The Colossi of Memnon (known to locals as el-Colossat, or es-Salamat) are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For 3,400 years they have sat in the Theban necropolis, across the River Nile from the city of Luxor.
History of the Colossi of Memnon
The original function of the Colossi was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep's memorial temple (or mortuary temple): a massive cult centre built during the pharaoh's lifetime, where he was worshipped as a god-on-earth both before and after his departure from this world.
In its day, this temple complex was the largest and most opulent in Egypt. Covering a total of 35 ha, even later rivals such as Ramesses II's Ramesseum or Ramesses III's Medinet Habu were unable to match it in area; even the Temple of Karnak, as it stood in Amenhotep's time, was smaller.
With the exception of the Colossi, however, very little remains today of Amenhotep's temple. Standing on the edge of the Nile floodplain, successive annual floods gnawed away at the foundations (a famous 1840s lithograph by David Roberts shows the Colossi surrounded by water) and it was not unknown for later rulers to dismantle and reuse portions of their predecessors' monuments.
The Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the early years of the 1st century, tells of an earthquake (in 27 BC) that shattered the northern colossus, collapsing it from the waist up. Following its rupture, this statue was then reputed to "sing" every morning at dawn: a light moaning or whistling, probably caused by rising temperatures and the evaporation of dew inside the porous rock.
The legend of the "Vocal Memnon", the luck that hearing it was reputed to bring, and the reputation of the statue's oracular powers, travelled the length of the known world, and a constant stream of visitors, including several Roman Emperors, came to marvel at the statues.
The mysterious vocalisations of the broken colossus ceased in 199 AD, when Emperor Septimius Severus, in an attempt to curry favour with the oracle, reassembled the two shattered halves.
Memnon was a hero of the Trojan War, a King of Ethiopia who led his armies from Africa into Asia Minor to help defend the beleaguered city but was ultimately slain by Achilles. Whether associating the Colossi with his name was just whimsy or wishful thinking on the part of the Greeks – they generally referred to the entire Theban Necropolis as the "Memnonium" – the name has remained in common use for the past 2000 years.
What to See at the Colossi of Memnon
The twin statues depict Amenhotep III (fl. 14th century BC) in a seated position. his hands resting on his knees and his gaze turned eastward toward the river and the rising sun.
Two shorter figures are carved into the front throne alongside his legs: these are his wife Tiy and mother Mutemwia. The side panels depict the Nile god Hapy.
The statues are made from blocks of quartzite sandstone which was quarried at either Giza (near modern-day Cairo) or Gebel el-Silsileh (60 km north of Aswan). Including the stone platforms on which they stand, they reach a towering 18 meters (approx. 60 ft) in height.
Quick Facts on the Colossi of Memnon
|Names:||Colossi of Memnon|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||25.720514° N, 32.610261° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Colossi of Memnon|
- Wikipedia under GFDL
- Norbert C. Brockman, Encyclopedia of Sacred Places (Oxford University Press, 1998).
Map of the Colossi of Memnon, Luxor
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Colossi of Memnon. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.