The Colossi of Memnon.

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The Colossi of Memnon (Arabic al—Sanaman: the Two Idols). These two immense figures of Amenhotep III sat in front of the mortuary temple of the king.

The pylon, probably of mud-brick, has been washed away as for centuries this area was within the inundation zone. The main temple which stretched W behind the statues has been entirely destroyed, but it must have been a magnificent building. The stele on which Amenhotep recorded his work was removed by Merneptah (in the Egyptian Museum ). On it the king claims that he built the temple of ‘white sandstone, wrought with gold throughout, its floor covered in silver, its doors with electrum’. Unfortunately it was systematically robbed to build the temples of the later kings.

The Colossi of Memnon, depicted in the Description de l’Egypte

The colossi are made of sandstone, probably from the quarries at Gabal Silsilah. With their pedestals and crowns they were 21.3m high. Originally monolithic, they have been much damaged. In the earthquake of 27 BC part of the North colossus fell and was cracked. It became famous in the Roman period because it was said to sing. Theories attribute this to expansion of the stone when it was warmed by the sun in the morning and contraction in the evening, or to the wind reverberating through the cracks. Its restoration by the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193—211) corrected the fault, and it has been silent ever since. The Greeks regarded the statues as representing the Trojan hero Memnon, son of the goddess Eos, Who was killed by Achilles.

temple of Amenhotep iii
Temple of Amenhotep iii

During the Roman period the site became a popular resort and many prominent Romans and other travellers wrote verses and left epigrams upon the stone. The colossi are referred to by many classical authors including Strabo, Pausanius, Pliny and Juvenal. The statues show Amenhotep seated upon his throne on the sides of which the two Nile gods of Upper and Lower Egypt unite the Two Lands by tying together the lotus and the papyrus, symbolising the South and the North. Beside the legs of each of the statues there is a small figure of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III on the right, and on the left Queen Mutemua, his mother.

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