Memphis and its Necropolis
The Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur (1979)
Egypt

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UNESCO (France) 2001. The Sphinx and the Pyramids at Giza.

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. 
  • UNESCO (France) 2001. The Sphinx and the Pyramids at Giza. 

Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, is strategically located at the apex of the Nile delta (south of the modern city of Cairo), giving inhabitants dominion over the river valley and delta. 

Some scholars believe it may have been founded in the early 4th millennium BC, but that date is not certain. According to legend, Memphis was built by King ha, who allegedly rechanneled the Nile here to make room for his city. 

A few kilometers from where Memphis stood is Saqqarah, a vast archaeological site containing pyramids, temples, and tombs. The famous pyramids of Giza and other monuments -- including the Sphinx -- are also nearby. 

  • United Nations (New York) 2005. The Sphinx at Giza. 

United Nations (New York) 2005. The Sphinx at Giza.  

Egypt 1914. The Pyramids at Giza.

Egypt 1914. The Sphinx.

The pyramids of Egypt, which served as tombs for the ancient pharaohs, and the statue of the Sphinx, which dates from about 2500 bc and is probably the country's most famous monument, are located just west of Cairo in the suburb of Giza. Depite the desert background usually depicted in photographs, the pyramids are extremely close to Cairo and are likely to be affected by the city's continued expansion.  
  • Egypt 1914. The Pyramids at Giza.
  • Egypt 1914. The Sphinx. 

The Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser (also spelled Zozer) was built during the Third Dynasty (ca. 2800 B.C.) in what is now Saqqara. Djoser's Step Pyramid is generally considered the first tomb in Egypt to be built entirely of stone.

Saqqara (or Sakkara) is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, featuring the world's oldest standing step pyramid. It is located some 30 km south of modern-day Cairo, and covers an area of around 7 km by 1.5 km. 

When Memphis was the capital of Ancient Egypt, Saqqara served as its necropolis. 

Although it was eclipsed as the burial ground of royalty by Giza and, later, by the Valley of the Kings in Thebes, it remained an important complex for minor burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times. 

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara was designed by Imhotep for King Djoser (c. 2667-2648 BC) and is the oldest complete building hewn stone complex known in history. 

  • Egypt 1969. Step Pyramid at Saqqara. 

  • Egypt 1928. Imhotep, architect, the designer of the Saqqara Step Pyramid, and regarded as "The father of architecture, sculpture and medicine". The stamp was issued for the International Council of Medicine ... 

Egypt 1969. Step Pyramid at Saqqara. 

Egypt 1928. Imhotep, architect, the designer of the Saqqara Step Pyramid, and regarded as "The father of architecture, sculpture and medicine". The stamp was issued for the International Council of Medicine ... 

Egypt 1993. Head of Queen Ti.

Egypt 1974. Relief carving of workers from Queen Ti's Tomb, Saqqara. 

Ti was the first queen of Egypt to have her name appear on official acts alongside that of her husband. 

She was known for her influence in state affairs in the reigns of both her husband (1417-1379 B.C.) and of her son, Akhenaton, (1379-1362 B.C.) during a time of prosperity and power in the 18th dynasty. Her son is remembered for being the first pharaoh to advocate monotheism.

Ti, of Nubian heritage, is believed to be the grandmother of Tutankhamun, perhaps the most famous ruler of ancient Egypt.

Amenhotep III, who ruled for 38 years, made a basic change in the history of ancient Egypt when he named his wife, Ti, as queen against the tradition that his sister should be queen.

  • Egypt 1993. Head of Queen Ti. 

  • Egypt 1974. Relief carving of workers from Queen Ti's Tomb, Saqqara. 

During the Old Kingdom (2649 or 2575-2134 BC), Memphis, along with Thebes, was a major political, commercial, and cultural center. Many historians believe Memphis was the administrative center for most of pharaonic history. Under the Ptolemies (305 to 30 BC), Memphis was the most important city in the region after Alexandria. It continued to be a major population center until its conquest by the Roman Empire, which was not completed until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. The demise of Memphis was hastened in the 7th century AD when Arab conquerors built the nearby city of Al Fustat (now Cairo). Today little remains of ancient Memphis. Most of the ruins are covered by thick deposits of sediment from the Nile, and some ruins are even buried below the water table. Archaeologists have uncovered temples to Ptah, Isis, Serapis, and Ra; two statues of Ramses II; and many dwellings. 

Egypt. Photograph of the Pyramids at Giza. Menkaure, Chefren, and Cheops.

  • Classical photograph of the three pyramids, with three smaller ones in front of them (please compare with the UNESCO-stamp top left on this page). From left to right:
    • Menkaure, 
    • Chefren (Khafr), and 
    • Cheops (Khufu). 

See also stamps immediately below for portraits of the kings who gave names to the Pyramids. 

The pyramid far right is the "Great Pyramid." The middle one looks larger, but only because it is built on higher ground. 

Egypt 1947. Special Delivery stamp. Goddess Hathor, King Menkaure [Mycerinus], and Jackalheaded goddess, who gave name to the pyramid on the left. Egypt 1969. King Khafr [Chefren], ruler c. 2850 BC, who gave name to the pyramid in the middle. Egypt 1974. The Solar Barque of King Khufu [Cheops], who gave name to the pyramid on the right.

The alignment or constellation of the Orion (Osirian) Belt occurred in 1050 B.C. above the Giza plateau in ancient Kemet (Egypt). The alignment of the three pyramids at the Giza plateau on earth is a perfect spiritual and terrestrial re-enactment of the map of Orion's Belt as it occurred in the sky above in 1050 B.C. In the Belt of Orion, (Osiris) three stars run in a row but the top star (the smallest one) is slightly offset to the left. At the Giza plateau, two of the pyramids are of almost identical size and set along a diagonal line but the third pyramid is not only much smaller but also is also off-set to the left of this diagonal line just as the alignment of the three stars in Orion's Belt. 

In a depression to the south of Chefren's Pyramid sits a huge creature with the head of a human and a lion's body. This monumental statue, the first truly colossal royal sculpture in Egypt, known as the Great Sphinx, is a national symbol of Egypt, both ancient and modern. 

It has stirred the imagination of poets, scholars, adventurers and tourists for centuries and has also inspired a wealth of speculation about its age, its meaning, and the secrets that it might hold. 

  • Egypt 2004. The Sphinx in front of Chefren's Pyramid. From the series "Egyptian Treasures". 

Egypt 2004. The Sphinx in front of Chefren's Pyramid. From the series "Egyptian Treasures".

Egypt 2004. Close-up of the Sphinx. From the series "Egyptian Treasures".  

The word "sphinx", [meaning 'strangler'], was first given by the Greeks to a fabulous creature which had the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. In Egypt, there are numerous sphinxes, usually with the head of a king wearing his headdress and the body of a lion. There are, however, sphinxes with ram heads that are associated with the god Amun.

Where the Sphinx sits was once a quarry. It is believed that Chefren's workers shaped the stone into the lion and gave it their king's face more than 4,500 years ago. Chefren's name was also mentioned on the Dream Stele, which sits between the paws of the great beast. However, no one is completely certain that it is in fact the face of Chefren. Recently, however, it has been argued that Cheops [Khufu] builder of the Great Pyramid, may have also had the Great Sphinx built. 

  • Egypt 2004. Close-up of the Sphinx. From the series "Egyptian Treasures". 
Memphis, and its spectacular surrounding, has often served as a "natural stage setting" for Giuseppe Verdi's famous opera "Ada", and for good reasons: the opera takes place partly in Memphis, where Aida, daughter of the Ethiopian King Amonasro lives as a slave. The opera was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on December 24, 1871.   

Ismail Pasha (1830-1895), Khedive of Egypt 1863-1879, commissioned Verdi to write the opera for performance in January 1871, paying him 150,000 francs, but the premiere was delayed because of the Franco-Prussian War. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1969, nor that of the Khedivial Opera House in the same year. (Verdi had been asked to compose an ode for the occasion, but refused on the grounds that he did not write "occasional pieces".) The opera was met with great acclaim when it finally opened. 

  • Egypt 1945. The Khedive Ismail Pasha. 50th death anniversary. 

Egypt 1945. The Khedive Ismail Pasha. 50th death anniversary.

Egypt 1971. The Triumphal March from Aida. The stamp celebrate the centenary of the first performance of the opera in 1871. Egypt 1987. Performance of Aida at Memphis, with the Sphinx in the background.

Egypt 2000. Maydum Pyramid, seen from the desert.

Dahshur is located in a patch of desert on the west bank of the Nile approximately 40 kilometres south of Cairo. It is a royal necropolis, known chiefly for several pyramids, two of which are among the oldest, largest and best preserved in Egypt. The earliest known pyramid, at the town of Maydum, also spelled Medum, is located near Memphis on the west bank of the Nile River. It is a pyramid complex with all the parts of a normal Old Kingsom (c. 2575 - c. 2130 BC) funerary monument. These parts included the pyramid itselv, a mortuary temple, and a sloping causeway leading to a valley temple built near the Nile River. 
  • Egypt 2000. Maydum Pyramid, seen from the desert. 
The Maydum Pyramid was originally a seven-stepped pyramid to which another step was added. Finally, the steps were filled in, and the entire structure was overlaid with fine Tura limestone, giving it the appearance of a true pyramid. 

Most scholars agree that the pyramid was probably begun by Huni, the last king of the 3rd dynasty (c. 2575 - c. 2465). Late in its reconstruction under Snefru, the outer casing and fill of the pyramid began to collapse, and the work was abandoned. The collapse produced the present appearance of the pyramid. 

  • Egypt 2004. Scenic view of Maydum Pyramid, seen from the banks of the Nile Valley. From the series "Egyptian Treasures". 

Egypt 2004. Scenic view of Maydum Pyramid, seen from the banks of the Nile Valley. From the series "Egyptian Treasures".

Other pyramids at Dahshur are the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, and the Black Pyramid, which -- to the best of my knowledge -- have not been depicted on postage stamps. The polished granite pyramidion (capstone) of the Black Pyramid is on display in the mail hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. 

Sources and links:

Media: 

Other World Heritage Sites in the Egypt (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Egypt section, for further information on the individual properties. 

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Revised 27 aug 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
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