Colossi of Memnon

Page update - Jan 17, 2023

The Colossi of Memnon are two enormous statues 18 meters (59 feet) high and weighing over 700 tonnes each. This is the first sight seen by tourists on the west bank of the Nile near the city of Luxor (called Thebes in ancient times). The area is called the "City of the Dead" and was home to the tombs and memorial temples of the pharaohs during the New Kingdom in Egyptian history.

Warning! By the situation of January 2023, the Memnon Colossi are open to visitors. However, there is a possibility that they could be closed at any time. There has been a restoration programme in place since 1998 to restore the Colossi and the Temple of Amenhotep III. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has already announced a plan to restore one of the statues. But hopefully you will come before the closure or already after the re-opening.

Already after the Colossi of Memnon, tourists see the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings and Queens, and the famous Tomb of Tutankhamun. The colossi seem to greet visitors and let them know that the tour is sure to be interesting.

The site was once the grand memorial temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III of the 18th dynasty. Supposedly, the statues depict him, but the faces are too badly damaged to be identified with certainty.

The temple is thought to have been of record size - 35 hectares (86.5 acres), roughly equivalent to a square with sides of 600 meters (2,000 feet). Amenhotep III built it as the largest, planning an area even larger than that of the Karnak temple.

It is now difficult to determine the truth of these figures. The temple was not very well located, and after it was built it was flooded by the floods of the Nile. The temple ceased to function and fell into disrepair very quickly. The riverbed of the Nile changes frequently. As early as 1840, the Colossi of Memnon was photographed by the famous lithographer David Roberts, and the statues are surrounded by water in his painting.

The pharaohs of the next XIX dynasty armed themselves with the principle "not to waste a good thing" and organized a large quarry out of the temple of Amenhotep III. The greatest contribution to the looting of the temple was made by Ramses II, and the temple was "finished off" by Pharaoh Merneptah.

But the Colossi were not touched. Don't think that next pharaohs left the statues because of a deep respect for their predecessor, the reason is different - the Colossi were made of solid blocks of limestone, they had to be sawn into pieces. It was too hard to use the statues for raw materials.

Who is Memnon?

The name Colossi of Memnon is Greek and has nothing to do with the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians themselves referred to the southern statue as 'King of Kings', apparently the Colossi made a lasting impression. The Arabs who conquered Egypt in the 7th century called these statues 'Shammi and Tammi'. Modern Arabs call them 'El Colossus'.

It is no secret that Egypt's landmarks have been the object of sightseeing tourism since ancient times. Ancient Greeks and Romans gladly came to see the Great Pyramids, temples and other monuments of ancient Egypt.

The Colossi became famous in the ancient world after the earthquake of 27 BC, when the northern statue was severely damaged - all the upper part fell off. And after that, the lower part, which was left in place, began to make sounds. Because the sound was heard at dawn, the Greeks called the statues the Colossi of Memnon.

Memnon was the king of the Ethiopians who came with an army to help defend Troy. He killed the famous Greek warrior Antilochus in the battle, but was killed by Achilles. Memnon was the son of Eos (Aurora in the Roman pantheon), the goddess of dawn. According to Greek legend, the morning dew is Eos' tears for her fallen son. And the sounds from the Colossians in the morning were thought by the Greeks to be the lament of the goddess Eos for her lost son.

History of the Colossi of Memnon

The Colossi of Memnon stood at the entrance to the funerary temple of Amenhotep III. Their construction was a true engineering marvel for its age. They were carved out of solid blocks of limestone, which is clearly visible in the photo near (click on the photo to enlarge). The weight of each statue is about 720 tons, and the block must have weighed about 1,000 tons.

Studies of the stone structure have recognized the blocks were quarried at either Giza or El Gabal el-Ahmar. Both of these sites are near modern Cairo - 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Luxor. How were the ancient Egyptians able to transport them over such a distance? It's a big mystery.

There are two hypotheses about this. The first says that the Egyptians built wooden barges around the blocks. Then they waited for the Nile flood, and the barges were afloat and floated to the city of Thebes (modern Luxor). This hypothesis is quite probable, it takes a barge of 1,000 tons displacement to lift a cargo of 1,000 tons. A barge with such a displacement is now considered small (see photo), and the Egyptians could have built something like this.

The second version is that the blocks were too heavy to be transported by river and they were pulled by land. This version is not very probable, though very popular. For example, consider a large marble stone in the Forbidden city. This stone weighs 250 tons, and it was actually able to be transported on the ground for a distance of more than 100 kilometers (62 miles). This process was documented, and we know for sure that it was pulled by 10,000 mules and 20,000 workers.

And then how many draft animals and people had to pull the block weighing 1,000 tonnes? And it is necessary to consider that the Chinese pulled their 250-ton block on ice, which greatly simplified the task. In Egypt they would have had to pull the block on the ground or on sand, which is much more difficult. Given the factors above, the hypothesis of transportation by land seems absurd.

The blocks were transported to the site, the figures of Pharaoh Amenhotep III were carved from them, and the Colossi stood at the entrance to the temple. Then the temple was damaged by the Nile River flood, and subsequent pharaohs stripped it for building materials. The Colossi of Memnon remained standing until 27 BC, when they were damaged by an earthquake.

After the earthquake, the Colossi of Memnon began to make sounds and became famous throughout the ancient world. Even the emperors of Rome came there. In 130 AD the Emperor Hadrian and in 199 AD the Emperor Septimius Severus visited the colossus. The Colossi did not make a sound every day. Hearing their song was considered a good omen and not hearing it was a bad omen.

Emperor Septimius Severus did not hear the sounds and decided to do something good for the Colossi. He ordered the northern statue to be restored. The top of the northern Colossus was reassembled from five tiers of limestone blocks (pictured above), which had already been transported from Edfu. After this restoration, the Colossus of Memnon was silenced forever.

Why did the Colossi of Memnon sang?

Scientists can only guess as to why the sounds originated. And there is not even an exact description of the sounds, there are a few travelers' notes. The ancient Greek historian Strabo visited the Colossi in 20 BC, and he described the sounds "as thumps". And the Greek geographer Pausanias wrote, "sounds like the string of a lyre", but he was visiting Egypt almost 200 years after Strabo. These facts hint to us that the sound from the Colossi of Memnon may have changed over time.

There are two main theories about the cause of the sounds. The first is that the statues absorbed water at night, and the moisture evaporated with the first rays of sunlight, hence the sound. The second version is that the sound is caused by the wind rubbing against the surface of the statue. The second version is not at all plausible, as it does not explain why the sounds were heard only at dawn.

How to get there

99% of tourists go to Luxor as part of a tour group. However, you can also come there on your own. Luxor can be reached in a reasonable amount of time from Hurghada. Read our detailed review "From Hurghada to Luxor and back".

From the city of Luxor, there are ferries crossing the Nile River. The pier to board is located near the Mummification Museum. The ticket price is 5 Egyptian pounds. See the actual exchange rates in our in-depth review "Money in Egypt - Egyptian pound". Once you get to the west bank, head away from the Nile River and you will reach the Colossi.

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day.

Ticket price

Free of charge.

How much time to plan

15-20 minutes.

What to see interesting - bas-reliefs on pedestals

While the upper parts of the statues are now almost unrecognizable, things are much more interesting on the pedestals. There are beautiful bas-reliefs with inscriptions.

The mother of Amenhotep III, Queen Mutemwiya who was the wife of Pharaoh Thutmose IV who dug up the Great Sphinx at Giza, is depicted on one side of the pedestal of the northern statue. The other side of the pedestal depicts the gods of Egypt.

The wife of Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye is depicted on the pedestal of the southern statue. This is a very important character in Egyptian history. She was the mother of Pharaoh Ehnaton (Amenhotep IV), who brought about a real religious revolution. It is believed that it was Tiya who shaped Ehnaton's world view. However, Ehnaton himself is little known to the public, but his wife Nefertiti is familiar to almost all readers - one of the most famous Egyptians in the history of the country.

On the opposite side of the southern Colossus, a bas-relief shows the gods of Egypt.

What to see interesting - other inscriptions

Ancient tourists were no worse or better than modern ones. They also wanted to scribble "John was here" or similar. But there were no tourist police and they did it unhindered in ancient times. There are about 90 inscriptions in Greek and Latin left by ancient travelers on the Colossi of Memnon.

But these inscriptions contain not only the names of the ancient travelers and the year they visited the Colossi, but also information about whether they heard the sounds or not. It is clear from the inscriptions that the Colossi did not "sing" every day, most often in February and March.

Important and useful to know

- You can pay in US dollars and Euros in some places in Luxor, but most loacal venues accept only Egyptian pounds. You have to exchange your money to get it, see our in-depth review "Currency exchange in Egypt";

- There's almost nowhere to take cover from the sun in the west bank sightseeing area. So don't forget about the treacherous sun. What to take with you for protection, read the review "What to take on vacation to Egypt".

Read other useful pages about Egypt on our website (see the pages list below).


What Don't Do in Egypt

Cheats of Tourists in Egypt

What to Take to Egypt

Sharks in Egypt

To Egypt With Kids

How NOT to Get Poisoned in Egypt

National Holidays in Egypt

Weather in Egypt by Month


What Money in Egypt

Money Exchange in Egypt

How Much Money to Take to Egypt


Taxi in Egypt

Cairo Metro

From Hurghada to Cairo

From Sharm to Cairo

From Hurghada to Luxor

From Cairo to Ain Sokhna

Intercity Buses - Guide


What to Bring from Egypt

What You Can & Not Bring in Egypt

What You Can & Not Take out of Egypt


What Language is Spoken in Egypt

Who Are the Modern Egyptians

Friday & Weekends in Egypt

Ramadan in Egypt


Internet in Egypt Cheaply


Sharm El Sheikh

Naama Bay


Ain Sokhna

Mediterranean Rivera


Alcohol in Egypt - Prices & Rules

Local Egyptian Alcohol

Cigarettes & Smoking in Egypt

Vape and iQos in Egypt © 2020-2024