– “We are working on Ptah Temple in Memphis!”
– “Wow that must be a challenge!”
This is an expected reaction when Egyptologists hear the West Gate of the Ptah Temple of Memphis mentioned.
Despite its importance as the main temple of the god Ptah, modern buildings crowd around and underground water is flooding the gateway that once led to the sacred temple. Memphis, the first capital of Egypt (also the first capital of any centralised state in history), is facing problems such as these. It makes us wonder whether Ptah would be satisfied with the condition of his beloved city today.
Work has begun with the aim of clearing and understanding the site. We are amongst the first people to take up this challenge. On our first day, our colleagues Freya and Dan bought us sandwiches from a very famous restaurant beside the temple, which we ate before discovering that we had forgotten to call our colleagues at the museum to remind them to have their breakfast too!
Hahaha! Shuuuush! Please don’t tell them!
After breakfast and a tea break, we began to discover the site. We went inside to see how big it was. It was similar to all Rameside temples; huge and magnificent. After a very hard day, we went back to the villa to do more research about Memphis, its sites and the huge colossus of Ramesses II.
The next day we returned to the temple, and asked some people who were sitting in the café about ten meters from the temple if they knew what the site was, and if they knew who the temple had been built for. Unfortunately, they could not answer as they did not know. This is a shame because the site is important; it is the only surviving gate from the four gates that once allowed access to the complex.
Field School 1 students in discussion with Dr Sara Perry on site at the Ptah Temple.
It is a very big challenge to raise awareness of the site. How can the local community be encouraged to preserve a site like the temple if they do not know it is there, or what it is? Our main goal is to create a positive relationship between the community and the temple, so that people act as its first defence, keeping it clean and protected.
Before our GIS expert, Rebekah, went back to the USA, she provided us with lovely archival photographs of the old landscape of Memphis. The combination of these photographs, the existing archaeology, and our own imaginations helped to tell us how special Memphis is. Can you imagine what the Ptah Temple would have looked like in its heyday? Two colossal statues of Ramesses II would have been standing at the main gate of the temple (you can see a similar colossus at the Memphis Open Air Museum) and huge door jambs would have held massive doors in place. These are such impressive elements to have all in one temple, and they reflect the importance that Memphis held in ancient Egypt.