On our final day abroad our voyage down the Nile on the Steam Ship Sudan we rose bright and early to catch a water taxi over to explore the west bank of Luxor. Our first stop, The Colossi Of Memnon.
Or, perhaps I should rephrase that as, “The site formally known as the Colossi of Memnon but is really two statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III”, because believe it or not, this site has absolutely nothing to do with Memnon.
The 9th ruler of the eighteenth dynasty, Amenhotep III’s reign was a period of unprecedented prosperity in Egypt, a time that many regard Egypt as reaching its peak of artistic and international power.
These twin statues, commissioned during his 39 year reign, depict Amenhotep in a seated position, gazing eastward toward the river. The two shorter smaller figures carved near his legs are that of his wife Tiye and his mother Mutemwiya. Each stands over 60 feet high and weighs an estimated 720 tons each.
Originally these statues would have stood guarding the entrance to Amenhotep’s mortuary temple, which would have been the largest and most opulent temple complex in all of Egypt in its day, covering an estimated 86 acres of land. However, a series of earthquakes, one around 1200 BC and a second in 27 BC destroyed most of the complex, leaving only the two huge colossi still standing today.
Here’s What You Need To Know
So Why Is It Called The Colossi Of Memnon?
In 27 BC a large earthquake shattered the northern statue, collapsing the upper torso and cracking the lower portion of the colossi. Seven years later a traveling Greek historian and geographer named Strabo would travel through the area and claim to hear a sound “like a blow” at the dawn of the day coming from the statue. Another greek, Pausaniaus, compared the sound to “The string of a lyre” breaking. Still other ancient travelers reported it as the sound of striking brass or whistling, many of whom have inscribed whether they hear the sound or not on the base of the statue.
This strange cry, reportedly emitted only at the dawn of each new day, earned the statue the nickname of the “Colossus of Memnon” by these early Greek travelers who couldn’t help but associate the phenomenon with their greek mythological hero Memnon. They they believed sound they heard to be the cry of Memnon greeting his mother Eos, the goddess of dawn, who would then in turn would weep tears of dew for his untimely death.
This legend of the singing statue quickly spread and it was said that hearing the sound was reputed to bring luck to the listener, resulting in a constant stream of visitors to the site, including several Roman emperors who believed the statue to also possessed oracular powers.
Then, mysteriously, all reliable accounts of the sound cease around 196 AD.
Many historians believe this was due to reconstruction efforts made to the statue around that time by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in an attempt to curry favor with the revered oracle.
There are various theories floating around as to what ultimately caused the audio phenomenon. Some believe that rising temperatures combined with the evaporation of dew inside the porous rock at dawn were the cause. Others believe a more human element may have been involved.
It’s Free & Open 24 Hours A Day
Unlike most of the other site on the west bank, visiting the Colossi of Memnon is 100% free and open 24 hours a day. That is, as long as you can survive the gauntlet of street vendors selling their souvenirs at the site.
As I’ve mentioned before in other articles, the west bank of Luxor is not the most tourist friendly of locations, which is why many tourists choose to hire a guide for the day, or hire a car to drive them around to the the various sites. However, if you’d like to go it on your own, you have a few options. If you’re staying on the east bank, you’ll need to walk down and take the public ferry across to the west bank. From there it’s about a 2 mile walk from the ferry landing to the Colossi of Memnon. Alternatively you can rent a bike near the ferry HERE and ride over to the site.