Celebration at a Temple in Luxor, Egypt
The Amenhotep III Temple/Colossi of Memnon project in Luxor, Egypt, is probably one of the largest and most ambitious archaeological and conservation projects of our time. Dr. Hourig Sourouzian and her team took on the almost impossible task to recover and piece together the huge statues of the pharaoh that once flanked the three gates of the temple. World Monuments Fund included this site twice on the World Monuments Watch, in 1998 and in 2004, and it has supported various activities there for the past 15 years, from documentation to condition assessment, from site management planning to the installation of a drainage pipe system to lower the high water table affecting the perystile court, and from site conservation to the present phase of re-erection of the restored colossi .
Over the past 10 years I had the opportunity to visit Luxor many times and observe, season after season, the whole site being transformed, first in a gigantic excavation area, and then in one large conservation yard: hundreds of thousand of stone fragments are being cleaned, recorded, classified, and eventually put together to become sculptures once again that are being raised in situ to be presented to the marveling visitors.
Behind the Colossi of Memnon—which, from antiquity until two years ago, had been the only seated colossi marking what was the entrance to the temple—Dr. Sourouzian’s team has now raised one of the two colossi of the second pylon (gate) of the temple. Standing at over 12 meters high, this is only slightly smaller than the Colossi of Memnon. A second colossus was also found in the excavations (the seated colossi of the second and third pylon, and the standing ones of the north gate of the temple were found buried in alluvial soil, having collapsed in antiquity following the effect of floods and earthquakes).
On March 23, 2014, I was among the guests honoring the raising of one of the second pylon colossi and of another colossus at the north gate of the temple, in the presence of the Supreme Council for Antiquities and local authorities. Guests were invited to admire the newly raised shoulders and head of the second pylon colossus, while Dr. Sourouzian described the work conducted on site for the past 16 years. The visit then proceeded to the third pylon, where this year excavations have revealed the lower part of the alabaster colossus found in 2012. The two colossi of the third pylon, slightly smaller than the preceding ones, are nonetheless the largest known staues ever sculpted in alabaster. Between the legs of the colossus is a representation of Princess Iset, daughter of Amenhotep III. Conservation is proceeding on these marvelous statues in view of their raising in the future.
We finally moved on to the last couple of colossi, which were found more than 500 meters to the north of the site, beside what was the north gate to the mortuary temple. This year the two statues were excavated and moved to the new location, and the eastern colossus was conserved and raised. It is 11.5 meters high (the other colossus is slightly smaller, at 9 meters high and will be raised next year), and represents the pharaoh in a standing posture.
Over the years, Dr. Sourouzian’s team, with the support of World Monuments Fund, has trained many local workers into becoming skilled technicians, and has provided much needed financial help to hundreds of families with their employment program. In this respect, I believe that this project not only is bringing back one of the most impressive monuments ever built, but it is also contributing to the well-being of the local community. Having seen all this progress so far, one cannot but wish for more of this work to be accomplished, and we wish Dr. Sourouzian and her team many more years of successes.