Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Egypt is the greatest monumental sculpture in the ancient world, built with the form of a human head on a lions body it has become a national symbol of Egypt, both ancient and modern.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is a giant 4,500-year-old limestone statue situated near the middle Giza Pyramid. Measuring 240 feet long and 66 feet high, the Great Sphinx is one of the world’s largest monuments. It is also one of the most recognizable relics of the ancient Egyptians, though the origins and history of the colossal structure are still debated.
Depending on the region of mythology, the purpose and description of a sphinx vary. In ancient Egypt, the sphinx was a spiritual guardian and most often depicted as a male with a pharaoh headdress with the body of a creature and was often included in tomb and temple complexes. Egyptian sphinxes with the likeness of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut also exist. In Greek traditions, the sphinx also had wings, as well as the tail of a serpents head. In legends, it devours all travelers unable to answer its riddle.
The person responsible for commissioning the Sphinx is still widely debated. The most common and widely accepted theory about the Great Sphinx suggests the statue was erected by the Pharaoh Khafre. The son of Pharaoh Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid, the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in Giza. When he became Pharaoh, Khafre constructed his own pyramid next to his father’s. Evidence exists that ties the Great Sphinx to Pharaoh Khafre and his temple complex, the head and face of the Sphinx are strikingly similar to a life-size statue of Khafre. Additionally, in the early 1900s, an archaeologist dug up the Sphinx Temple directly in front of the Sphinx that shares a similar in design to the Valley Temple of Khafre.
Over the years, researchers have put forth many other theories for the Great Sphinx’s origins, though most are refuted by mainstream Egyptologists. Some theories suggest the face of the sphinx actually resembles Khufu and, therefore, Khufu built the structure. Alternatively, Pharaoh Djedefre, Khafre’s older half-brother and Khufu’s other son could have built the Great Sphinx in commemoration of his father. Some archaeologists contend that the Great Sphinx is far older than is widely believed, based on the potential age of the causeway or various patterns of erosion of the statue.
What Egyptians called the Great Sphinx during its prime remains a riddle, because the word sphinx originates from Greek mythology some 2,000 years after the statue was built. Whatever the case, the statue faded into the desert background at the end of the Old Kingdom and was ignored for centuries.
Inscriptions on a granite slab situated between the Great Sphinx’s paws tell the story of how the statue was saved from obscurity when Prince Thutmose, son of Amenhotep II, fell asleep near the Sphinx. In Thutmose’s dream, the statue complained about its state of disarray and promised the young prince, It would help him become pharaoh if he cleared away the sand from the statue and restored it to its former glory. Whether or not the dream actually occurred is unknown, but when the prince did, in fact, become Pharaoh Thutmose IV, he introduced a Sphinx-worshipping cult to his people. Paintings and statues of the figure spread across the country as a symbol of royalty and the power of the sun.
Eventually, the Great Sphinx was forgotten again, suffering from erosion, details erased from its face by the sands of time. A myth claims Napoleon‘s troops shot off the statue’s nose with a cannon when they arrived in Egypt in 1798, but drawings suggest the nose went missing long before then. The Sphinx was actually buried in sand up to its shoulders until the early 1800s when several adventurers attempted and failed to dig out the statue. Large excavations were attempted the 19th and 20th centuries but it wasn’t until the late 1930s that Egyptian archaeologist Selim Hassan was able to finally free the creature from its sandy tomb.
Restoration efforts have been ongoing since the mid-1900s, some of which failed and ultimately caused more damage than good but no matter, the Sphinx continues to stand guard at the base of one of the most awe-inspiring achievements of humankind. And while today, the Sphinx continues to deteriorate thanks to the wind, humidity, and pollution the draw to visit and solve the mystery of the Sphinx will never wither.