The Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza is a massive statue on the Giza Plateau, about 450 meters southeast of the Great Pyramid of Khafre. It has a lion with a human head on it.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is enormous. It is precisely 73m50 long, 14m wide, and 20m22 tall. As such, it is one of the world’s tallest statues, albeit at the bottom of the list.
Its head alone measures 5m20, making it nearly the same size as the Statue of Liberty, which stands 5m26. However, the Sphinx’s mouth measures 2m32, while the Statue of Liberty’s is “only” 91cm! Estimates suggest it weighs 20,000 tonnes, but this is debatable because no one has considered it.
The Name of the Sphinx of Giza
The ancient Egyptian name for the Sphinx is unknown. The ancients since the New Kingdom gave it the name “Shesep-anj” which means the living image.
The word sphinx is from the Greek word “sphinx,” which means to squeeze, but the Greek sphinx in mythology is a beast with the wings of an eagle, the head of a woman, and the body of a lion.
The Egyptian Sphinx is wingless and with the head of a human. Due to the Coptic influence, his name was “Bel-hit,” which translates in Egyptian to “hu or ju” which means guardian.
His name in Egyptian Arabic is “Abu Alhol,” which means the father of terror.
Who built the Sphinx and why?
It was said that the temple in front of the Sphinx represents the sun god “Hor-em-Ajet” (Horus on the horizon). But they accepted that it was built by King Khafre (the King of the second pyramid of Giza),
as guardian of his pyramid, in 2500 BC in the 4th Dynasty because the face of the Sphinx resembles Khafre’s. A diorite statue of King Khafre was found in the sand near the Sphinx.
There are theories that the Sphinx was built by Kefren’s father, King Cheops.
When was the Sphinx of Giza built?
The exact date of the construction of the Great Sphinx of Giza is not known with certainty, but it is generally believed to have been built during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre (2558–2532 BCE)
of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. This would mean that the Sphinx is more than 4,500 years old. However, there is some debate among scholars about the precise dating of the Sphinx.
It was also said to have been built before the construction of the Pyramids of Giza because the erosion on the Sphinx was by water dating back to the Ice Age,
possibly during the reign of Khafre’s predecessor, pharaoh Khufu (2589–2566 BCE).
What is inside the Great Sphinx?
There have been many theories and legends about what might be inside the Sphinx of Giza, but no conclusive evidence supports them. Some people believe there may be hidden chambers or tunnels inside the Sphinx, possibly containing treasure or the remains of ancient pharaohs.
There are three tunnels inside the Sphinx, one under the head, one at the tail, and one on the north side. Its builders, its purpose, or where it leads is unknown. But as an explanation, these tunnels were dug in later years in an attempt to find treasure.
In the early 20th century, a French engineer named Gaston Maspero excavated the Sphinx and its surroundings but found no evidence of hidden chambers or tunnels. More recently, in the 1990s, a team of researchers from the American Research Center in Egypt used ground-penetrating radar and other advanced techniques to study the area around the Sphinx but did not find any significant anomalies or indications of hidden chambers or tunnels.
Despite the lack of evidence, the idea that secrets may be hidden beneath the Sphinx continues to capture the imagination of many people. It remains a popular topic of speculation and debate among archaeologists and Egyptologists. However, it is essential to note that any excavation or exploration of the area would need to be carried out with great care and respect for the historical and cultural significance of the site.
How to get to the Sphinx of Giza?
The most recommended and safe way to get to the archaeological site of the Giza complex is by taxi or tourist van if you are visiting the attraction with a travel agency.
The visit to the sphinx is included in the same ticket to the necropolis of the Pyramids of Giza.
Facts about the Great Sphinx of Giza.
- The Sphinx is believed to have been built during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre, who ruled Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty in the Old Kingdom period (circa 2575-2465 BCE).
- The Sphinx is carved from a single block of limestone and stands 20 meters (66 feet) tall and 73 meters (240 feet) long.
- The head of the Sphinx is believed to be a likeness of Khafre, with his distinctive royal beard and headdress.
- The Sphinx is surrounded by a large enclosure initially lined with 24 sphinx statues, although only a few remain today.
- The Sphinx was constructed as a symbol of the power and authority of the pharaoh and was likely intended to guard the entrance to Khafre’s mortuary temple.
- The Sphinx has suffered significant weathering and erosion over the millennia and has undergone numerous restoration and conservation efforts.
- The Sphinx is aligned with the rising sun on the spring equinox, which some scholars believe may have held astronomical or religious significance for the ancient Egyptians.
- The Sphinx was partially covered by sand for centuries and only fully excavated and restored in the 20th century.
- The Sphinx is an iconic symbol of ancient Egyptian civilization and attracts millions yearly visitors.
Sphinx’s Nose and Face
The Great Sphinx of Giza is missing its nose, which has been the subject of much speculation and legend over the years. According to one famous story,
the nose was deliberately destroyed by Napoleon’s troops during their campaign in Egypt in the late 18th century. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this claim.
Other theories suggest that the nose may have been damaged by erosion or intentionally removed by vandals or treasure hunters in ancient times.
Despite the missing nose, the face of the Sphinx remains one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols of ancient Egypt. The face is believed to be a likeness of the pharaoh Khafre,
with his distinctive royal headdress and beard. The facial features are rendered in a highly naturalistic style, with great attention to detail in carving the eyes, lips, and other features.
The Sphinx’s face has undergone significant weathering and erosion over the millennia and has been damaged and restored several times.
Despite these challenges, the face of the Sphinx remains a powerful symbol of ancient Egyptian art and architecture and continues to inspire awe and fascination among visitors and scholars alike.
Two arguments support the idea that the Sphinx represents Kefren.
First and foremost, the lower temple of its funerary complex is strikingly similar to that of the Great Sphinx of Giza; the same architect could have designed both.
Furthermore, they are side by side and have the exact dimensions.
The second argument is that the facial features of the Great Sphinx of Giza and those of Kefren are similar, as seen in certain statues, notably the magnificent diorite statue now on display in the Cairo Museum.
The issue with this argument is that it is subjective, and not everyone agrees on the resemblance.
Cheops, according to German Egyptologist Rainer Stadelman, built the Sphinx. He bases it on the Kefren complex’s pavement deviation, which could have been caused
by the presence of the Sphinx during its construction before the Kefren complex. And it considers the similarity between the Sphinx and Kefren to be less than that between the Sphinx and Cheops.
The Sphinx can be seen to the east based on orientation, which is very precise. When the sun rises on the equinoxes, it perfectly aligns with the temple and the Sphinx’s gaze.
What was the purpose of the Sphinx?
The purpose of the Great Sphinx of Giza, built during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre in the 26th century BCE, is still debated among scholars and researchers. However,
there are several theories about the Sphinx’s original purpose:
A guardian statue: One theory is that the Sphinx was constructed as a guardian statue to protect the nearby pyramids and temples. The Sphinx is situated on the west bank of the Nile River, opposite the pyramids of Giza.
Its size and imposing appearance may have served as a deterrent to potential tomb robbers and other intruders.
A symbol of the pharaoh’s power: Another theory is that the Sphinx was built to symbolize the pharaoh’s power and authority. The pharaoh was believed to be a divine ruler.
The Sphinx’s imposing appearance may have been intended to convey the pharaoh’s connection to the gods and his ability to protect his people.
An astronomical significance: Some researchers believe that the Sphinx was aligned with the rising sun on the spring equinox, which may have held astronomical or religious significance for the ancient Egyptians.
This alignment may have been intentional and used to mark the beginning of the agricultural season or the renewal of the pharaoh’s power.
A marker of the pharaoh’s reign: Another theory is that the Sphinx was built as a marker of the pharaoh’s reign and may have been intended to serve as a reminder of his achievements and legacy.
While the Sphinx’s original purpose may never be known with certainty, it remains one of ancient Egypt’s most iconic and mysterious symbols. It continues to inspire awe and fascination among visitors and scholars alike.
The Sphinx is not unique to Egypt; Sphinxes can be found in other civilizations.
- The Sphinx of Amenemhat III (12th Dynasty): statue of Amenemhat III as a sphinx in gray granite, found at Tanis. Exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
- Hatshepsut’s Sphinx: red granite statue found in the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Thebes. It weighs 7 tons, 1.64 m tall.
- The Great Sphinx of Tanis: red granite, 1.83 meters high, 4.80 meters long, carved during the Old Kingdom. Exhibited in Paris.
- The Sphinx of Anubis (jackal sphinx) – a jackal statue depicting the god Anubis discovered in the Tomb of Tutankhamun.
- The Alabaster Sphinx is an Amarna alabaster statue, which is 4.25 meters high and 8 meters long, found in Memphis.
- Tutankhamun’s Sphinx – discovered in the Karnak Temple and displayed in the Luxor Museum.
- The Sphinx of Alexandria – two alabaster sphinxes at the site of Pompey’s Pillar as remains of the Serapeum of Alexandria.
- The Ram Sphinx: in the avenue of rams-headed sphinxes connecting the Luxor Temple with the Karnak Temple.
- The Sphinx of Thutmose III: the bronze statue of Thutmose III, with gold inscriptions, 7.8 cm high, 8.85 cm long,
- The Sphinx of Shepenupet II: diorite sphinx of the wife of the god Amun from the 25th Dynasty.
- The Sphinx of Nefertiti: of the queens represented with a sphinx.
- The Sphinx of Hetepheres II: painted limestone sphinx of Queen Hetepheres II, daughter of King Cheops.