The Colossi of Memnon are two of my favorite structures of Ancient Egypt. Since they were only briefly mentioned in class today I thought I would give a little more background on them here.
The Colossi of Memnon was built in the New Kingdom (18th Dynasty) by Amenhotep III who reigned from 1391-1353 BCE. They stand on the West Bank, directly across the Nile from Thebes. Each statue stands about 20 meters high and resemble Amenhotep III himself. The name of the statues came to be after an earthquake damaged the right (northern) statue. For some reason, after it was damaged, the statue would emit strange sounds in the morning, possibly related to the heat of the sun. In a search for an explanation for the sound, ancient Greeks looked to the story of Memnon by Homer. Memnon was said to be killed by Achilles and after his death he reappeared in a statue in Thebes (after being given immortality by Zeus) and cried every morning with the rising sun. Although they look as if they are standing randomly in the middle of no where, they actually used to flank the entrance of the first pylon of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple.
The temple was the largest one built in the Theban necropolis, covering 350,000 square meters. It was used as a worship center of Amenhotep III as a god during his reign and after his death. The temple consisted of many large courts and contained many smaller stone sphinxes and statues.
The location and architecture of the temple was conceptualized with great intentions, but ended up being its demise. Each year when the Nile flooded it would fill the temple only leaving the inner sanctum above water. When the Nile receded and the temple emerged, this was suppose to represent how the Egyptians believed the earth emerged from the “waters of chaos” at the beginning of time. Unfortunately this design led to extensive water damage and by the 19th Dynasty the temple was in ruins. Rather than rebuilding the temple, builders took the remaining stone and used it for other projects. Miraculously, the only two items remaining mostly intact from the temple are the two statues of Memnon.