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Colossi of Memnon

The Colossi of Memnon are two guardian statues of pharaoh Amenhotep III. They are located where once was the Pharaoh's mortuary temple, in Luxor, ancient Thebes, capital of the Ancient Kingdom. The colossi were ordered by Amenhotep III to guard his mortuary temple, which unfortunately no longer exists, but the statues remain there as a reminder of what used to be a magnificent place.

Who was Amenhotep III?

Amenhotep III was the son of Tutmosis IV and his mother was a secondary wife, but he ascended the throne as a boy and led Egypt for almost 40 years in the 14th century BC. He was a beloved king whose reign was marked by prosperity and peace, except for some revolts in the Nile delta. It is said he also stimulated arts. He definitely focused on diplomacy and carried out several exchanges, such as Egyptian gold for horses and semiprecious stones from Asia. The pharaoh engaged in a bold construction program that included his mortuary temple and a major temple in Nubia that was supposed to be larger than Karnak, but which succumbed either due to the floods of the Nile or because of the destruction of subsequent rulers and invaders. Yet Amenhotep III also built parts of the temples of Luxor and Karnak, and some buildings in Memphis. Even though he was a good king, unfortunately, his son Akhenaton was not as successful as his father’s.

The legend of the Colossi of Memnon

Even though the statues belonged to King Amenhotep III, the name Colossi of Memnon have nothing to do with it. In fact, it started with a legend many centuries later. Memnon was a hero in the Trojan War killed by Achilles. But he was not an ordinary man, he was the son of the goddess Eos, the Goddess of the Dawn. Eos was desolated to learn about her son’s death, so she begged the gods to allow him to visit her at least once a day. Her wish was granted and Memnon started to visit her every morning during the first rays of sun. 

During the Greek occupation in Egypt, a quake in 27 B.C. left a crack in the statues, and as consequence the passage of morning winds through the crack produced a sound similar to a whistle or whine. It did not take long until people think that is was Memnon calling his mom. For this reason, many thought that the statues brought good luck and that they had mystical powers similar to that of an oracle. They started to pray to the monuments and make requests. On the other hand, some more centuries later, such story was not seen with good eyes and the Colossi of Memnon were vandalized over many years by Muslims and Christians who saw them as a pagan symbol. 

What are the characteristics of the Colossi of Memnon?

The colossi are about 23 meters high and weigh 1300 tons. They are made of granite, possibly from quarries near Giza. The colossi reveal that beside their legs there are three small statues, the representation of Amenhotep III’s mother, Queen Mutemuia; as his royal wife Queen Tiy; and the god Hapi, who holds a papyrus and lily. The statues carry the Sema-Taui symbol, which represents the union between Upper and Lower Egypt.

They are located off the road and are the first monuments to be seen on west bank Luxor, rising from the plain land. Just some parts of what one day was the mortuary temple can be seen behind the statues, most of it is beneath the silt.