March 23, 2012

Memphis Egypt is a scattering of low Houses

Today, Memphis is a scattering of low houses, their mud walls punctured with little holes to let the light in, and here and there daubed with Arabic graffiti painted in red or green. Looking at the place as it is now, it is difficult to realize that one of the greatest cities in the world once stood here. Though its power gradually waned, Memphis Egypt remained a powerful city for over three thousand years until its glory was usurped by the arrival in the seventh century of the Islamic armies and by the building of Al Fustat.

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis Egypt
The traditional explanation of why the Citadel of Fustat was built on the east bank of the Nile has its roots in the Islamic religion. The invading armies chose their strategic point on the side of the river nearest to Mecca, the religious center of Islam, so that no water should flow between them and the Holy City.

The monument housing the tomb of King Zoser at Saqqarah is the oldest of all the pyramids. Though it has deteriorated into ruins there is nothing “dead” about it, rather it seems to exude a kind of vibrancy, and its strength matches the geometric beauty of the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Although the Great Pyramids at Giza are better known, the pyramids at Saqqarah are of more interest to people who are familiar with Egypt and its history. A number of the tombs and shrines of the nobility of Memphis Egypt  in the vicinity of Saqqarah have been excavated and have offered a significant insight into life in ancient Egypt. The tomb of the high court official Ti in particular reveals a great deal of information about daily life through the drawings and paintings on the walls and pillars of the tomb.

A wide variety of commonplace, everyday scenes are painted in the picture farming scenes, men fishing, crocodiles, sports contests, tax collectors, religious festivals, chickens being cooked, maize being threshed, people tending geese, teachers and pupils in their classrooms, hospitals where operations are being performed. Every facet of life is depicted in the stiff, straight style peculiar to the ancient Egyptians. Still these drawings exhibit vigor, intense color and movement. Even the paint here looks as if it might have been applied recently.

The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis
The alabaster Sphinx at Memphis
Some of the scenes painted on the walls of the tomb are what the ancients believed in and hoped for after death. Because these people loved life, they believed that death was no barrier to life, which continued after death in a better, richer form. The splendor of this wonderfully vivid artistic technique is unknown in the modern world. A visit to the monuments and tombs of Saqqarah makes one wonder whether man has in fact progressed since the ascendancy of Memphis Egypt  and the Pharaohs.

It was believed that after death the soul crossed the Nile by boat to begin life after death on the western bank of the river. Here the dead would enjoy everything they had enjoyed in life surrounded by beauty, fragrance and plenty. For this reason, the dead were mummified and placed in beautiful, exquisitely decorated caskets shaped to the body. Their tombs were filled with all the requisites of daily life from gold, silver and jewels to instruments to till the soil. The richness of the treasures in the tombs inevitably excited the avaricious, so through the ages the tombs were plundered and many valuable items were stolen. Theory has it that in later burials articles were instead represented by drawings and paintings of everyday scenes on the wall.

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