When people think of "Memphis", they probably don't associate the city with Ancient Egypt. It's a little-known fact that Memphis was named after the capital city of one of Ancient Egypt's districts (located on the Nile River); in the US, Memphis is planted right along the Nile of America (the Mighty Mississippi). Even though Memphis has forged a reputation of its own, especially in America, it's still very reverent to its historical namesake. For a totally unexpected adventure through Memphis, take a tour of these Egyptian-themed spots and see how they've incorporated the bluff city's bluesy, southern personality along the way!
Ancient Memphis was home to some of the earliest known pyramids in Egypt, so it makes sense that Memphis would have a pyramid of its own. Built to be a sports and entertainment venue in the 1990s, the original plans featured three pyramids, with the main building being two-thirds the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza; the flanking structures were expected to be two-thirds that size. Only the first pyramid was built, but it's still quite impressive: it's the 10th largest pyramid in the world!
Of course, since this is a pyramid in Memphis, it's got a little bit of American flair. It now houses the world's largest Bass Pro Shops, which is more like an immersive outdoor-themed experience than a retail store. It has a hotel called The Big Cypress Lodge, aquariums with gators and nearly 2,000 fish, a restaurant, a 13-lane bowling alley, museum exhibits on waterfowl hunting and an archery range. As an added bonus, the store includes a glass lookout deck at the top of the pyramid, which you reach via a 28-story-tall freestanding elevator. Even if you're not in need of outdoor gear, a trip here could easily turn into a fun-filled, all-day adventure.
The Memphis Zoo is one of the country's favorite zoos. As its tribute to Memphis’ international ties, it has some cool Egyptian flair throughout. The exterior of the building’s entrance features Egyptian themes and motifs – and it makes for a killer photo op! There's an African Veldt exhibit with elephants, giraffes, bongos, gazelles, ostriches, zebras, lions and more. Plus, Primate Canyon features bonobos, gorillas and baboons. The zoo is also home to one of the best hippo habitats in the country! Check out the flamingos, Nile crocs and Splish and Binti – the zoo's two resident female hippos.
For some Ancient Egyptian inspiration, head to the Brooks Museum of Art. It's the oldest and largest art museum in the state and has plenty of stuff on display for the Egyptophile. Inside, you can view a great collection of African art from various regions and from throughout history, along with some awesome ancient objects. Hellenistic, Greco-Roman and, of course, Egyptian artifacts are on display. Carvings, fragments of painted walls, statues of Horus and other gods, mummy masks and panels from a sarcophagus can all be seen here.
There's also the equally stellar Art Museum at the University of Memphis. In addition to displaying really cool rotating exhibits, the museum’s permanent collection from the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology is absolutely incredible. The mummies are the highlight, but there are dozens of other Ancient Egyptian objects that are beautifully preserved and displayed. The museum also has an African collection featuring pieces from the Sub-Sahara region and space for rotating exhibits as well.
While you're at the University of Memphis, it's hard to miss the campus's giant statue of Ramesses II. The recreation of the real-life Colossus of Ramesses is 25 feet tall and made of fiberglass; it makes for some pretty great photos. It actually used to stand in front of the large pyramid in Downtown Memphis but was moved to the school when the Bass Pro Shops opened. Fun fact: the Ramesses II was built with special permission from the Egyptian government!
As you explore Memphis' connection to Ancient Egypt, you'll get a taste for the city's special culture, history, and atmosphere along the way. It's fascinating to see how some of the city's best-known attractions have found ways to pay tribute to the city’s ancient inspiration in their own individual ways.