Thebes, an ancient city and capital of Egypt, and the oldest city in the world, was situated in Upper Egypt, on both sides of the Nile, about two hundred and sixty miles south of Cairo. Thebes is "the city of a hundred gates," the theme and admiration of ancient poets and historians, and the wonder of travelers—"that venerable city," in the language of Dr. Pocoke, "the date of whose destruction is older than the foundation of other cities, and the extent of whose ruins, and the immensity of whose colossal fragments still offer so many astonishing objects, that one is riveted to the spot, unable to decide whither to direct the step, or fix the attention." These ruins extend about eight miles along the Nile, from each bank to the sides of the enclosing mountains, and describe a circuit of twenty-seven miles. The most remarkable objects on the eastern side are the temples of Carnac and Luxor; and on the western side are the Memnonium or palace of Memnon, two colossal statues, the sepulchres of the kings, and the temple of Medinet Abu. The glory of Thebes belongs to a period prior to the commencement of authentic history. It is recorded only in the dim lights of poetry and tradition, which might be suspected of fable, did not such mighty witnesses remain to attest their truth. Strabo and Diodorus Siculus described Thebes under the name of Diospolis (the city of God), and gave such magnificent descriptions of its monuments as caused the fidelity of those writers to be called in question, till the observations of modern travelers proved their accounts to have fallen short of the reality. At the time of the Persian invasion under Cambyses, Memphis had supplanted Thebes; and the Ptolemys afterwards removed the seat of empire to Alexandria. At present, its site presents only a few scattered villages, consisting of miserable cottages built in the courts of the temples. The ancient structures, however, remain in a state of wonderful preservation. Almost the whole extent of eight miles along the river is covered with magnificent portals, obelisks decorated with most beautiful sculptures, forests of columns, and long avenues of sphynxes and colossal statues. The most remarkable monuments, the ruins of which remain, are the temples of Carnac, Luxor, the Memnonium or temple of Memnon, and the temple of Medinet Abu. The tomb of Osymandyas, the temple of Iris, the Labyrinth, and the Catacombs lie on the western side of the Nile. In the interior of the mountains which rise behind these monuments, are found objects less imposing and magnificent indeed, but not less interesting—the tombs of the kings of Thebes. Several of these were opened by Belzoni, and were found in great preservation, with mummies in the sarcophagi, as well as dispersed through the chambers.

Such was ancient Thebes—a city so populous that, according to ancient writers, in times of war 10,000 soldiers issued from each of her hundred gates, forming an army of 1,000,000 men. That these magnificent ruins are the remains of "the city of an hundred gates,"—"the earliest capital in the world," cannot be doubted. According to the measurements made by the French, their distance from the sea on the north, is 680,000 metres (850 miles), and from Elephantine on the south, 180,000 metres (225 miles)—corresponding exactly with the 6,800 and 1,800 stadia of Herodotus. The circumference of the ruins is about 15,000 metres (17½ miles), agreeing with the 140 stadia given by Diodorus as the circumference of Thebes. The origin of the name of this celebrated city, as well as the date of its foundation, is unknown. According to Champollion, who deciphered many of the inscriptions on these ruins, the Egyptian name was Thbaki-antepi-Amoun (City of the Most High), of which the No-Ammon of the Hebrews and Diospolis of the Greeks are mere translations; Thebæ, of the Greeks is also perhaps derived from the Egyptian Thbaki (the city).