How were the ancient Egyptian cities

Settlements and cities

From 3000 BC City planning developed in Egypt

Settlements and cities were located in the wide delta and in the narrow Nile valley, the historical parts of Lower and Upper Egypt. Settlements were both flat hilltops in the middle of the fruitland and the fringes of fruitland at the transition to the desert. In all cities there were also temples, dedicated to the gods and pharaohs. Unfortunately, some cities today are very destroyed and heavily worn and you can only find fragments. Almost everything is missing from the houses and palaces, as they were built of Nile mud bricks.

Historic cities and settlements:

Alexandria

Heliopolis / Iunu (On)

Abydos / Abedju

Hierakonpolis / Nechen

Busiris / Djedu

Luxor / Ipet resut

Buto / Pe

Memphis / Men-nefer

Dendera / Junet

Pi ramesse

Edfu / Behdet

Tell el-Amarna / Achet-aton

El-Kab / Necheb

Thebes / Waset

Elephantine / Abu

Esna / Junit

Cairo, el-Kahira

Hieroglyph for "city"

Alexandria - city in northern Egypt on the Mediterranean

Alexandria is now a city in Egypt on the Mediterranean, named after the Egyptian conqueror "Alexander the Great". With the founding of Alexandria and the Greek occupation, Egypt became a province of the Hellenistic world.


Alexander the Great once commissioned the Greek architect Deinocrates on his trip to Egypt in 332 - 331 BC. To build a city in this place; with wide streets that cut at right angles. The rise of the city began when Ptolemy settled there and then made it the capital. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC he had Took over the government. Among the first two Ptolemies in the first half of the 3rd century BC The city was equipped with magnificent buildings. Well-known buildings were: the royal palace by the sea, the museum and the Library, the Soma (Tomb of Alexander the great), Serapeum (a temple dedicated to the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis), temple of Isis and above all the famous lighthouse.
During the last three centuries BC. Alexandria was the political capital of Hellenized Egypt. It remained until the Arab conquest in AD 641. the intellectual and spiritual capital of part of the Mediterranean world.
Furthermore, Greek became the official language of the country, but ancient Egyptian was still spoken in its demotic form in rural areas. Just as the priests kept the old religious traditions and still covered the temples with hieroglyphics.

Above: Archaeological site in Alexandria (Image: Pixelio.de)

Abydos / ancient egyptian:Abedju

Location in Upper Egypt, northwest of Thebes.
Famous in Pharaonic times for its Osiris cult.

The area around Abydos has a long history of settlement; there lie a place from the Negade I culture as well Necropolis the Negade culture (predynastic period).

Fig. Left: Osireion in Abydos
(Photo: S. Eggers)


A city developed from the Negade settlement during the early two Thinite dynasties, 1st and 2nd dynasties, around 3000 to 2700 BC.
Perhaps the royal tombs in the necropolis were only cenotaphs (= sham tomb, empty tomb), and the Thinite rulers were buried in Saqqara.

Remains of several temples and burial sites have been found here in the area around Abydos. The god of the dead appeared as a local deity "Chontamentiu"forth; his name means:"First of the western ones"- with" Westerners "are meant the deceased. According to the myth, it was once upon a time Osiriswho was the first to enter the realm of the dead (Amenti) as a so-called "Westerner" and became the ruler of the hereafter; this completely absorbed the essence of the ancient Chontamentiu. From the 5th dynasty (around 2500 BC) this very Osiris appeared. From then on, pilgrimages to this holy place Abydos began.
At the beginning of the 11th dynasty, King Antef II made the city the "site of Osiris" after he had ruled Abydos. The famous Mysteries of God were also celebrated here later.

Abydos experienced its heyday under the 19th dynasty: King Sethos I built a magnificent temple for his father Ramses I here. He had a mortuary temple built for himself, of which important, partly restored ruins and a cenotaph have been preserved. His son, Ramses II, also built a small mortuary temple there.

The sense and purpose for these kings was also to follow the tradition in this sacred place called Abydos cenotaph to build. For less significant - than the Pharaoh - people in ancient Egypt it was and was desirable to set up a stele at least for themselves near the tomb of Osiris. In this way, the later owner of this stele was able to take part in the resurrection rites of Osiris, which enabled a repeated new birth in the afterlife. The city of Abydos also claimed to have the head of the dismembered Osiris (Osiris myth!). This major underground cenotaph, known as "Osireion"(Figure above), since it was considered the cenotaph of Osiris, had begun by Sethos, but was only completed under Merenptah. The mysteries of Osiris were celebrated in Abydos.

Abydos lost its importance in the Greek period (332-30 BC).

Busiris / ancient egyptian:Djedu

Capital of the 9th Lower Egyptian Gau.
»House of Osiris« (Per-Usir)

The great Osiris, god of the dead found cultic veneration here. Obviously, Osiris did not originally come from Busiris. This city remained the holy city of Osiris in the delta through the whole of Egyptian history. Here the Osiris followers set up his symbol, the so-called Djed pillar. And Osiris was the "Lord of Djed" in Busiris - Djed means "duration, constancy".

Fig. Left: Osiris.
(Bronze replica; Photo: AS)


After the predynastic period (up to approx. 3000 BC) this city lost more and more of its political relevance in favor of Buto. This city then became the capital of the Delta; Stuck in historical time Busiris Gau capital.
Before Osiris was worshiped there, it was the city god Anedjti, a shepherd god, who was worshiped there in predynastic times. Osiris became his successor.

Buto / ancient egyptian:Pe

Location in the 6th Lower Egyptian district, in the delta

Buto was called in ancient Egyptian "Per-Uadjet" = house of the [goddess] Uadjet ("Green Snake"); but this name comes from a later epoch. There were two places on either side of the Nile in this area in prehistoric times: Dep, the holy city of Uadjet, and Pe, the city of Osiris. "Pe" as a name for a royal complex: Throne of the harpooning Horus, which is said to have been there.

Left picture: Uadjet
(Photo: AS)


With Pe, the place Dep appears frequently in religious texts, pyramid texts, and later it probably grew together with Pe.
The god Upuaut also originally came from Buto. The Red Crown of the North, which was inhabited by the Uraeus, i.e. Uadjet, was also kept in Buto. Really little is known about Buto, but the city is closely related to the Osiris legend. The Horus servants are said to have set off from her to fight the people of the south, the followers of Seth. As a result, festivals once took place in Buto, which attracted many pilgrims in memory of this, who came especially to Lower Egypt because of those mythical-historical wars.

Dendera / ancient egyptian:Junet

Capital of the 6th Upper Egyptian Gau

This place was called Tentyris by the Greeks and the ancient Egyptians said "Iunet en Netjeret" (= Iunet of the goddess). This place on the western bank of the Nile played a rather insignificant role in the history of Egypt and owes its fame to the goddess Hathorwhich nevertheless found reverence there.

Fig. Left: Temple of Dendera, detail
(Photo: Elvira Kronlob)


In the 11th dynasty, the Hathor of Dendera was considered a special patron goddess. The place has been attested since the Old Kingdom. The buildings still standing can be dated to the Ptolemaic and Roman times. The Temple of Hathor is considered to be one of the most beautiful structures. The building was under the reign of Ptolemy IX. started and finished under Nero. Also famous for a zodiac (zodiac) in the temple that adorned the ceiling of the chapel, the original is now in the museum.
On the same ceiling was depicted a naos dedicated to Osiris and considered his tomb, since Dendera was one of the places that possessed a part of the god's body.

Edfu / ancient egyptian:Behdet

Capital of the 2nd Upper Egyptian Gau, on the west bank

The Greeks called the place Apollonopolis Megale. Main god of Edfu was Horuswho "enthroned" here. In a religious context, Edfu was also referred to as the throne of Horus.

Fig. Left: Temple of Edfu, detail.
You can see the god Horus.
(Photo: Carmen Wolfram)


The temple of Edfu is very well preserved and was rebuilt for the last time in the Ptolemaic times. It has been documented since the 3rd dynasty that the falcon god Horus von Behedet (another name for Edfu), who ruled the city, originally came from Upper Egypt. The importance of Edfus has been documented for the earliest times.

El-Kab / ancient egyptian:Necheb

City south of Thebes in Upper Egypt

The city was called Eileithyiapolis by the Greeks. In the predynastic period (before 3000 BC) the capital of the Kingdom of the South under the name Necheb. city ​​of Vulture goddess Nechbet and was on the right bank of the Nile opposite Hierakonpolis. During the dynastic period it was only the capital of the 3rd Upper Egyptian Gau.
Excavations have unearthed some objects from the predynastic period; the structures that have been preserved come from the New Kingdom or from the late period. The oldest traces of buildings date from the 11th Dynasty (Middle Kingdom). The original temple of Nechbet dates back to the 18th dynasty.

Elephantine / ancient egyptian:Abu

Place on a small island in the Nile.
Capital of the 1st Upper Egyptian Gau

The place was under the protection of the god of cataracts Khnum and the goddesses Anukis and Satis. His Egyptian name is Abu. The fortress of Elephantine defended the southern border of Egypt against the nomads from Nubia.

Left: Elephantine
(Image: Elvira Kronlob)


The "Gate of Elephantine", from where the military expedition followed, played an important role in the history of Egypt since the Old Kingdom Cushy and the quarrymen set out into the eastern rocky mountains in search of granite. Only the foundation walls of the Khnum temple and a stone-covered one remain of the city itself Nilometer that leads down 90 steps to the Nile. There was a trading post, "Sunu", opposite the island on the right bank of the Nile where the caravans from Nubia arrived. Known in Greek times under the name Syene (today's Aswan), Pharaoh's ships fetched the rose granite from neighboring quarries from there; this valuable rock was used for temples, obelisks and sarcophagi.

Esna / ancient egyptian:Junit

Upper Egyptian city south of Luxor.
For a time Esna was the capital of the 3rd Upper Egyptian Gau

The Greeks called the city Latopolis, the Egyptians called it Junit. For a time it was the capital of the 3rd Upper Egyptian Gau.
Only part of the temple that was built under the last Ptolemies remains of this ancient city.

Fig. Left: Esna Temple, detail
(Image: Elvira Kronlob)


But it was still being built after Christ. The god Khnum and the goddess Neith were once worshiped here in this temple, as well as minor deities such as Heka, Menhit and Nebetu. The ceiling in the temple shows elements of astronomy and astrology.

Heliopolis / ancient egyptian: Iunu

The "city of the pillar", also called On.
Capital of the 13th Lower Egyptian Gau.

One of the most important cities in Pharaonic Egypt; in this former city in Lower Egypt was the Sun cult completed and with it the big one Sun god Re adored. Heliopolis remained the main cult center of sun worship throughout Egypt's history up to the Greco-Roman epoch (3000 BC to the 4th century AD).

Fig. Left: Re-Harachte


Especially at the beginning of Egyptian history, Heliopolis played an important role.
Much suggests that Heliopolis »City of the sun«, As the Greeks called it, was a cult place of Re as early as the 3rd dynasty. The rapid rise of the sun god did not begin until the 4th dynasty; from then on, the term "son of Re" (ancient Egyptian: Sa-Ra) appeared in the introductory titles of the royal titles of the pharaohs. This title became an essential part of the title. The kings of the 5th dynasty paid particular honor to the Heliopolitan sun god, numerous sun shrines still bear witness to this today.
The sun god Re, who was equated with Atum, was the patron god of this solar city. Res manifestations there were the phoenix and the Mnevis bull. The re-priesthood created the great Ninth and One cosmogony, which gave Heliopolis a prominent position in the religious history of Egypt.
While the theological views of the Heliopolitan priesthood were also expressed in the Pyramid Texts (Old Kingdom). Today all that remains of this religious city is a monolithic obelisk about twenty meters high, which was erected by Sesostris I on the occasion of a SED festival. (This obelisk is now in the new Heliopolis district near the Cairo airfield.)

Hierakonpolis / ancient egyptian:Nechen

The city of the falcon in Upper Egypt

City in Upper Egypt south of Thebes, which in Egyptian Nechen was called. During the latter part of the Predynastic Period, the city was the capital of Upper Egypt (south of the country of Egypt).

Fig. Left: King Narmer on the "Palette des Narmer", Cutout. (Photo: Jon Bodsworth)


Nekhen became the capital of the early kings Skoprpion and Narmer. The patron god of this city was a Falcon, hence the name in Girechisch: Hierakonpolis "City of the falcon". The falcon was equated with Horus, but later by the goddess Nechbet was ousted, the vulture goddess of El-Kab, the holy city across from Hierakonpolis.
The importance of the city waned since the Thinite period (early times, around 3000-2700 BC). Little remains of the once glorious city. Here, however, researchers found important contemporary witnesses such as objects that point to early major events, such as the famous one "Palette des Narmer"on which the unification of the empire is documented. Excavations also yielded parts of a predynastic palace, predynastic paintings, foundations of the main temple, ivory carvings and numerous objects that date back to the Thinite period and the Old Kingdom.

Luxor / ancient egyptian:Ipet resut

Today's place Luxor was called Ipet-resut in ancient times.

Luxor was once associated with the great temple of Karnak. Most of the temple at Luxor was built by Amenhotep III. erected and finished by Ramses II. The temple is still very well preserved and a popular tourist destination.

Fig. Left: Temple of Luxor
(Photo: Carmen Wolfram)


Two obelisks once stood in front of its entrance gate (pylon), one of which is now in Paris on the "Place de la Concorde". Numerous rows of pillars (porticos) and columns (halls) are part of the impressive temple, which was once visited by Amun during the so-called Opet festival at the time of flooding. The sanctuary contains a naos, which is surrounded by several rooms. In front of the entrance pylon towards the Karnak Temple, there is a long Ariesphingen avenue. Luxor is across from the Valley of the Kings (Western Leves).

Memphis / ancient egyptian:Men-nefer

Belongs to the earliest cities.
The city is also called Ineb-hedj.

The first Thinite kings built a fortress on the border between Lower and Upper Egypt, the "White Wall" (Ineb hedj), which existed until the late period.

Left: Sokar in the underworld
(Detail from the Amduat, Thutmose III's grave)


The pyramid of Pepi I, however, called Men-Nefer (= »There remains the beauty«), gave the entire complex its name, from which the Greeks later made Memphis.
In the vicinity were the sanctuaries of Ptah and Sokar. Sokar became lord of the Memphis necropolis. The 3rd Dynasty necropolis was once established on the territory of its jurisdiction. The necropolis bears his name to our time: Saqqara.
The Unification of Egypt recognized the strategic importance of this place Ineb-hedj, where the two rival countries collided. The tombs of the first Thinite kings are believed to be on the neighboring plateau. In any case, the graves of the first three kings of the 2nd dynasty have been found. The capital of these kings was apparently nearby. Since King Djoser (3rd dynasty) this became the rule, at least until the Old Kingdom. The 6th Dynasty kings built their pyramids closest to the White Wall.
When Thebes became the official capital of the empire, Memphis continued to grow and remained the most important city of Egypt, where the kings always had a palace and a harem.
In the New Kingdom, as the residence of the vizier of Lower Egypt, she remained the Armory of Egypt - War material was produced here and warships were equipped. Memphis was that Hub of Egypt and the main commercial center. Under the Ptolemies (325-30 BC) the city had not lost any of its wealth, although its decline began as a result of competition from Alexandria.

Pi-ramesse (Per-Ramesse; Pi-Ramses)

Pi-Ramesse was known as the largest residence of Pharaoh Ramses II in the delta.

The city was founded in the 19th dynasty and is mentioned in the Old Testament. The city only became really prominent under Ramses II, who gave the city the name Per-Ramses-Aa-nacht = »House of Ramses, great in victories«. Pi-Ramesse (now the short form of the name) was in many ways a place of new beginnings, without the "overwhelming" religiosity that determined Thebes and also without the hustle and bustle that prevailed in Memphis. The city not only served as a refuge for the king but was also a place of rest, peace and prosperity.

Tell el-Amarna, Achet-Aton

Once a city in Middle Egypt built by Akhenaten (Sun King).
Today only ruins.

Achet-Aton (= "Horizon of Aton") was the name of the capital at the time of Akhenaten, its founder. It was his specially built city in Middle Egypt and here the god Aton was to find his highest veneration. But Achet-Aton ruled the kingdom of Egypt for only about 15 years, because the religious upheavals Akhenaten, currently King of Egypt, should not gain a foothold.

Fig. Left: Palace in Achet-Aton
(Drawing reconstruction; AS)


At the beginning of his sixth year of reign Akhenaten founded the new capital in Middle Egypt, a good 380 km north of Thebes. The city was hurriedly built from unfired adobe bricks, and four years later it was already inhabited. Aton could be worshiped here regardless of other gods. Achet-Aton owned various cult buildings for Aton. But not only temples for Aton were built, but also palaces for the king and queen. A new imperial cemetery in the mountains on the east side of the city was also created.

The city center: Königsstrasse, large Aton temple, small Aton temple, large pillar hall, palace area, bridge, royal villa, archives, magazines, police, military, offices and workshops. The city of Akhet-Aton was to last for an eternity, but barely two decades after it was founded, a few years after Akhenaten's death, it was given up forever. The departure came suddenly and unexpectedly, because there is evidence that Achetaton was built until the last day. Desert sands covered the ruins of the city for centuries and Akhenaten's residence fell into oblivion.

Almost nothing of the buildings from Amarna has been preserved. The walls of the temple were razed, as were those of the royal palace, and their existence is known today only through their excavators. »Talatats« are the few remains that have been preserved in the form of fragments of the walls of the former city. As well as a few remains of the palace

Thebes / ancient egyptian:Waset

At the heyday (New Kingdom) about 1 million people lived in Thebes.

The Egyptian name of this city: Waset (City of the what-scepter). This great city of Thebes in Upper Egypt was formed by the union of several villages: Karnak, Luxor and Waset. The west bank that forms the Theban necropolis (Deir el-Bahari, Deir el-Medineh, Medinet Habu, Colossi of Memnon, Ramesseum, Valley of the Kings) was called the western Waset.

Fig. Obelisk of Hatshepsut in the Karnak Temple
(Photo: Carmen Wolfram)


With the so-called Antefs (kings of the Middle Kingdom) began the rise of Thebes, which became the capital of the new state of the Middle Kingdom after the reunification of Egypt by Mentuhotep. Amun owed his rise from the deity of Thebes to the god of the empire to the kings of the following 12th dynasty.

At the time of the Hyksos (foreign rulers) invasion during the second interim period, i.e. before the beginning of the New Kingdom, Thebes was again downgraded to the rank of a Gau capital. This was to change when the capable princes of Thebes, above all Ahmose, conquered the Egyptian empire back and thus restored unity. The influence of the city of Thebes increased enormously from then on from the 18th dynasty. If the Ramessids later set up their residences in the delta for strategic reasons, Thebes remained the capital of the empire, which the rulers continued to decorate and expand.

The decline of the city of Thebes began after a millennium of rule when the Libyan kings succeeded the Tanite rulers. The two great temples of Luxor and Karnak testify to the past glory of the once glorious city.

Cairo, el-Kahira (non-pharaonic)

Cairo is by far the largest city on the African continent and has around 15 million inhabitants
Possibly live in the Nile metropolis more people now than in London or Tokyo. How many residents Cairo really has is a question that no one can exactly answer.

There are an estimated 50,000 people for every square kilometer in Cairo. The city overflows with people. Cairo is a city of extremes: poverty and wealth, widespread illiteracy and internet cafes, adobe houses and skyscrapers. There are surprises at every corner.


At first glance, the viewer may think of chaos rather than paradise, because the traffic is dense, the air pollution leaves a brownish haze on the horizon and it is also loud.
The world famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo is one of the city's most attractive attractions (for tourists) - with a collection of exhibits spanning 4,500 years of ancient Egyptian history, stretching from the Old Kingdom to Roman times.

Above: In the middle of Cairo. (Photo: Carmen Wolfram)

BOOK TIP

  • The wonder of Cairo: stories from the mother of all cities
  • By Leone Strizik
  • Publisher: Books on Demand
  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Book format: 17 x 22 x 2 cm
  • 1st edition on October 2, 2018
  • Language: German
  • ISBN-13: 978-3748108054
  • Order the book from Amazon
  • Order from Books On Demand

This book about the metropolis of Cairo is not a travel guide in the traditional sense, but a personal description of the architectural highlights of the city, its people and much more.
The author Leone Strizik has been to Cairo many times and in her book takes the readership on long walks in the metropolis. I more