduled to open in 2010. A replica of the statues stands in the suburb of Heliopolis, in Cairo.