Colossi of Memnon are the two magnificent statues representing Amenhotep III. This place is also known as el-Colossat or el-Sanamat. The king Amenhotep III reigned Egypt from 1386-1353 BCE. The statues show the king seated on a throne.
The throne displays symbolic engravings and images of his mother, wife and god Hapi. Architects built these statues to safeguard the mortuary temple of the king. However, today very little of the mortuary temple remains apart from the Colossi of Memnon.
Location of Colossi of Memnon
The twin statues show Amenhotep III in a seated position. The king’s hands rest on his knees, and he gazes eastwards towards the river. The front throne has two other figures carved into it. The two shorter figures are the king’s wife “Tiye” and mother “Mutemwiya”. Moreover, the thrones side panels depict the Nile god Hapi.
Both of the figures rise 60ft high and weigh 720 tons each. Workers carved these statues from single blocks of sandstone. Worth noting that the sculptures constitute blocks made of quartzite sandstone. Then, those workers quarried the blocks at el-Gabal el-Ahmar (near modern-day Cairo). Later, labours transported them 675 km overland to Thebes (Luxor).
The question of how the blocks got transported overland remains unanswered. Historians believed that the stones were too heavy to be transported upstream the Nile. Perhaps labours pushed the blocks on sledges the same way they hauled the rocks for the Pyramids in Giza.
The stone platforms on which the statute stands themselves rise to 13 feet. The two figures are about 15 metres apart.
The purpose of the Colossi of Memnon
Initially, these giant statues were to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep’s memorial temple. This temple was a massive construction that the ancient Egyptians built during the king’s reign. In this temple, the ancient Egyptians worshipped him as a god-on-earth before and after his demise.
The complex stood to be the largest and most grand mortuary temple in Ancient Egypt. It covered a vast space of 35 hectares. Even later rivals like Ramesses II‘s Ramesseum or Medinet Habu failed to match its area. Moreover, even the grand Temple of Karnak measured smaller as compared to the Amenhotep’s mortuary.
Amenhotep III, also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, was the ninth ruler of the eighteenth dynasty. He ruled Egypt from 1386 to 1349 BC. After the demise of his father, Thutmose IV, the king took over Egypt. As a result, the Pharaoh’s reign witnessed unseen prosperity and splendour.
During the rule of Amenhotep III, Egypt reached its peak of artistic and international power. After his demise, his son ruled as Amenhotep IV. Later, he changed his royal name to Akhenaten. The great king has the most surviving statues of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Archaeologists found over 250 of his figures and could identify them. Through these statues, the pharaoh could depict his entire reign.
Colossi of Memnon in Modern Days
Unfortunately, nature has pretty affected both the statues. The features of the structures above the waist are almost unrecognisable. The southern sculpture consists of a single piece of stone. However, the northern figure shows a large extensive crack. It stretches in the lower half and above the waist, composed of five tiers of stone.
The upper levels constitute a different type of sandstone. That is the result of a reconstruction attempt. William de Wiveleslie Abney attributed it to Septimus Severus. Historians believe that the statues were initially identical to each other. However, inscriptions and minor art may have shown variation.
Although the ancient Egyptians constructed the colossi to guard the Amenhotep IIIs mortuary complex, unfortunately, excluding the Colossi, very little remains today of the temple. The reason is that the temple was standing on the edge of the Nile floodplain. Hence, subsequent annual flooding broke away its foundation slowly.
Lithography from the 1840s by David Roberts showed the Colossi surrounded by water. Later rulers might also have secured portions of the monuments to build new structures.
Destruction of the complex
Soon after the completion of the temple complex, it witnessed destruction by an earthquake. The Armenian Institute of Seismology dated it around 1200 BCE. As a result of this earthquake, it left only the two giant Colossi at the entrance standing. These statutes saw subsequent destruction by an earthquake in 27 BCE. It later saw repair work partly by the Roman authorities.
The block used by the Roman engineers might source from Edfu. Unfortunately, the 1200 BCE earthquake also left many cracks in the ground. Consequently, it led to the burial of many new statues. These statues have been subject to extensive restoration led by Hourig Sourouzian.
At the far end of the yard, a rectangular temple complex surrounded by columns. The Armenian archaeologist revealed that the complex consisted of a peristyle courtyard. Till now, archaeologists have reconstructed four of the statues. Eight of them are waiting for a re-erection.
Sounds Heard from the Colossi of Memnon
In 27 BCE, a large earthquake destroyed the northern colossus. It collapsed from the waist up and cracked the lower half. People believed that after its rupture, the remaining lower half of the statue ‘sang.’ This usually happened on various occasions- always within an hour of sunrise, usually around dawn.
The sound became reported most often in February or March. However, that could be a reflection of the tourist season. The earliest report of the sound is that of a Greek historian Strabo. He reported having heard the sound during a visit in 20 BCE. However, by that time, the sound was already well-known.
The descriptions varied. Strabo reported the music to sound ‘like a blow.’ Whereas Pausanias compared it to the ‘string of a lyre breaking.’ However, people also described it as striking brass or whistling. Additionally, the statue’s base has about 90 inscriptions from tourists reporting whether they heard the sound or not.
Later a legend of the Vocal Memnon erupted. People believed that the sound brought luck. In accordance, it led to a constant stream of visitors who came to marvel at the Colossi of Memnon.
The Colossi of Memnon is the only surviving relic from the grand temple of Amenhotep III. However, it allows people to marvel at the incredible history and power of the king. Tourists to date visit the Colossi to witness the power and tales of the grand statues.