Sing: Go Now in Peace, UMH 665
The Greek name “Memphis” derives from the pyramid of Pepy I in Saqqara which is “Men-nefer” (Established and Beautiful). The city was originally known as Ineb-Hedj or “The White Wall.” Some sources indicate that other versions of the name may have even translated to our modern name for the country, Egypt. During the Middle Kingdom it was Ankh-Tawy or “That Which Binds the Two Lands.” The location of Memphis lies approximately between Upper and Lower Egypt. The importance of this location is demonstrated by the persistent tendency of Memphis to be the Capital of Egypt as Cairo, just to the north, is today.
Memphis had no rivals as the capital of the United Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for over a thousand years (3000 -1938 BC). Originating as a fortress whose strength was the dikes which kept it safe from the Nile, Memphis quickly became the administrative and religious center of Egypt. The city must have been huge, judging from the size of its necropolises which extended for some 19 miles along the west plateau of the Nile.
Memphis continued to be an important part of Egypt’s culture through the takeover by Alexander the Great and his building of Alexandria as the new capital. Memphis took another shot when Christianity came to Egypt and reduced Memphis’ religious influence. But the death blow did not come until the 7th century AD when the Muslims took over Egypt and built their capital just north of Memphis at Cairo.
Remarkably little survives of Memphis largely because the ruins were quarried in the Middle Ages for stone to build Cairo’s churches and mosques. Today, other than the scattered ruins, most of the city is gone, or lies beneath cultivated fields, Nile silt, and local villages. The fraction we can see of Memphis today is located principally around the small village of Mit Rahina. The remains of Ptah’s Temple bordering the village were at one time probably one of the grandest temples in Egypt. Today, only a fraction of the temple remains. Ramses II is well represented here, with a colossus of himself near the Alabaster Sphinx along the southern enclosure wall.
It is hard to imagine what Memphis was for almost four thousand years. Our oldest cities in America are not much over five hundred years old! There is so little left of Memphis today but what they have is magnificent. The colossus of Ramses II is awesome even lying down. The Alabaster Sphinx was having some work done on it while we were there but we could still appreciate its beauty. One thing I missed seeing in Memphis was an Elvis impersonator.