Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
CITIES OF THE DEAD AND OF THE GODS: MEMPHIS AND THEBES

THE NILE played a less significant rôle in the history of city development than the Euphrates did. Ancient Babylonia was at all times a passageway for goods and for peoples; the isolated location of Egypt, surrounded on three sides by desert, was not conducive to the development of trading centres and also eliminated the need for the farming population to draw close together inside city walls. Accordingly, only a few cities existed in the Nile valley in early times, and they had smaller populations than the Babylonian cities, even though they covered more space.

City culture on the Nile began in Upper Egypt, the southern part of the country, where about 3000 B.C. Hierakonpolis (in Egyptian Nechen) was the capital of what probably was the first statelike alliance on African soil. Later, about 2850 B.C., some twelve miles south of present-day Cairo, King Menes founded the magnificent residential city of Memphis (in old Egyptian, Menfe; in the Bible, Noph; today, Mit Rahina). Its location at the southern tip of the Nile delta, Egypt's most fertile area, was ideal.

Menes surrounded his city with a great wall of white limestone, which was supposed to secure the inhabitants against rebellious people from the most recently subdued parts of the country. The sanctuary of the god Ptah and two royal palaces arose in the centre of the city.

During the Old and the Middle Empire, approximately from 2600 to 1700 B.C., Memphis was the capital of all Egypt; for a long time, aside from Hierakonpolis, it was practically the only city in the country. Here reigned the Pharaoh with godlike omnipotence. Here flourished the plastic arts, literature, and astronomy.

In 671 B.C. King Esar-Haddon of Assyria conquered the old city and carried all its movable treasures off to Nineveh. Memphis fell into complete decline during the third century B.C., when it was defeated and eclipsed by the new metropolis Alexandria.

For centuries the enormous ruins of Memphis served as a reminder of its one-time splendour, but they were eventually used as stone quarries by the builders of Cairo. When Napoleon Bonaparte

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