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Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnon

The two faceless Colossi of Memnon, which rise magnificently from the plain roughly 18 meters above it, are the first monuments that visitors to the West Bank witness when they arrive.

The Colossi of Memnon are two enormous statues made of quartzite sandstone. They were first constructed in the Theban Necropolis, located to the west of the Nile River in the modern city of Luxor. Archaeologists believe that the stone was quarried at El-Gabal el-Ahmar, located near modern Cairo, and then transported 420 miles overland to the ancient city of Thebes.

Colossi of Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon (also known as el-Colossat or el-Salamat) are two monumental statues representing Amenhotep III

During the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, Pharaoh Amenhotep III ruled the country from 1386 until his death in 1349.
During his reign as king, Egypt enjoyed a period of great prosperity and made significant advancements in the arts; this period is referred to as the Old Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom in Egypt was a time of tremendous architectural advancement in Egypt; the majority of the monuments that were built during this time are still standing today.

They have maintained a lonely watch on the changing landscape, and few people are aware that these colossal sculptures were just a small part of the greatest temple ever erected in Egypt, Amenhotep III’s memorial temple, which is thought to have encompassed an area greater than Karnak.

Colossi of Memnon
Colossi of Memnon, surviving for 3400 years and known as an acoustic wonder of the ancient world.

The pharaoh’s memorial temple has all but vanished from the face of the earth. It was constructed mostly of mud bricks in the flood plain of the Nile, which was flooded on a cyclical basis.

The walls simply disintegrated once the city was abandoned and no longer maintained, and the stones were eventually utilized for the construction of monuments by pharaohs. The colossi are the only large-scale pieces of the temple that have remained; just a few small fragments of the temple have survived, and more are being discovered via excavation.

They were already popular tourist attractions during Graeco-Roman times when they were credited with the death of Memnon, the mythical African king who was slain by Achilles during the Trojan War. The statues were erected from a single block of stone and each weighed 1000 tonnes, making them one of the most impressive tourist attractions in the world.

Hearing the whistling sound generated by the northern statue at sunrise was considered lucky by the Greeks and Romans, who thought it was the scream of Memnon greeting his mother Eos, the goddess of dawn, and heralded it as a sign of prosperity.

She, on the other hand, would shed dewy tears as a result of his premature demise. It is likely that the colossus’ top body developed a fracture following the earthquake of 27 BC, which was the cause of all of this.

Colossi of Memnon
The Colossi of Memnon (Arabic: el-Colossat or es-Salamat)

During the baking process of the early light on the dew-soaked stone, sand particles would break off and reverberate inside the crevices of the structure. As a result of the restoration work carried out by Septimus Severus (193–211 AD) in the third century AD, Memnon’s sorrowful welcome could no longer be heard.

It was packed with hundreds of sculptures (including the massive dyad of Amenhotep III and Tiy that today dominates the central court of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), most of which were taken away by subsequent pharaohs after the temple was destroyed.

Colossi of Memnon, Colossi of Memnon
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

‘White sandstone, with gold throughout, a floor coated with silver, and doors covered with electrum,’ says a stele that is currently housed in the Egyptian Museum. The temple was made of white sandstone with gold throughout, a floor covered with silver, and doors covered with electrum.

Other sculptures and remnants of wall reliefs may be seen nearby in the Temple of Merneptah, which is well worth a visit. The colossi are located right off the road, just before you reach the Antiquities Inspectorate ticket office, and are often photographed and videotaped by a large number of visitors. A new archaeological initiative is working to preserve what little is left of the temple.

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About the author

Magdy Fattouh (Migo) is a creative content marketer and expert in search engines for over 5 years. He manifests his passion in his role as a Creative Content Writer especially in travel where he strives to evoke a strong sense of place in his write-ups.