During its more than 3000 years of history, Memphis was an important political and religious centre, where the ancient Egyptian deity Ptah was venerated. It was also the city where the Pharaohs were crowned.
Memphis was the capital of Lower Egypt before the two lands were unified around 3100 BCE by the Pharaoh Menes, also known as Narmer, who founded the first of the thirty dynasties that would rule the kingdom for the next two and a half thousand years. At the height of its Golden Age it may well have been the most populated city in the world.
In 2240 BCE, Thebes - the modern day city of Luxor - superseded Memphis as capital city, and as the centuries passed it lost its significance in Egypt. Sped up by the founding of Alexandria in 332 BCE, it ended up being completely abandoned by the 7th century CE and become a quarry, with the remains of temples and other grand buildings being used to build the new capital city of Cairo.
In the area where the ancient great city of Memphis once stood, now stands the small town of Mit Rahina, home to an open-air museum where visitors can see what remains of the ruined former capital.
Despite the dismantling of the ancient capital to build new cities, the open-air museum of Memphis still boasts a good number of ancient ruins, including several important statues. An enormous colossus of Ramses II - displayed lying on its back, giving you unique access to viewing its intricate detail - and an immense alabaster sphinx monolith are two of the highlights of this museum.
No visit to Memphis would be complete without exploring its nearby necropolis at Saqqara, home to magnificent temples and Egypt's first pyramid, a landmark achievement on the ancient civilisation's development of architectural wonders. Hire a taxi from Cairo and haggle a good price to visit Memphis, Saqqara and Dahshur, or book a guided English-language tour that includes transfers:
Mit Rahina Museum of Memphis:
Daily from 8 am to 4 pm (to 3 pm during Ramadan).
Adult: LE 80.
Student (with valid ID): LE 40.
Hiring a taxi for the day to take you from Cairo to Memphis and the nearby sites around should cost around LE 200; otherwise book an inclusive guided tour.