Memphis is the English name for the present-day site of one of the great ancient capital cities of Egypt, located in and around several villages some 24 km (11 miles) south of the modern Egyptian capital of Cairo. Although very little remains to be seen on the surface, Memphis features a great sculpture museum and allows an evocative insight into both ancient greatness (its transitory nature!) and modern Egyptian rural life.
The ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis was first established towards the end of the 4th millennium BCE by the Pharaoh Narmer, at the time of his Unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The boundary between the Two Lands was located close to the ancient city and its foundation was therefore imbued with a certain 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 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. Although little remains of their achievements today, having been revaged by the depredations of time, the flood plain environment and the cannabilism 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.
By taxi / cab
By far the easiest way of visiting Memphis 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 small rest-house is located across the road from the museum - beware the notoriously inflated prices (best to bring drinks and snacks with you from your accommodation base!).
Visitors to Memphis should make it a priority to also visit the main ancient necropolis of the city, located nearby (3 km distance) on the desert plateau at Saqqara. The adjoining cemeteries at Abusir and Dahshur are also well worth a visit.