Collosus of Memnon

The Colossus of Memnon (also known as Colossi Memnon, el-Colossat, or es-Salamat) are two of the most imposing ancient Egyptian statues still standing. They depict Amenhotep III, seated with his hands resting on his knees gazing east towards the river and the rising sun. His Mortuary Temple was situated behind the statues, but has long since been destroyed by flood and the “borrowing” of masonry and statues for other ancient building projects.

Collosus Memnon copyright Roweromaniak [CC BY-SA 2.5 pl (]

The statues are an incredible 18 metres tall and are thought to weigh around 700 tons each. Because of their weight they had to be transported from either the quarry at el-Gabal el-Ahmar (near Cairo) or Gebel el-Silsila.

On the northern statue a shorter image of his mother, Mutemwiya, stands supportively beside his legs while on the southern statue his wife, Tiy, and one of his daughters is depicted.

side panel of one of the Collosus of Memnon from the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III copyright Hajor

The Nile god Hapy appears on the side panels of the throne tying together the papyrus plant and the sedge plant representing the union of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Strabo (a Greek historian and geographer of the 1st century) records an earthquake in 27 BC that shattered the northern colossus, causing the upper section to fall away. This created a fissure in the rock which made it “sing” or “whistle” every morning at dawn. It is thought that this was caused by the evaporation of dew inside the porous rock, but the legend developed that hearing the sound brought good luck and that the statue was an oracle. The statue became a very popular tourist attraction, bringing a constant stream of visitors (including a number of Roman Emperors) and was renamed as the Colossus of Memnon.

Copyright J Hill 2010