Memphis, near the modern village of Mit Rahina not far from Cairo, and the Memphite necropolis was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. The legendary first king of Egypt has founded it, Menes, in 3100 BC. The ancient Memphis was the capital during the Early Dynastic Period (c.3100–2686 BC) and Old Kingdom (c.2686–2181 BC). Moreover, it continued to be one of the most important cities throughout more than three thousand years of ancient Egyptian history. It was a centre for worshipping the god Ptah, whose temple was one of the most important places in ancient Egypt. It was so important that the origin of the word Egypt, from Greek Aigyptos, comes from the temple’s ancient name, Hikuptah “, The Temple of the ka of Ptah.
- Memphite Necropolis Sites
- Giza Necropolis
- Abu Ghurab Necropolis
- Saqqara Necropolis
- Dahshur Necropolis
- Abusir Necropolis
Memphite Necropolis Sites
The city’s longevity is apparent in the sheer size and number of the many ancient necropoleis in its area. From north to south, the Memphite necropolis includes the following:
- Abu Rawash
- the Giza Plateau, the site of the three world-famous Pyramids of Giza
- Zawyet al-‘Aryan
- Abu Ghurab
- Mit Rahina
- Also, Dahshur.
The Giza Pyramid Complex is Egypt’s most popular tourist attraction and part of the vast Memphite Necropolis. Also, we call it the Giza Necropolis. This complex is an Ancient Egyptian site located on the Giza Plateau. Widely known, it includes the Great Pyramid of Giza with its associated networks and Sphinx of Giza. The ancient Egyptians built these massive constructions during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. Additionally, the Giza Complex includes several cemeteries and the remains of a workers settlement on its territory.
Location of Giza Pyramid Complex
The Giza Necropolis exists on the outskirts of the Egyptian Western Desert, Giza Governorate. It typically stands about 9 km west of the Nile River in the city of Giza. Meanwhile, it locates not far from Downtown Cairo, about 13 km southwest.
Features of Giza Pyramid Complex
The Giza Pyramid Complex has many features. Of course, the most notable features of this complex are the three well-known pyramids. When we look at this vast site, we will unearth that it comprises more than complex. Moreover, it has a Workers’ village and cemeteries. To make it clear, we will list these features as follows:
- Khufu’s complex.
- Khafre’s complex.
- Menkaure’s complex.
- Tomb of Queen Khentkaus I.
- Workers’ village.
- Besides, the Cemeteries.
Abu Ghurab Necropolis
Abu Ghurab is best known for the solar temple of King Nyuserre Ini, the largest and best-preserved solar temple, and the solar temple of Userkaf, both built in the 25th century BCE during the Old Kingdom Period. Evidence suggests that six solar temples were constructed during the 5th Dynasty. However, only the previously mentioned temples (Nyussere’s and Userkaf’s) have been excavated. Abu Gorab is also the site of an Early Dynastic burial ground dating back to the First Dynasty.
Location of Abu Ghurab Necropolis
Abu Gorab, also known as Abu Gurab, Abu Ghurab) is a locality in Egypt situated 15 km (9.3 mi) south of Cairo, between Saqqarah and Al-Jīzah, about 1 km (0.62 mi) north of Abusir, on the edge of the desert plateau on the western bank of the Nile.
The necropolis of Saqqara is the largest group of Egyptian tombs of antiquity in the Memphite necropolis. It is a unique archaeological site, filled with royal and non-royal tombs. The centrepiece is undoubtedly the funeral ensemble of Djoser, the first pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. Ancient Egyptians used this site as a necropolis from the first Dynasty before updating it again during the New Kingdom.
Location of Saqqara Necropolis
Saqqara necropolis is a historic Egyptian site that lies on the west bank of the Nile, like most of the necropolises of ancient Egypt.
Saqqara, also spelt Sakkara or Saccara in English, is an Egyptian village in Giza Governorate that contains ancient burial grounds of Egyptian royalty. These burials serve as the necropolis for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around seven by 1.5 km (4.3 by 0.9 mi). Also, Saqqara contains numerous pyramids, including the Step pyramid of Djoser and several mastaba tombs.
Saqqara contains the oldest complete stone building complex known in history, the Pyramid of Djoser, built during the Third Dynasty. Another sixteen Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation. Also, high officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the Pharaonic period. Moreover, it remained an essential complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.
North of the area known as Saqqara lies Abusir, and south lies Dahshur. Some scholars believe that Saqqara did not gain its name after the ancient Egyptian funerary deity, Sokar, despite a local Berber Tribe called Beni Saqqar. The Memphite inhabitants used the area, running from Giza to Dahshur, as a necropolis. Recently, this place became a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Dahshur, often called Dashur in English, is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) south of Cairo. It is famous chiefly for several pyramids, two of which are among Egypt’s oldest, largest and best-preserved, built from 2613 to 2589 BC.
Location of Dahshur Necropolis
The size of the Dahshur necropolis is 2.5 by 6 kilometres and forms a part of the vast Memphite necropolis, located about 30 kilometres south of Cairo.
Pyramids in Dahshur Necropolis
Dahshur necropolis is famous for its pyramids. These pyramids were a significant learning experience for the Egyptians. It provided them with the knowledge and know-how to transition from steep-sided pyramids to smooth-sided pyramids. Ultimately their breadth of experience would allow them to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing to this date.
The first of the Dahshur pyramids was the Bent Pyramid (2613–2589 BC), built under King Sneferu. The Bent Pyramid was the first attempt at building a smooth-sided pyramid but proved to be an unsuccessful build due to the miscalculations made on the structural weight placed onto the soft ground (sand, gravel, and clay), which tended to subside. Other calculations that were proven to be erroneous were that the blocks were cut so that when placed onto the pyramid, their weight was not distributed appropriately, causing the angle of the pyramid to be off and achieving the name “the Bent Pyramid”.
Realizing his shortcomings and learning from his mistakes, King Sneferu ordered the building of the second pyramid of Dahshur, the Red Pyramid. Once completed, the pyramid became a success. it was a fully constructed, smooth sided, and free-standing pyramid rising to a height of 341 feet (104 meters), with an angle of 43 degrees. The Red Pyramid’s name reigns from the material used to construct the pyramid, red limestone. This pyramid is the resting place of King Sneferu.
Shortly after King Sneferu’s death, his son Khufu erected the third pyramid. Khufu wanted to build a legacy of his own utilized his father’s research to design and guide the building process of the third pyramid to completion (2589–2566 BC). Once completed, it became the Greatest Pyramid of Giza; and it stands an astonishing 481 feet (147 meters) tall with an angle of 52 degrees.
Another pyramid, the White Pyramid, located within Dahshur, is the 12th Dynasty King Amenemhat II (1929–1895 BC). This pyramid and the others within the area are not well-preserved because of the materials used (sand on the outside and limestone on the inside). Naturally, the weather caused the sand to erode from it. However, the limestone was taken intentionally for use on other pyramids allowing the pyramid to collapse and ultimately desecrating the tomb of King Amenemhat II.
King Senusret III (1878–1839 BC) built his pyramid within Dahshur. The difference between his pyramid and those surrounding it was that King Senusret III had tombs and galleries built underneath it for two princesses; Sit-Hathor and Merit.
The Black Pyramid dates from the later reign of Amenemhat III and, although badly eroded, it remains the most imposing monument at the site after the two Sneferu pyramids. The polished granite pyramidion or capstone of the Black Pyramid is on display in the main hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Several other pyramids of the 13th Dynasty were built at Dahshur necropolis. Ahmad Fakhri, the archaeologist who excavated only the Pyramid of Ameny Qemau, has been excavated.
Tombs and Cemeteries in Dahshur Necropolis
Dahshur was Egypt’s royal necropolis during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king Amenemhat II. Located closely to the pyramid of the 12th Dynasty, archaeologists found several undisturbed tombs of royal women. These tombs contain much lapidary and jewellery of the highest metalworking stage in Egypt during this period. The pyramid of Senusret III was part of a vast complex, with several smaller pyramids of royal women, along with another pyramid to the south. In a gallery tomb next to this pyramid, archaeologists found two treasures of the king’s daughters (Sithathor). They also revealed extensive cemeteries of officials of the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom around Dahshur’s pyramids.
The Greek name Busiris originates from the ancient Egyptian phrase “pr wsir” (“the house of Osiris), which relates to the temple of Osiris. Abusir is the Arab name for the Greek town of Busiris and the Old Kingdom necropolis in its vicinity. There are, in fact, several small villages in Upper and Lower Egypt with the name Abusir or Busiri.
Location of Abusir Necropolis
History of the Abusir Necropolis
Abusir was the origin of the most significant find of Old Kingdom papyri to date — the Abusir Papyri. In the late nineteenth century, several Western museums acquired collections of fragmentary papyri from the administrative temple records of one Abusir funerary cult, that of king Neferirkare Kakai. This discovery was supplemented in the late twentieth century when excavations by a Czech expedition revealed papyri from two other cult complexes, that of the pharaoh Neferefre (also read Raneferef) and for the king’s mother Khentkaus II.
The Czech Institute of Egyptology of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, has been conducting excavations at Abusir since 1976. Miroslav Bárta presently directs them.
The Heptanomite Busiris was a hamlet standing at one extremity of the necropolis of Memphis. There are considerable catacombs near the ancient town of Busiris. To the south of Busiris, one great cemetery appears to have stretched over the plain.
Necopolis of Abusir
The necropolis of Abusir was the primary burial site in the vast Memphite necropolis for the pharaohs of the fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. It lies across the Nile from the ancient city of Memphis (“mn nfr”) to the south of Giza and north of Saqqara. The ancients probably chose the site because the necropolises of Giza and Saqqara were already littered with pyramids and tombs. Also, Abusir Lake linked the site to the river and made it easier to deliver supplies to the site by boat.
There is a marked reduction in the pyramid quality and grandeur compared with those of their illustrious predecessors of the Fourth Dynasty. Particularly when we compare it to the pyramids of Giza, including the Great Pyramid and the Step Pyramid of Djoser, it may suggest a waning of royal power. Alternatively, it implies that these pharaohs had less disposable wealth or other pressing concerns, which diverted their resources from the pyramid building. They are primarily constructed in local stone, which is of poorer quality than the large blocks transported for miles to construct the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara.
Pyramids in Abusir Necropolis
Fourteen pyramids at this site served as the main royal necropolis during the Fifth Dynasty. The quality of construction of the Abusir pyramids is inferior to those of the Fourth Dynasty, perhaps signalling a decrease in royal power or a less vibrant economy. They are smaller than their predecessors and of low-quality local stone. All of the major pyramids at Abusir were built as step pyramids. However, the largest of them- the Pyramid of Neferirkare- was initially built as a step pyramid some seventy metres in height. Then later, builders transformed it into a regular pyramid by having its steps filled with loose masonry.
The first pharaoh to build at Abusir was Userkaf, the first ruler of the fifth Dynasty. He constructed the first known example of a solar temple at the site. Many of his successors also built solar temples at Abusir. However, they chose to construct their burial pyramids there. In comparison, Userkaf built his pyramid beside the enclosure wall of the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. Menkauhor constructed the last solar temple there, although this monument still stands to date. It would also appear that, like Userkaf, he chose to build his pyramid elsewhere at Dashur. After his rule, the pharaohs abandoned the necropolis at Abusir, but it remained popular with Egyptian nobles throughout pharaonic history.
There were fourteen pyramids in the necropolis of Abusir. However, only four are still in recognizable condition: the pyramids of Sahure, Neferirkare, Niuserre (which is in the best condition), and the unfinished pyramid of Neferefre. Some smaller pyramids and mastabas at the site have collapsed mainly into rubble (including a pyramid dedicated to Khentkaus II – the wife of Neferirkare) and a tomb dedicated to Ptah-Cepses (which is in poor condition). There is also an unfinished pyramid that generally belonged to Shepseskare. There are many Sun Temples to the north at Abu Ghurab, also constructed by the pharaohs of the fifth Dynasty.
The Unfinished Pyramids of Sahure, Neferirkare and Neferefre, are all aligned to Heliopolis (“Iwnw”), a cult centre for the sun god Ra. All of the pyramids of Abusir are step pyramids, unlike the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara. There is some evidence that the pyramid of Neferirkare was adapted from a step pyramid into a true pyramid when the steps were filled in with loose masonry. Nevertheless, Niuserre chose not to follow this pattern but instead placed his pyramid between Sahure and Neferirkare. Thus, this pharaoh adopted the unfinished causeway and valley temple, initially built for the pyramid of Neferirkare.
The three major pyramids are as follows:
- The Pyramid of Neferirkare Kakai, the tallest pyramid at the site
- The Pyramid of Niuserre, the most intact pyramid at the site
- Also,the Pyramid of Sahure known for its finely carved reliefs
- Incomplete Pyramid of Neferefre
- Pyramid of Queen Khentkaus II, wife of Neferirkare and mother of Neferefre and Niuserre
- Unfinished pyramid of Shepseskare
- Lepsius Pyramid no. 24 — The pyramid belonged to a woman, likely a queen. The vizier Ptahshepses appears among builders’ marks, which dates the pyramid to Pharaoh Nyuserre.
- Also, Lepsius Pyramid no. 25 — Likely the pyramid of a queen from the Fifth Dynasty
Mastabas of courtiers
The tombs of several high officials and family members stand in the direct vicinity of their king’s pyramid:
- The mastaba of Ptahshepses (vizier under Nyuserre)
- Also, the mastaba of Prince Nakhtkare (son of Raneferef or Nyuserre)
Directly north of Saqqara is a cemetery of lower-ranking officials of the Old Kingdom, including the following tombs:
- Tomb of Ity (Third Dynasty)
- Tomb of Hetepi (priest, beginning of Third Dynasty)
- And, tomb of Kaaper (architect and priest, Fourth Dynasty)
- Tomb of Rahotep (priest, end of Fifth Dynasty)
- Tomb of Fetekti (priest, end of Fifth Dynasty)
- And, tomb of Qar and his sons (vizier, Sixth Dynasty)
- Also, the rock-cut tomb of Nakhtmin (charioteer)
On a small hill directly south of the pyramid of Neferefre is a cemetery of tombs from the Saite period:
- Tomb of Udjahorresnet
- Tomb of Iufaa
- And, tomb of Menekhibneko
- Tomb of Padihor
- Also, tomb R3
Ramesses II Temple
Also found at Abusir were substantial remains of a Ramesside temple, perhaps built by Ramses II. The temple lies about 500 meters southeast of the pyramids, close to the cultivation in the desert. Ancient builders used limestone for the main building of the temple. Also, there were three cellars, a small hall with four columns and a courtyard with mudbrick walls with ten limestone columns. Ancient Egyptians placed the limestone building with pylon and magazines within a larger complex made of mud bricks.
In 2017 the Egyptian-Czech mission uncovered the Temple of Ramesses II. Scientists recovered fragments of polychrome reliefs and numerous examples of the titles of Ramesses II. The temple is around thirty-two meters long by fifty-two meters, with a large court behind it and two long storage rooms flanking it. Egyptologists have concluded that blue mudbrick walls enclosed the court, and stone columns lined the side walls. A staircase leads to an elevated stone sanctuary divided into three chambers at the back of the court. The temple seems to have been dedicated to the solar cult, particularly Ra, Amun, and Nekhbet.