Ancient Egyptian cities emerged in history as the birthplace of discoveries. Their legacy is beyond our imagination, and modern civilizations are grateful for what ancient Egypt has initiated. Important cities in ancient Egypt were established along the Nile, considering the fertile agricultural land in the region.
You can recount the overflowing of the great river, which replenished the soil, making it suitable for farming. They thought that building a city near the river was the best in terms of transportation, accessibility, and fertility of the land. Y
ou should remember that the Nile was the center of their livelihood, and Egyptians knew that it was the right place to settle. You might wonder how ancient people built structures on desert land. It took them engineering skills to design captivating cities, which has resulted in the envy of their neighboring kingdoms.
Strategically, they built walls around their cities with two entrances for protection. With the main road from the entrance up to the center of the town, it was easy for anyone to navigate the center. Meanwhile, the narrow streets connected to the main road made traveling around highly accessible.
You wouldn’t get lost in Egyptian cities because they were intelligently planned. Typical houses in ancient Egypt were made of bricks formed out of mud. You can expect that the annual overflowing of the Nile could destroy the houses and buildings, which they would replace by constructing new houses on top of them.
Ancient cities in Egypt were built for specific purposes to organize the people easily, such as politics, education, business, religion, and art. Memphis, for example, was the capital, and it served as the political stronghold of the nation.
It was inhabited by royal families, government officials, and nobles. You could tell that the cities were divided into several districts, which were occupied by the right people doing the job assigned for a specific district.
For example, skilled workers resided in a place close to their workplace. Nobles were found in a more important place in the land. Needless to say, ancient cities on the Nile served as the foundation of early civilization, and no one could impair the glorious legacy they have provided for Egypt and the rest of the world.
What Are the Cities of Ancient Egypt?
Cities in the past exemplified elegance, authority, and respect. You could not undermine their beauty, grandeur, and significance. They were built with the ingenuity of the Egyptians, given that they were known for their unparalleled skills in engineering and architecture.
While other kingdoms were still in the stage of conception, Egyptian cities were already thriving in terms of economy, education, religion, art, and politics. Much can be attributed to the legacy of Egyptian cities, which deserves enduring recognition. Let us discover the beauty and meaning of these ancient Egyptian towns.
Memphis was the capital of ancient Egypt, which played an important role in the development of civilization and history. With the achievements of the city, you could tell that it was a model for other Egypt city states.
Located south of the Nile River, Memphis was established in approximately 2925 BC by Menes, the renowned king of united Egypt or the two ancient kingdoms, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt.
It should be noted that the First Dynasty was strengthened by the united efforts of the kings to develop the country. Originally, Memphis was called the White Walls because it was associated with the whitewashed bricks that constituted the king’s palace.
Major cities in ancient Egypt were modeled after Memphis. They recognized this city as a symbol of strength, wealth, power, and authority. Memphis was also prominent for the presence of impressive cemeteries during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2925–2575 BC), particularly the time when Ptah, the god of craftsmen and architects, was revered.
Interestingly, you should know that Ptah was also the god or patron of Memphis, and it was during that time when big temples and luxurious infrastructures were built. As a deity, Ptah is a creator god and the maker of all things who inspired the people of Memphis to create enormous structures, such as the colossal statue of Ramses II (1279–13 BC), notable as the king with the second-longest reign in Egyptian history.
As the first capital of Egypt, Memphis set the foundation for other cities to emulate. Starting from the government to the economy, Memphis was highly established and stable. Furthermore, the city was recognized as a necropolis or an immense place for intricate burial, particularly of the nobles in ancient time.
You can take a look at the gigantic pyramids that served as tombs of the kings and their royal families. Necropolis was used to commemorate the souls of the deceased royal members and to pray for them in preparation for their next life. A pyramid is a colossal tomb for the kings. It’s a symbol of Egyptian affluence at that time.
Extensive archeological excavations have proven the presence of elaborate tombs worthy of royal members in Memphis. This has supported the status of Memphis as a popular necropolis of the ancient city since these tombs have been discovered and preserved. Moreover, these findings have been of great help in connecting the past to the present generation because they gave us a clear understanding of how the people lived in antiquity.
You may be surprised to know that even animals were given sacred necrological ceremonies in the past. For example, Saqqara Necropolis reveals an extensive complex of animal tombs or cemeteries, given that Egypt had different kinds of animals needed for agriculture. Cats, as attributed to god Bastet, in particular, were revered for their contribution to Egyptian homes.
You may not believe it, but cats in the past were considered caretakers of children in Egyptian homes. Other animals, such as baboons, crocodiles, fish, dogs, jackals, serpent eels, beetles, bulls, and hawks, were carefully buried with respect. In other words, both people and animals were given a proper burial in the past, which led to the creation of a necropolis in ancient Memphis.
Ancient Thebes was the capital of Egypt during the period of the New Kingdom (c. 1570–1069 BC). It was a prime city that played a crucial role in the development of civilization at that time.
A great rival of Memphis in terms of power and wealth, Thebes was also the center of government and religious activities.
Known as the city of Waset or the center of worship of Amun, you would be in awe at the devotion of the people to their beloved god as they rendered him the highest honor and adoration. Thebes emerged as the home of veneration for the divine gods, dead people and animals, and the living rulers.
Located in Upper Egypt, Thebes represented the faith of the people, as shown in their ceremonies attributed to their gods and deities in the Karnak Temple Complex, one of the largest religious centers in the world. Would you believe that it’s nearly one mile and a half long decorated with sphinxes? Its grandeur remains one of the most impressive in the world, even in modern-day Cairo.
Thebes, as the major religious site of the New Kingdom (1520–1075 BC), represented the glorious age of ancient Egypt. Such period was known for the massive accumulation of power and opulence of the country.
Who would not be amazed at the obelisk towers of Hatshepsut? You could tell that ancient people were full of pride in their colossal structures standing at 90 feet tall.
Intriguingly, the Valley of the Kings was renowned for the burial of the royalty during the New Kingdom. It was the sacred place for the interment of kings, with intricate underground structures and secret chambers elaborately decorated for the kings. An example of this grandeur is the tomb of Tutankhamun, with its enormous wealth on display, showing how the ancient Egyptians lived in the past.
You should not miss learning about Luxor, an ancient city in Thebes constructed in approximately 1400 BC. You could find several colossal mortuary temples, such as the Temple of Seti. The Luxor Temple was not allocated for the worship of gods or deities. Instead, it was assigned for the celebration of the royalty, including the crowning of the king. Could you imagine how the people revered their kings?
You may be in awe at the grandeur of the first two cities, but Alexandria represented a different purpose. Believed to be established as the capital city in 331 BC, Alexandria emerged in the limelight when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt.
It’s not just the capital of Egypt, but it was also the seat of power of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Do you remember the Lighthouse of Alexandria? It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and built in the same city that bears its name.
Alexandria was known as an intellectual and cultural center in the past. As proof of its authentic quest for knowledge, the largest library in the world was built on its grounds. It used to be the largest city in the ancient world, known for its sophisticated lifestyle because it served as a crucible of different cultures.
You can’t hide the affluence of Alexandria, even under the Roman Empire. Moreover, its strategic location made it the center of trade at that time. It’s where the people immersed themselves in the study of philosophy, geography, astronomy, and mathematics, such as in the Neoplatonic school of philosophy found in Alexandria.
As the birthplace of the great astronomer Ptolemy, the students of Alexandria joined the quest for knowledge, which paved the way for the further development of ancient Egypt.
Another major city of antiquity is famous for its religious background. Hermopolis served as the provincial capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. It was later established as the leading city of Roman Egypt, thereby becoming the Christian center from the third century.
Considered second in rank to Thebes in terms of great wealth, Hermopolis, known as Khmunu or the “City of the Eight,” was the capital of the Hare nome, a province in the past. You are now familiar with how they named their provinces in ancient Egypt.
Meanwhile, Hermopolis refers to “the city of Hermes” in Greek because it was the place where worship for god Thoth was held. It was believed that Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, was related to Hermes, one of the gods of the Greeks. Archeologists unearthed extensive remains and catacombs in Hermopolis, which were considered traces of Hellenistic and Roman times.
Ancient Egypt was so affluent that its cities enjoyed great wealth and luxury. The people lived comfortably as guided by their gods and deities. An example of this faith was the people’s reverence to Osiris in the city of Abydos.
People traveled to the Osiris tomb in Abydos as the center of Osiris worship. Abydos was one of the oldest cities in Egypt and regarded as Upper Egypt’s eighth nome.
You will wonder about the extensive archeological sites found in the sacred city of Abydos because it’s also home to important temples, necropolises, and tombs of pharaohs. These tombs symbolized the priceless legacy of Abydos to the history and culture of ancient Egypt.
When you travel to Abydos these days, you will not be disappointed to see the memorial temple of Seti with all the inscriptions of the kings that reigned in the city, as well as the ancient graffiti on the temple walls showing the opulence of the people at that time.
Crocodilopolis was another dynamic city in early Egypt named after the crocodile god Sobek. It’s the Greek version of the city Shedet, which was built in approximately 4000 BC.
Do you know that it’s the oldest city in Egypt? Also known as Faiyum, it was an ancient city in Heptanomis on the western bank of the Nile, where the people paid homage to crocodiles since the entire city consecrated itself to a sacred crocodile named “Petsuchos.” Do you know that the people of Crocodilopolis even decorated this crocodile with gold and loads of gems?
They took care of the crocodile in a specially designed temple with a pond but would replace it in case the Petsuchos died. Located in a strategic area, Crocodilopolis stood in fertile soil in Egypt, such that the people enjoyed the abundance of corn, vegetables, vineyards, and flowering plants. In addition, the inhabitants enjoyed fruit-bearing trees, including olives.
Known as a military port and trade city, Elephantine was known as the “door of the south” because it’s inherently located in the deep south of Egypt near Sudan, which actively sent traders to this island city.
You can see the enormous temple of Khnum or the ram god on this enchanting island. It also contained shrines honoring nobles of the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom. Satis and Anuket were two other deities close to the heart of the people. Satis was revered as the war goddess and patron of this city gate.
Anuket was honored as the patron of the Nile River. She was typically shown as a stunning woman with a crown of reeds and ostrich feathers and accompanied by a gazelle. As a fertility goddess, she orchestrated the yearly flooding of the Nile, which people waited with devotion because it was the beginning of their farming season. Anuket was the daughter of Satis and Khun and was later made divine.
– Kom Ombo
Kom Ombo was famous as an agricultural city in Egypt, as well as for the Temple Kom Ombo. The people of this city worshipped Sobek, Hathor, and Khonsu with great reverence.
Its original name was Nubt or the City of Gold, and it was used as a garrison under several dynasties of Egypt and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Due to its location in the Nile, Ombos was a host to two temples, which influenced the people to worship and honor their gods with all their hearts.
Amarna was recognized as the capital city of Egypt during the reign of Akhenaten (1346 BC), the pharaoh who created his own religion that worshiped the god Aten.
Located on the east bank of the Nile, the name Amarna was acquired from the tribe called Beni Amran, which spearheaded the Amarna art style or a strict idealistic concept in art. Examples of their artwork included informal scenes with such intimate displays of emotion among the nobles and their children.
Ancient Egypt thrived beyond the divine and human expectations. They valued their differences and concentrated their efforts to formulate great cities in the past. These cities portrayed the everlasting legacy of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
Guided by their patron saints, the Egyptians in antiquity believed in the manifestation of their gods who would protect and give them a favor. The people’s lives depended on their work and aimed at pleasing their gods while waiting for their divine provisions.
How great cities emerged along the Nile also depended on the fertile soil found on riverbanks. Hence, you could notice that most of them are located along the river. For their fate, the people combined their faith, diligence, and benevolence to gain rewards from heaven above.