Memphis, founded around 3,100 BC, is the legendary city of Menes, the King who united Upper and Lower Egypt. Early on, Memphis was more likely a fortress from which Menes controlled the land and water routes between Upper Egypt and the Delta. Having probably originated in Upper Egypt, from Memphis he could control the conquered people of Lower Egypt. However, by the Third Dynasty, the building at Saqqara suggests that Memphis had become a sizable city. Memphis has had several names during its history of almost four millennia. Its Ancient Egyptian name was Inbu-Hedj (translated as “the white walls”. 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 centre for the worship of Ptah, the god of creation and artworks. The alabaster sphinx that guards the Temple of Ptah serves as a memorial of the city’s former power and prestige. The Memphis triad, consisting of the creator god Ptah, his consort Sekhmet, and their son Nefertem, formed the main focus of worship in the city.
We have discussed above ground burial practices here in the ancient past (see “A History of Ancient Prehistoric Architecture“). All over the world Dolmens, Barrows and Tumulii were used to bury the dead above ground level, beginning at least 11,000 years BCE. I have not discussed Egypt because it represents such a famous instance of pyramid building and death ceremonies. That is not to say that pyramids are a uniquely Egyptian invention. Ziggurats were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites, Akkadians, and Assyrians for local religions. Each ziggurat was part of a temple complex which included other buildings. The precursors of the ziggurat were raised platforms (basically Mastabas) that date from the Ubaid period during the fourth millennium BC. Mesoamerica, India, Greece and even the Romans built pyramids. However, the most famous pyramids are the Egyptian pyramids, huge structures built of brick or stone, some of which are among the world's largest constructions. They are shaped as a reference to the rays of the sun. Most pyramids had a polished, highly reflective white limestone surface, in order to give them a shining appearance when viewed from a distance. They appear about 2700 BCE then disappear suddenly in Egypt about 1700 BCE.