History and curiosities of the Colossi of Memnon

The Colossi of Memnon are two giant stone statues representing Pharaoh Amenhotep III. They are located in front of the Egyptian city of Luxor and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We want to discover the history and legends that are told about these spectacular figures. Will you join us on this trip to Ancient Egypt?

Learn about the origin and characteristics of the colossi of Memnon

The sculptures were made by the architect Men in a single block of quartzite. Material that was possibly extracted from the quarries of Gebel el-Ahmar, near Cairo. The figures marked the entry point to the funerary temple of Amenhotep III. This was the ninth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty and he reigned over Ancient Egypt about 3,4000 years ago.

This temple extended over almost a kilometer in length, being, therefore, an immense center of worship in which the pharaoh was worshiped as a god on earth. In fact, the temple complex was the largest and most spectacular in all of Egyptsurpassing even in dimensions the temple of Karnak.

Unfortunately, the temple, which was known as the Temple of Millions of Years of Amenhotep III, suffered extensive damage as a result of the annual flooding of the Nile. Hence, later pharaohs decided to demolish it and reuse its materials to build other buildings.

colossi details

Returning to the seated sculptures of Amenhotep III, they measure almost twenty meters in height and weigh about a thousand tons. Next to his legs there are several women represented. Among them are Mutemwya, mother of the pharaoh; Tiyi, his wife; and one of his daughters, whose name is unknown.

Likewise, the lateral panels located on both sides of each statue preserve various inscriptions. You can see hieroglyphics with the pharaoh’s protocol, or bas-reliefs showing the god Hapy, emblem of abundance and the gifts of the Nile, knotting the symbol of the union of Upper and Lower Egypt.

As if these two colossi weren’t impressive enough, there were another four that fell and that an international mission is currently trying to recover. One of them, weighing 300 tons, has been reconstructed thanks to the work of the Spanish archaeologist Miguel Ángel López Marcos.

“Archaeology is the place where men entertain themselves who do not care where they are going, but simply want to know where they have all been.”

-Jim Bishop-

The legend of the song of the colossi of Memnon

An earthquake in 27 BC damaged the Colossi of Memnon. Since then, the statues were said to “sing” every morning at sunrise, because the one located further south produced a strange musical sound. Dozens of Greek and Roman tourists then decided to move to the place to witness this phenomenon.

Among those curious visitors was Strabo, historian and geographer from Greece, who said that the hypothetical song sounded like a blow. He also traveled to listen to the phenomenon Pausanias, who compared the sound to that of the strings of a lyre. Other lesser-known tourists did not hesitate to leave their inscription at the base of the statue.

However, since the Roman emperor Septimius decided to repair the statue in 199 AD, the strange musical sound has not been heard again. And it is that the phenomenon was surely produced by the increase in temperatures and the evaporation of the dew passing through the cracks of the statue.

The legend about his name

Secondly, there is a theory that the famous sound earned the colossi their name, since Memnon was a king of Ethiopia who led his armies to Troy and died at the hands of Achilles. Her mother Eos, the goddess of the dawn, began to shed tears of dew every morning as a sign of mourning, an action that was related to the “song” of the statues.

The other theory of the name of the colossi maintains that to Greek travellers, the actual pronunciation of Amenhotep, “Phamenoth”, reminded them of Memnon. In fact, many visitors believed that the statues represented the hero of the Trojan War, instead of the famous Egyptian pharaoh.

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