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THE MORTUARY TEMPLE OF AMENHOTEP III
The mortuary temple of Amenhotep III was erected between 1390 and 1353 B.C. for New Kingdom Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The temple was 100 meters wide and 600 meters long, and, although only the lower sections of the structure remain, the grandiosity of the site is still evident. The temple complex included three sets of subsequent pylons, or truncated pyramids, which lead to the inner peristyle court. At the first set of pylons are the Colossi of Memnon, the most visible remains of what was once the most richly ornamented of all Theban monuments. The Colossi of Memnon are 16-meter-high red quartzite colossal statues of Amenhotep III and mark the entrance of the temple in front of the first pylon. Initial site excavations revealed abundant architectural remains, including stelae columns, building blocks, and several colossal statues, all of which were left in situ without conservation. The temple structure was originally destroyed by earthquakes, and, since it was never fully excavated, the site was overgrown with vegetation and threatened by seasonal floods and agricultural development. These problems were compounded by an increase in surface salts from rising groundwater, a by-product of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.
HOW WE HELPED
In 1998, WMF supported emergency conservation, documentation, clearance of the western portico of the great peristyle hall, and planning of a long-range conservation program. The implementation of conservation measures at the site began in 2004, and included the integration of a drainage system to alleviate groundwater and consolidate deteriorating stone. This allowed the statues and stelae to be reassembled and placed on stable soil in their original place.
In early 2013, archaeo-geological investigations around the bases of the colossi revealed artifacts buried under centuries of accumulated soil layers. A piece of the original right forearm of the north Memnon, as well as fragments of the sculpture’s pleated kilt, throne, and base, were all recovered. Investigations also revealed a considerable number of granite and quartzite remnants of sculptures of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. Conservators reclaimed from abroad a quartzite eye belonging to one of the statues in the portico, and reset it before sending the fragile sculpture to the nearby Luxor Museum of Art. In the northwestern corner of the court, foundations were poured and a plinth established to house a monumental statue of a white hippopotamus.
Work is currently underway to desalinate the architectural and sculptural remains, reassemble and raise the four colossal royal statues, and protect the two mud-brick pylons and their gateway. Fragments found in the excavated area of the second and third brick pylons will be documented and reassembled, and the installation of an additional local drainage system will facilitate the raising of the statues out of the Nile silt.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Colossi of Memnon are the most visible remains of what was once the most richly ornamented of all Theban monuments. Continual work on the conservation plan will not only help to conserve the site but also contribute to the comprehensive understanding of its significance and grandeur.
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