Ancient Memphis: Human-induced Impact Assessment

HeritageForAll Initiative – Global Collaboration Program (2018)

By Mr. Mohamed Badry & Mr. Mohamed Abdallah Hassan

Amer, M. & Hassan, M. (2014). Ancient Memphis: Human-induced Impact Assessment. the Joint Master in Heritage Conservation and Site Management / Module: Heritage-Impact Assessment, BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg.


Mit Rahina is considered an adequate archaeological site for implementing Heritage Impact Assessment methodology providing example of Human-induced Impact on the archaeological sites. Although the site is included in the list of World Heritage Sites “Memphis and its Necropolis” but actually, UNESCO is so interested of the Giza plateau site only and neglected other parts from Saqqara to Dahshur.

Our search used archaeological and Egyptological-related Libraries, internet sources and besides, oral sources that are done within a field trip interviewing the site inspector Mr. Mohamed Fathy Mansour, Mit Rahina Inspectorate register, on Thursday, 16th January 2014 that he informatively supported. The visitation was evaluated the ground cover and potential for buried archaeological materials as well as noticing any standing or obtrusive archaeological and historical features.

There are more archaeological, historical and Egyptology studies about the site conducted by the British archaeologist W. M. Flinders Petrie, David G. Jeffrey, and Lisa Giddy…etc. This research will assess the current situation of Mit Rahina, open air museum and its surrounding survived archaeological components which have been affected by the human-induced impact then it will provide Heritage Impact assessment procedures.

Initially, it will describe the current or proposed changes and then identify the threats on the site in order to analyze its potential impacts. Consequently, it will suggest some mitigation measures.

Mit Rahina: Assessing Historcal Context


An ancient city Memphis has a distinguished location. It is considered the first political capital. This historical city lies originally on the western bank of the Nile River that the current site of Mit Rahina village where is about twenty three kilometers away south of modern Cairo. While it should be noticed that the original location of an ancient town is delivered on the modern villages to the eastern side of the Saqqara necropolis such as Aziziya, Ezbet Gabri, An ancient city Memphis has a distinguished location. It is considered the first political capital. This historical city lies originally on the western bank of the Nile River that the current site of Mit Rahina village where is about twenty three kilometers away south of modern Cairo. While it should be noticed that the original location of an ancient town is delivered on the modern villages to the eastern side of the Saqqara necropolis such as Aziziya, Ezbet Gabri, Mit Rahina, Bedrashein, and Shinbab (David G. Jeffreys 2001:373; J. Baines and J. Malek 2000:134).

Survey of the Original Location of Mit Rahina
Location of Mit Rahina (B. PORTER and R. L. B. MOSS 1994)

Site History

After the fifth century B.C, the earliest capital Memphis was mentioned by the classical writers and historians such as Herodotus, Strabo and Diodorus. Memphis was founded, within the beginnings of the old kingdom, by King Hor-Aha (or probably King Menes (Narmer) during the first dynasty (3000 – 2920 B.C).

The king Narmer had chosen this location as the capital of Egypt after the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. So, according to some scholars, Memphis was the center of an ancient civilization, the centralized government, and also the trade spot. It locates near the apex of the Delta controlling all major routes for internal trade as well as foreign commerce. And then, during the Middle kingdom especially during the reign of King Amenhotep II that it remained as a religious and commercial center.

In the New kingdom, it was the principal seat of the government, as well as a training camp of the Egyptian military forces and a cosmopolitan river port. So, the most of monuments, which excavated in Mit Rahina, come back to the New Kingdom. For the divine Ptah of Memphis, King Amenhotep IV (known as Akhenaten, the heretical king) builds a temple at Memphis for the worship of the solar disk god Aten. Also, King Ramses II has a lot of structures in the site (David G. Jeffreys 2001:373; J. Kamil 1985: 26, 27, 30).

During the Late period, it was also a trade center and a refuge. “It was as a place of refuge. During the reign of King Apries, Jewish exiles from Jerusalem were received there. Fifty years later, during the reign of King Amasis, Ionian and Carian mercenaries and refugees from Babylon were settled in special quarters. Memphis had become Egypt’s most cosmopolitan city. It combined a strong local identity based on deep-rooted traditions with a remarkable absorptive capacity to tolerate other people’ diverse beliefs and practices.

When the Ptolemies started to found their new capital Alexandria, they remained on an earliest capital Memphis that stills as a religious capital. “According to Diodorus, the coronation rituals were still erect at the temple of god Ptah till the reign of King Ptolemy VIII, about 140 B.C.”

The actual destruction of the original Memphis started with the latter period of the Roman occupation of Egypt (30 B.C. – 640 A.D.). Romans used cement as a building material while many of the monuments, built of limestone, were destroyed and burned for lime content. Then, with the edict of Emperor Theodosius (395 A.D.), when Christianity was declared to be the official religion, paganism was actively forbidden. So, Memphis did not except from the wave of destruction that swept over the land that all of walls were plastered over and monuments converted into Christian monasteries and churches.

This greatest city neglected so much after the Arab conquest of Egypt. Arabs also complete the destruction activities, after the Roman period, especially with the founding of the Fatimid capital Cairo in 969 A.D.; Memphis was used as a quarry. Blocks of granite, marble and Egyptian alabaster were s tripped from surviving monument (J. Kamil 1985:27; David G. Jeffreys 2001:373).

The Archaeological Elements of the Site:

The Museum of the Colossal Statue of King Ramses II

The Colossal Statue of King Ramses II (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)
The Map of the Archaeological Site (J. Baines and J. Malek 2000:136)

In the garden of the museum compound, there are numerous masterpieces such as the uninscribed alabaster sphinx, the inscribed pedestal, granite sarcophagus, besides other vessels.

Alabaster Sphinx of King Amenemhat II (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)
Garden of Mit Rahina, Open Air Museum (© Mohamed Badry 2014)

The Great Temple of God Ptah

The Temple of Sycamore goddess Hathor

Temple of Goddess Hathor (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

The Tiny Chapel of King Seti I

The Tiny Chapel of King Seti I (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

The Embalming House of Apis Bull lies to the southwestern corner of the enclosure wall of the main temple of god Ptah.

Assessing Values of the Site

Mit Rahina is a part of the UNESCO world heritage site “Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur” (UNESCO (a)). It has been inscribed in 1979 under the criteria (I), (III), and (VI) (UNESCO (b)).[1] An ancient town Memphis (Mit Rahina) is considered an original unit with temples, palaces, houses and estates, industrial areas, artisan communities, army training camp and riverine port. It had religious, political and economic significances along the history.

The Core Zone of WHS “Memphis and its Necropolis” (

Mit Rahina had a religious role which was related to worship of all the gods, Ptah, the god of creative force, the goddess Hathor, the mother goddess as she skulled all the kings, and Apis, the bull god.

This ancient town had a political entity that it was “the first sovereign of the unified Egyptian kingdom, Menes or Narmer, ordered the construction of a new capital in the area around the Nile Delta, the City of Menes, Mennufer” which to be considered the mark of the boundary among Upper and Lower Egypt (UNESCO (a); Margaret R. Bunson 2002:236; AERAGRAM 2012:2). During the late period, “It was as a place of refuge. Memphis had become Egypt’s most cosmopolitan city. It combined a strong local identity based on deep-rooted traditions with a remarkable absorptive capacity to tolerate other people’ diverse beliefs and practices.

Mit Rahina was the trades spot where locates near the apex of the Delta controlling all major routes for internal trade as well as foreign commerce. “Memphis was visited by merchants and traders”. (David G. Jeffreys 2001:373; J. Kamel 1985:26)

Description of Current or Proposed Change

The actual situation of the site can be defined through the identifying of the threats, the deteriorations of its architectural elements and the developments surrounding an archaeological area. The site has been affected by many factors such as the intensified irrigation water, the illegal urban development, tourism and its facilities pressure, finally the lack of maintenance and conservation.

The current situation of the temples of god Ptah and goddess Hathor are in a worst condition as a result of the intensified irrigation of the surrounding cultivated fields (ECHO). The temple of god Ptah is partly covered by irrigation water and sewage water which coming from the surrounding illegal settlements. The temple of Goddess Hathor has been affected by rising of the irrigation water and the high percentage of salinity which can be seen on the base-level soil and the stone of the pillars.

The current archaeological site hasn’t legal boundaries or limits, so Kom El-Fakhry and Kom El-Rabi’ are considered situating close to the visual boundaries of the site. These areas are estimated by the archaeological expeditions that may have archaeological findings related to the temple of goddess Hathor but unfortunately, the site, in the last two decades, has been affected by huge encroachment (the un-planning settlements constructed upon the hill).

Badly, the embalming house of Apis bull is affected from the sewage water which coming from the frontal houses and an inappropriate way of maintenance and preservation while the open air museum is in a good statement of conservation; however, there are slightly negative impacts from the tourism facilities. The tiny chapel of King Seti I is in a well preserved condition.

Identifying the Potential Impacts of the Threats on the Site

The Impact of Intensified Irrigation Water:

Many of the Egyptian archaeological sites are harmed from the bad use of the irrigation cycles because the Egyptian farmers prefer the flood irrigation system, the adverse impact of the intensified irrigation water near the archaeological sites can be seen in the deterioration in the base-level soil of the site. Moreover, it can increase the problem of salinization and provide the humidity. All these factors can damage the monuments within the site.

Impact of the Intensified Irrigation Water in the Base-level Soil (

Salinization Closing to the Archaeological Component (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)
The Damped Soil of Open Air Museum (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

In particularly, Mit Rahina is suffered from the flooding irrigation. The observation of that can be clearly felt on the damped soil of open air museum, the tiny chapel of King Seti I has been harmfully affected by the water which is obviously still remaining in the site.

The Ramses II’s palace is partly covered by water. The temple of god Ptah, where considered the most important architectural component of the site, is unfortunately strongly damaged by the irrigation water. The embalming house of Apis is also suffered. All of these architectural elements of the site can be broken or damaged due to this adverse impact and these valuable elements are irreversible.

As result of this threat, the growth of the grasses is highly seen in the site especially on the architectural elements such as the embalming house, the Ramses II’s property, and also the tiny chapel of King Seti I.

The Growth of the Grasses on the Architectural Elements of the Ramses II’s Palace (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

The Impact of Tourism and its Facilities Pressure

Although tourism is considered the high important sector for the Egyptian economic, it has a high negative impact on the fragile monuments that has been noticed and was discussed on a large scale by UNESCO, the European Union, and the World Tourism Organization (Z. Hawas).

The impacts of tourism, on the site of Mit Rahina, are

  • The affection of the visual pollution resulted from the establishment of wooden bazaars inside the site which can disturb the satisfaction of the visitors
The Wooden Bazaars in Mit Rahina, Open Air Museum (
  • The humidity resulted from a high carrying capacity
  • Stone deteriorations resulted from touching the archaeological masterpieces
Tourists are taking Photo behind the New Kingdom Sarcophagus (

This delicate archaeological site has been affected by the increasing of tourism in Egypt and by providing tourism facilities and amenities.

The Impact of Illegal Urban Development

One of the features of the population growth in Egypt is the un-planning and illegal settlements or inappropriate constructions inside or near the archaeological sites that impairing the authenticity and culture significance. The site has been suffered by these illegal buildings. During the 25th January Revolution, the increasing of illegal constructions was highly occurred in the archeological sites in Egypt generally and in Mit Rahina particularly due to the lack of security system and law implementation. From the adverse impact of the revolution, the enclosure wall (Newly constructed fence) of Mit Rahina (Open Air Museum) was partly broken and some people do huge encroachments inside the main monumental site.

This location has been dramatically deteriorated from

  • The visual pollution due to the undecorated and unorganized buildings
  • The sewage water system, coming from the frontal settlements, can affect the soil of the level base, and intensifying the growth of the grasses in the main monuments.
  • The accumulated solid wastes left in the site can be occurred a burn in the site.
An Encroachment on Kom el-Rabi’ (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)
The Accumulated Solid Waste, the Embalming House (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

The Impact of the Lack of Maintenance and Conservation

The site has been badly damaged due to the lack of maintenance and conservation which impacting durability and heritage value of the archaeological elements and also, can lead to more deterioration, damages, disfigurement that the reliefs, inscriptions, and scenes will be vanished day by day.

An Inappropriate way of Conservation, the Tiny Chapel of King Seti I (© Mohamed Badry, 2014)

Analyzing and Evaluating the Impacts

Mit Rahina is considered very high value site that was disaggregated as a part of the great World Heritage Site (WHS) “Memphis and its Necropolis”. So, the impacts of the identified threats are considered as adverse direct impacts on the site itself while others create an indirect adverse impact.

The Impact of Intensified Irrigation Water

(© Researchers, 2014)

The irrigation system has a large impact on the site which is considered direct physical adverse impact which should be completely avoided. This impact was a result of the intensification of using the flood regime, which may consequently affect in the groundwater pollution as result of high use of pesticides and fertilizers (T.C. Dougherty and A.W. Hall HR Wallingford 1995:47).

The site could be harmfully damaged by the continuous uncontrolled irrigation system that some monuments are covered by the soil like the temple of King Ramses II. The negative impact can be resulted in deterioration of the stones because of the high percentage of the humidity – like the embalming house of Apis bull and some affected masterpieces in open air museum – and salinity – such as the temple of Goddess Hathor – in the soil (T.C. Dougherty and A.W. Hall HR Wallingford 1995:57).

The flooding irrigation has been caused of raising the grasses which probably cover some archaeological remains – it can release some inscription, reliefs, and scenes – and effect on the visual integrity that has a negative effect on the experience and satisfaction of the visitors.

The Impact of Tourism and its Facilities Pressure

(© Researchers, 2014)

Actually, the world heritage sites are world widely considered the physical source of tourism industry which, in the same time, represents high pressure on the sustainability of these heritage sites. So, tourism has direct physical adverse impact on the site of Mit Rahina but this could be controlled and avoid by implementing an adequate visitor management plan.

Mit Rahina has slightly negative impact produced by establishing bazaars, inside the main open air museum, which cause high capacity at the same place in the short time. So, these positions represent a physical visual impact on the monuments and also affect visitor satisfaction because it creates a visual pollution. Moreover, High carrying capacity creates humidity and besides, the lack of tourist’s awareness of the site values is resulted in touching and sitting on the monuments.

The Impact of the Illegal Urban Development

(© Researchers, 2014)

The impact of illegal urban development is considered a direct adverse impact on the site. So, it is absolutely high impact and unacceptable. This site was badly influenced by this inducement which clearly produced negative physical and visual effects on it. Resulted in increasing of the population surrounding and extremely near to the historical site, a huge impact from the waste and the un-planning sewage system affected the monuments.

These illegal settlements were actually established on the extension of the archaeological site which may have some unexcavated archaeological remains and this is considered unacceptable in archaeological site as it threats the future of the excavations and the scientific research of the archaeology science.

Because of the unorganized settlements, the government does not provide them with the infrastructure services such as the waste transferring or the planning of a sewage system so the local community in these settlements was obligated to leave their waste near the site and sometime, throw it inside the site itself. The un-planning sewage system in Mit Rahina is represented as a severe impact that it is due to the intensified growth of the grasses which partly cover the archaeological components.

This adverse effect has a high influence on the site’s visual impact because these buildings were constructed without any consideration to the concept of preserving the site’s authenticity view. These impacts have continually affected the main fabrics which could create stone cracks, besides, the gradual vanishing of some inscriptions, scenes and reliefs from the surface of the stone.

The Impact of the Lack of Maintenance and Conservation

(© Researchers, 2014)

An inappropriate way of conservation may cause the cracks in some parts of architectural components. This impact is considered a negative direct physical effect on the monumental elements while it is an acceptable with mitigation measures.

Due to the lack of the management system, there is not supervision and monitoring indicators on the site’s labors who are originally peasants, so they cuts the grasses without giving high attention to the values of the monuments and can easily break the unpredicted antiquities.

This location has been gradually affected from

  • Using of early traditional ways of lessening the growth of the grasses on the archaeological elements,
  • Not repairing the broken glass which protect the Stela,
  • Using cement instead of traditional plaster in the conservation of the archaeological elements.

Developing Mitigation Measures

The adverse pressures, on this very high value site, need more mitigation measures among avoidance measures – which will concern on preventive measures to avoid impact totally by removing the source of threat – and reduction measures.

The Intensified Irrigation Water

Flood regime can be change into a low-flow irrigation system such as drip, Spray, and better spray irrigation which will offer the best opportunities to lessen the effect. So, the high amount of drainage water can be reduced and consequently, the percentage of salinity and humidity will be decreased, besides that; the erosion may be stopped (H. Perlman 2014;T.C. Dougherty and A.W. Hall HR Wallingford 1995:47,59).

The administrative committee tries to identify the legal site boundaries and also the distance between these and the cultivated lands, which are considered the source of threat. So, this committee will establish the mobile elements to prevent totally the effect of irrigation water, besides that; it will do previously the suction process for the saved irrigation water beneath the archaeological elements.

The Mit Rahina municipality recommends the resident peasants or farmers to cultivate the agriculture productions which are needed to a low-flow irrigation system such as fruits and vegetables.

Tourism and its Facilities Pressure

Tourism has more pressures on the site through its facilities such as the carrying capacity of the visitors and the inappropriate wooden bazaars. So, the threat may be decrease through the reduction measures by these following ways:

  • Controlling the number and timing of the visitors inside the site.
  • Transferring the wooden bazaars to other appropriate locations where are near to the site.
  • Developing the variety of the site attractions to encourage tourists – who are looking for new experience – to extend their stays.
  • Raising the magnitude of the effective visitor education, or interpretation, strategy in order to minimize the impacts of tourism through guiding the visitor behavior.

The Illegal Urban Development

The majority of the archaeological elements suffered from the threat’s impacts which lead to suggest some mitigation measures that there are two options

Option (A): Preventing inappropriate or illegal developments through the enforcement of zoning regulations in the village of Mit Rahina; establishing suitable infrastructure for the current buildings to prevent the impact of sewage and waste, and then, decorate the façade of these buildings in order to match with the site harmony.

Option (B): Using an avoidance measures within transferring these illegal settlements to other new cities.

The Lack of Maintenance and Conservation

This threat has high pressure on the sustainability situation of the archaeological components, so this lead to suggest using the reduction measures such as conserving the current damaged areas or the bad conserved architectural elements. Moreover, the site should request the assistance of the advisor bodies – the conservation institutions and organizations – such as ICCROM, ICOMOS …etc. which will assist the site from two sides the conservation methodology and the scientific side through organizing workshops or training courses for the site crew.


In conclusion, after providing HIA for Mit- Rahina, the site is considered of a high value while, unfortunately, it is subjected under pressures and threats which have potential adverse impact on the sustainability of the site. It is important to prioritize the threats and their impact on the site in order to identify the areas of potential needs of intervention and assistance.

According to the previous analysis and evaluation of impacts, the threat of intensified irrigation water and its impacts are highly considered as the first priority to deal with it. The illegal development could be the second potential impact to be taken in consideration. The lack of maintenance and conservation is of high consideration and it could be placed after the previous impact. Last but not least, the impact of tourism and its facilities pressure can be considered the least potential impact on the site.

The site is originally suffered from the non-formal boundaries which, no doubt, could raise the magnitude of encroachments between the illegal development and the vandalism. There no doubt that the current site faces the resident encroachments which are represented in the settlement. There are high numbers of people who lives in these houses and it is hard for the government to transfer that community or set more pressure upon their socio- economic life by removing them into rural area far from their businesses. By the way, a clear boundaries and buffer zone with fences, it will prevent any more engrossment

Finally, the search recommends to form an Executive Committee for the site, its main responsibility is to take into account Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) provided in this document. Moreover, they will be responsible for providing the management plan for sustainability of this great archaeological site within identifying the core zones and the buffer zone that setting the legal frame of the site. It is highly suggested that the management plan focuses on applying the mitigation measures by creating objectives related to the safeguarding of the site. It is also essential to establish monitoring and framework indicators for securing the implementation of the management plan.

[1] (i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; (iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; (vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria).


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  • “Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur”, UNESCO (a), [Online], Available: [24th June 2014]
  • The Criteria for Selection”, UNESCO (b), [Online], Available: [24th June 2014]
  • Baines, J. and Malek, J. (2000), Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt, New York
  • Bunson, Margaret R. (2002), Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, New York
  • Dougherty, T.C. and Hall HR Wallingford, A.W. (1995), Environmental Impact Assessment of Irrigation and Drainage Projects, [Online], Available: [26th June 2014]
  • Hawas, Z., “Conservation of Egyptian Monuments: The SCA Program for Site Management”, The Getty Conservation Institute, [Online], Available: [26th June 2014]
  • Jeffreys, David G. (2001), “Memphis”, in Redford, D.B. (ed), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. II, Cairo
  • Kamil, J. (1985), “Ancient Memphis: Archaeologists Revive Interest in a Famous Egyptian Site”, in Archaeology, vol. 38, n. 4, Archaeological Institute of America
  • Perlman, H. (2014), “Irrigation techniques”, The USGS Water Science School, [Online], Available:, [2nd July 2014]
  • Porter, B. and Moss, R. L. B. (1994), Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, vol. III-2.2, Oxford.

One thought on “Ancient Memphis: Human-induced Impact Assessment

  1. Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!


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