The city of Memphis was the first capital of the country since its unification. Founded around 3100 B.C. by the first pharaoh of Egypt, Narmer. It functioned as the main city until the First Intermediate Period in 2040 B.C., when the protagonism passed to the city of Thebes (present-day Luxor).


As a political and religious center, Memphis was instrumental in laying the foundations of Egyptian civilization. There the god Ptah was venerated and the lavish coronation ceremonies of the pharaohs were held. Ptah was called The Most Ancient and “The author of all”, considered the fundamental Creator God, the one who gave life to all the gods and their ka. The ancient Egyptians of Memphis believed that Ptah could hear his faithful, so many carved reliefs dedicated to his figure appear with excessively large ears.

During the Middle Empire period, the city was known as the “Balance of the Two Lands”, not only for being the main city of the country but also for its geographical location between Upper and Lower Egypt. Some archaeologists and historians claim that Memphis became the most populated city in the world until 2250 BC.

In fact, it is speculated that the reason for building the capital where it was located was due to its strategic location at the beginning of the Nile delta. The Ancient Kingdom needed a central city with political importance and that centralized the economic and commercial activity, through the Peru-nefer port, where the shipyards where the ships were manufactured and repaired, the workshops of the manufacturers of goods and the warehouses to store the products that were distributed throughout the country.

Even when Thebes replaced it as capital of the empire, Memphis continued to maintain its importance for several centuries, but gradually began to be abandoned, especially with the arrival of the Greeks and the foundation of Alexandria in 331 B.C. As early as 641 A.D. Memphis was completely deserted and, on its remains, some of the first foundations of what would become the city of Cairo.

Such was its importance in the ancient world that it is mentioned in several passages of the Bible. For example, in Jeremiah 46:19: “Prepare your baggage for exile, O daughter who dwells in Egypt, for Memphis will become a desolation, burned up and depopulated.”

Memphis is believed to have been surrounded by a white wall and to have had an imposing royal palace, but all that has disappeared and very little remains of the ancient city. It was precisely this white wall that gave it its Egyptian name, Ineb-hedy, because of the appearance of a fortified residence that it showed on the outside. It was not until the end of the Ancient Empire that the city would take the name by which it is known today: Men-nefer, meaning “stable and beautiful”, from where Memphis comes from.

Ancient Memphis was located 19 km south of present-day Cairo, where today is the village Mit Rahina and where the Museum of Memphis is a must-see. And although the visit is separate, as they are two different entries, but are usually made in a complementary manner, it is inevitable to mention Saqqara, the great necropolis of the city of Memphis and the site of the famous Step Pyramid of Zoser.The site is the first in the world and one of the oldest large stone structures, a site where prestigious pharaohs’ tombs have been found.

What to see at the Memphis Museum

The Memphis Museum is an open-air museum containing what has been preserved of the ancient city and as a result of successive excavations and long processes of museumization and restoration. It also has a covered hall and very valuable objects of archaeological interest such as sphinxes, colossal statues and obelisks. In 1979 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

  • Colossus of Ramses II. It is an imposing statue made of limestone and was originally 13 meters high, but is now 10 meters high because its legs are missing, although the rest is in perfect condition. Precisely because she has no legs, she cannot be exhibited standing up, so she is arranged horizontally and face up, and all the details sculpted to perfection can be appreciated: the inscriptions engraved on her belt, the drawings of the jewels and the tranquility expressed by her face.
  • Alabaster Sphinx. It is sculpted in a single piece of alabaster, 4 meters high, 7 meters long and weighing 80 tons. Archaeologists believe that it was built in honor of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, because of the factions that appear on its surface.
  • Great Temple of Ptah. In its time it was the most important of Memphis and although only its foundations are preserved, as it is almost completely destroyed, a walk around the outskirts of this complex will put you in atmosphere and will make you travel to the city of Memphis in its years of splendor.

How to get to Memphis

The best way to visit Memphis is to complement it with an excursion to Saqqara. Two for one tour that includes transfer to and from your hotel in Cairo, entrance to both sites and guided tours. It is located 19 km from the Egyptian capital so all tours and transportation to Memphis depart from there.


The open-air museum of Memphis is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm.

Visit prices

The normal entrance fee for adults is 80 EGP and for accredited students 40 EGP.

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