Why the Name: Alexandria?

View of the Corniche of Alexandria (Wikipedia)

It is about time we talked about Alexandria, the light of Egypt. So why the name Alexandria? If you thought about Alexander the Great, then you are absolutely right! Yes. The second largest city and major economic center of Egypt was named and founded by Alexander the Great.

3rd century BC bust of Alexander the Great (Wikipedia)

Alexandria was founded around a small Ancient Egyptian town around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. It became an important center of the Hellenistic civilization and remained the capital of Hellenistic and Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1000 years until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641, when a new capital was founded at Fustat (later absorbed into Cairo). Hellenistic Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; its Great Library (the largest in the ancient world; now replaced by a modern one); and the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. Alexandria was the second most powerful city of the ancient world after Rome. Ongoing maritime archaeology in the harbor of Alexandria, which began in 1994, is revealing details of Alexandria both before the arrival of Alexander, when a city named Rhacotis existed there, and during the Ptolemaic dynasty.

The Great Library of Alexandria

To me, Alexandria, has always had a special place in my heart because of its Great Library. Imagine thousands upon thousands of ancient papyri, scrolls, and books on mathematics, philosophy, medicine, architecture, etc. Just the thought of it makes my eyes shine with light. Isn’t it thrilling? And then to know that this library had been burnt down by the army of Julius Caesar in 48 BC (more like a repeat of history: Palmyra, The giant Buddhas of Afghanistan, Timbuktu, …) also makes my heart ache at the thought of all this knowledge gone down in flames. Today, we remember the Great Library of Alexandria thanks to what poets and writers of the past said about it, but there are no vestiges of it. I also remember Alexandria because of the brilliant female mathematician Hypatia who chaired a department of philosophy and astronomy, and the world-renowned mathematician Euclid.

Today, Alexandria is Egypt’s largest seaport, serving approximately 80% of Egypt’s imports and exports. It is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also an important tourist destination. Enjoy the video below about Alexandria, the beautiful!

Why the name: Memphis?

Memphis_Ramses II_1
Statue of Ramses II in Memphis (Wikipedia)

Ever wondered where the name Memphis came from? No, I am not talking about Memphis the capital of Blues in Tennessee (USA), but rather, about Memphis, Egypt, the reason why Memphis Tennessee got its name.

Well, Memphis in Egypt, was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Mit Rahina, 20 km (12 mi) south of Giza. It is 20 km (12 mi) south of Cairo, on the west bank of the Nile. The modern cities and towns of Mit Rahina, Dahshur, Abusir, Abu Gorab, and Zawyet el’Aryan, south of Cairo, all lie within the administrative borders of historical Memphis. The city was also the place that marked the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt (the 22nd nome of Upper Egypt and 1st nome of Lower Egypt).

Memphis and its Necropoles
Memphis and its necropolises


Memphis has had several names throughout its history which spans almost four millennia. Its Ancient Egyptian name was Inbu-Hedj (translated as “the white walls“). Because of its size, the city also came to be known by various other names that were actually the names of neighborhoods or districts that enjoyed considerable prominence at one time or another. For example, according to a text of the First Intermediate Period, it was known as Djed-Sut (“everlasting places“), which is the name of the pyramid of Teti.

Memphis_Men neferThe city was also at one point referred to as Ankh-Tawy (meaning “Life of the Two Lands“), stressing the strategic position of the city between Upper and Lower Egypt. This name appears to date from the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1640 BCE), and is frequently found in ancient Egyptian texts.

At the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BCE), the city became known as Men-nefer (meaning “enduring and beautiful“), which became Menfe in Coptic. The name “Memphis” is the Greek adaptation of this name, which was originally the name of the pyramid of Pepi I, located west of the city.

Memphis_Hout ka Ptah

The Egyptian historian Manetho referred to Memphis as Hut-ka-Ptah (meaning “Enclosure of the ka of Ptah“). In the Bible, Memphis is called Moph or Noph. 

Memphis_Great temple of Ptah
Depiction of the western forecourt to the Great Temple of Ptah in Memphis (Wikipedia)

According to legend related by Manetho, an Egyptian priest and historian from the 3rd century BC, the city of Memphis was founded by the pharaoh Menes. It was the capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and remained an important city throughout ancient Mediterranean history. It occupied a strategic position at the mouth of the Nile delta, and was home to feverish activity. Its principal port, Peru-nefer, harbored a high density of workshops, factories, and warehouses that distributed food and merchandise throughout the ancient kingdom. During its golden age, Memphis thrived as a regional center for commerce, trade, and religion. Its eventual downfall is believed to be due to the loss of its economic significance in late antiquity, following the rise of coastal Alexandria. Its religious significance also diminished after the abandonment of the ancient religion following the Edict of Thessalonica.

Memphis_Alexandre visitant le temple de Memphis 1898
Alexander visiting the Temple of Apis in Memphis, ca 1898 (Wikipedia)

The ruins of the former capital today offer fragmented evidence of its glorious past. They have been preserved, along with the pyramid complex at Giza, as a World Heritage Site since 1979. The site is open to the public as an open-air museum.

Memphis became the capital of Ancient Egypt for over eight consecutive dynasties during the Old Kingdom. The city reached a peak of prestige under the 6th dynasty as a center for the worship of Ptah, the god of creation and artworks.

Memphis declined briefly after the 18th dynasty with the rise of Thebes and the New Kingdom, and was revived under the Persians before falling firmly into second place following the foundation of Alexandria. Under the Roman Empire, Alexandria remained the most important Egyptian city. Memphis remained the second city of Egypt until the establishment of Fustat in 641 CE. It was then largely abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements. It was still an imposing set of ruins in the 12th century but soon became a little more than an expanse of low ruins and scattered stone.

So whenever you think of going to Memphis, Tennessee, or about the birthplace of Blues, remember Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt, the heart of great pharaohs, and the “enduring, and beautiful” place which has now become an important part of world history and stored greatness throughout centuries. No wonder one of its names was “everlasting places”; it has actually been an everlasting place!