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The capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt has some extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, ornate mastabas, temples and pyramids. In ancient times, the site was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The ensemble at Memphis embraces a number of exceptional monuments of great antiquity. The step pyramid of the first pharaoh of the Memphis period, constructed entirely in limestone, is the oldest known architectural structure of this type, from regularly cut stone. At Giza, one of the oldest boats preserved today, the solar barge, was discovered intact in the complex around the Pyramid of Cheops. The archaic necropolis of Saqqara dates back to the period of the formation of the pharaonic civilization. The exceptional historic, artistic and sociological interest of these monuments bears witness to one of the most brilliant civilizations of this planet.
The capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt has some extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, ornate mastabas, temples and pyramids. In ancient times, the pyramids were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The first sovereign of the unified Egyptian kingdom, Menes or Narmer, ordered the construction of a new capital in the area around the Nile Delta, the City of Menes, Mennufer, also know as Huta-Ka-Pta or dwelling of the Ka of Ptah, the most important sanctuary dedicated to the god of creative force, depicted as a ram-headed artisan working intently to shape humanity on his potter’s wheel. Of the grandeur of Memphis, as it was known to the ancient Greeks, all that survive today are a few ruins of the sanctuary of Ptah, from which have come many votive statues depicting pharaohs and dignitaries and monumental necropolises.
In the necropolis of Saqqara, the closest to the capital and the largest in the land, stands the first great stone pyramid. It was built as a mausoleum by Djoser, the founder of the Third Dynasty. This was a transformation of the earlier tombs, shaped like great brick rectangles, with the walls sloping inward and a flat roof, commonly referred to as mastabas. For the first time brick was replaced by stone. The pyramid is located inside a funerary complex enclosed by a curtain wall rising to a height of 10 m built from a fine-grained limestone. There are 14 false stone doors in the enclosure wall and a monumental entrance consisting of a corridor and a hall flanked by columns. The entry path leads to a plaza known as the Courtyard of the Jubilee. One side of this is occupied by a great stepped podium upon which were arranged the thrones of the Pharaoh; to the east and to the west of the podium sanctuaries were constructed.
The founder of the Fourth Dynasty, Snefru, transformed the structure of the tomb once and for all by choosing the now familiar pyramid shape with a square base. In the necropolis of Dahshur stands the Red Pyramid, named after the reddish hue of the limestone that was used to build it. To the south is the Rhomboid Pyramid, with its double slope on each of the four faces, apparently an intermediate form. With Snefru for the first time the annex construction appeared.
Credit goes to the son of Snefru, Khufu or Cheops, and to his successors Rahaef (Chephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus) for the construction of the great pyramids of Giza. The pyramid is a symbol of the Sun, the great god Ra, whose cult became pre-eminent from the Fourth Dynasty; the Pyramid Texts, found in the funerary chambers of the tombs dating from the end of the Old Kingdom, speak of the transformation of the dead king into the Sun.
The ‘Horizon of Cheops’ was the name given to the Pharaoh’s tomb, the oldest and the largest. The entrance is located in the middle of the north side. In the interior the narrow passageway splits in two: one leading to a chamber carved into the rock beneath the monument, and the other to a small room called the ‘Chamber of the Queen’ and thence to the Great Gallery and the large ‘Chamber of the King’.
The other two pyramids were known in antiquity as ‘Great is Chepren’ and ‘Divine is Mycerinus’ respectively. Each tomb forms part of the classic funerary complex first built at the behest of Snefru.