Memphis was the ancient capital of Lower Egypt, and of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, for about one thousand years from 3100 BC until 2200 BC. The ruins are 12 miles south of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile. Sakkara was its necropolis, located another 8 miles further down the Nile.

Memphis and Sakkara are to the Old Kingdom what Thebes (currently named “Luxor”) and the Valley of the Kings are to the New Kingdom.

Legend according to Herodotus claimed that Memphis was founded by the first great king of Egypt, Menes. Most archaeologists, however, believe that Menes is mythical, similar to Romulus and Remus, the mythical first rulers of Rome. Estimates of the city’s size vary greatly, from 30,000 inhabitants in 3100BC to 6,000 by 2250 BC when the Old Kingdom was failing.

The museum at Memphis displays many ancient Egyptian statues, including the famous reclining Colossus of Ramesses II, which is held in a small indoor building on the site. Sakkara’s most famous structure is the Step Pyramid, the oldest complete hewn-stone building complex known in history, probably built around 2650 BC. It was also at Sakkara that the Pyramid Texts were discovered — inscriptions with instructions for the afterlife used to decorate the interior of tombs, the precursor of the New Kingdom’s Book of the Dead.