Memphis (Arabic: ممفس, Egyptian Arabic: ممفيس) is the English name for the present-day site of one of the great ancient capital cities of Egypt. Although very little remains to be seen on the surface, Memphis features a great sculpture museum, in the Mit Rahina village some 24 km (15 mi) south of the modern Egyptian capital of Cairo. It allows an evocative insight into both ancient greatness (its transitory nature!) and modern Egyptian rural life.
The ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis (Men-Nefer, enduring and beautiful) was first established towards the end of the 4th millennium BC by the Pharaoh Narmer, at the time of his Unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The boundary between the Two Lands was exactly here in ancient times, and its foundation was therefore imbued with a great amount of political symbolism. Memphis remained the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom period, at the time when the great Pyramids were being built. Central power shifted to the south by the Middle Kingdom times, but returned to the city when the New Kingdom pharaohs made it once again Egypt's northern and main administrative capital, alongside the religious and ceremonial capital at Luxor in the south.
Memphis was the chief cult city of the Egyptian god of wisdom and craftsmanship, Ptah, whose great temple, Het-ka-Ptah (meaning "Enclosure of the ka of Ptah"), was one of the most prominent structures in the city. Its name, rendered in Greek as Aί γυ πτoς (Ai-gy-ptos) by the historian Manetho, is believed to be the etymological origin of the modern English name Egypt. Although little remains of this temple today, having been revaged by the depredations of time, the flood plain environment and the cannibalism of its stone for the building of medieval Cairo, the pharaohs and priests of Ptah once endowed the city with vast temple complexes and built their cemeteries on the desert hills adjoining it to the east and (especially!) to the west. Today "Memphis and its Necropolis" are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
By taxi / cab
By far the easiest way of visiting the Memphis open-air museum is to hire a taxi for the day - a visit to the city can best be combined with visits to Saqqara and other nearby sites. A taxi from downtown Cairo to take you to Memphis, wait an hour, and return to Cairo will be around 200 LE. Tickets to get into the museum cost 35 LE.
- 1 Colossus of Ramses II (inside the Memphis open-air museum). A pair of 10 m (33 ft)-tall statues of Ramses II were discovered in 1820 by Giovanni Caviglia, at the southern end of the temple of Ptah. One of the statues is now lying down under a small roof inside the museum, near where they were discovered. Its twin is now at the Grand Egyptian Museum of Giza, set to open by late 2020.
On foot, the museum is tiny.
Prices here are about the triple of the same products at the Khan-el-Kalili.
Eat, Drink, Sleep
There's a small rest-house across the road from the museum - beware the notoriously inflated prices. Best to bring drinks and snacks with you from your accommodation base.