Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnon

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.

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One thought on “Colossi of Memnon

  1. This is a very well done post! I have never heard of the Colossi of Memnon before and I think that their history is extremely fascinating. It is amazing to be transported back in time and think of how different a landscape could be. The part about the architecture of the building is intriguing because it led to its destruction. Its design is very symbolic and meaningful, but if you wanted to be remembered with a monument, perhaps more thought should have gone into it. With my brief knowledge of Ancient Egypt, it seems that many thought they would be worshiped as gods, but shortly after they die, they are forgotten. It isn’t surprising to me that after the his necropolis was destroyed that they used the rubble to create another monument, in reference to my previous comment. With the part about the earthquake that damaged the statues, I am shocked that they didn’t give them a crazier name!

    The thing that is great about archaeology is that ancient civilizations live on through their remains. It is hard to imagine what surrounded these statues, but that is the mystery and excitement behind it. Great post! I definitely learned a lot and look forward to reading your future posts!

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