Journal: Sunday 17 December 1995
Memphis is the Greek name for the what was then the administrative capital of ancient Egypt, which dates right back as far as the Early Dynastic Period. The origin of the city’s foundation is credited to the mythical first king, Menes, who is said to have united Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time around 3100 BC. Traditionally Menes was thought to have enclosed his city within white-plastered mudbrick walls which gave it the ancient name of ‘Inbw-hedj’, meaning ‘White Walls’ or ‘White Fortress’ and it probably once stood much closer to the banks of the Nile before the river bed gradually shifted eastwards. There is nothing to see of the earliest monuments, now buried beneath an area which has long been cultivated. Archaeologists suggest that the ancient city now lies beneath the deep deposits of Nile silt to the west of the river. Today the site centres around the modern village of Mit Rahina on the west bank of the Nile, 24km south of Cairo and is reduced to a small museum and an enclosure where statues are exhibited. Most of the existing remains date to the New Kingdom. The most impressive statue I saw, lay on its back in the modern museum building, the colossal limestone statue of Rameses II is a twin to the statue erected in the centre of Midan Rameses in Cairo, near the main railway station (now moved to Giza). The museum piece is only a fragment, but even without its lower legs it measures nearly thirteen metres and once stood with its companion outside the Temple of Ptah at Memphis.