Great Sphinx of Giza

by jptanabe

The Mysterious Great Sphinx of Giza is located beside the Great Pyramids, and appears to be guarding them.

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a large stone statue, one of the largest single-stone statues in existence. A sphinx is a mythological creature, a chimera, part animal part human. Ancient Egyptian sphinxes consist of the body of a lion and the head of a person, usually a pharoah. Located right beside the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Great Sphinx is often viewed as "guarding" them.

The Sphinx has been rescued from partial burial in the sand and greatly restored, if not to its complete former glory at least to a level where it can be admired and appreciated by all.

The Great Sphinx has always been mysterious, since it is unclear exactly which pharoah the face of the sphinx represents. Part of this may be due to damage, particularly in the form of its famous missing nose, making it harder to recognize a likeness. Generally the sphinx is linked to Khafre, for whom the second largest pyramid in the complex was built. However, it is still unclear as to whether Khafre was the builder of the sphinx or whether the statue was created in his honor.

Whoever built the Great Sphinx and for whom, it is a great work of art and one that can be enjoyed by all, whether visiting in person or simply viewing pictures. 

Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx, Egypt  by Hisham Ibrahim
Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx,...

Building the Great Sphinx

The sphinxes of ancient Egypt were iconic images, usually carved with the faces of pharaohs. They were regarded as protectors of temples or sacred areas. The Great Sphinx is located on the Giza Plateau, the place where the Great Pyramids were built, and is believed to stand as their guardian. It faces the rising sun and appears to have been a focus of solar worship in the Old Kingdom.

Carved out of the surrounding limestone bedrock, the Great Sphinx is 57 meters (185 feet) long, 6 meters (20 feet) wide, and 20 meters (65 feet) in height. Blocks of stone weighing upwards of 200 tons were used to build the adjoining temples located within the Giza complex, the outstanding features of which are the three pyramids. One of these, the Great Pyramid was built for the pharaoh Khufu and is one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. So, the Great Sphinx was only a relatively small part of this whole amazing construction project!

The Great Sphinx of Giza.
The Great Sphinx of Giza.

While most have accepted that the Great Sphinx was built during the time of the Ancient Egyptian pharoahs Khufu and Khafre, some 4,500 years ago, revisionist archaeologists have posited that the Great Sphinx may actually be prehistoric, as much as than 12,000 years or more old. They suggest that the pyramids represent the three stars of Orion's Belt, and based on computer simulations, it has been calculated that this would constitute a record of the celestial array at the vernal equinox in 10,500 B.C.E. In this view, the Sphinx's lion-shape reflects the constellation of Leo. The layout and orientation of the Sphinx, the Giza pyramid complex and the Nile River correspond to the constellations of Leo, Orion's Belt and the Milky Way, respectively. Whatever the true date and purpose it seems like this was still a pretty amazing construction project.

Unfortunately, though, after the Giza necropolis was abandoned the Great Sphinx was largely buried in the desert sands. Although this may have saved it from the fate of the pyramids whose stone was stripped by later builders. And, fortunately, the Great Sphinx was not left stuck in the sand forever, as great efforts began to dig it out and restoration has been carried out.

DVD on the Great Sphinx of Giza

This A&E production is an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Great Sphinx. This huge statue has lain dormant in the desert for thousands of years, a source of wonder and awe for all who have gazed upon it. But why and how was it constructed? Drawing on the words of historians this documentary also utilizes computer graphics to explain the process behind the construction of this ancient marvel.


The Great Sphinx was buried up to its shoulders in sand when Tutmosis IV made the first attempts to dig it out, back around 1400 B.C.E. We know that he succeeded in digging out the front paws because he placed the "Dream Stela" between the paws. This is an inscribed stone tablet which has been translated to indicate that Tutmosis was at the feet of the sphinx in the presence of Ra, the sun god.

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid. Francis Frith, 1858.
The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid. Francis Frith, 1858.

It was not until much later that further excavation efforts succeeded in revealing more of the Great Sphinx. An Italian archaeologist by name of Giovanni Battista Caviglia supervised a dig in 1817, which uncovered the chest of the sphinx.

Photographs and prints of Egypt, 1860s-1920s.
Photographs and prints of Egypt, 1860s-1920s.

It was a full century later before the totality of the Great Sphinx emerged from the sand in 1925.

Face of the Sphinx

Head of the Great Sphinx
Head of the Great Sphinx

The face of the sphinx remains a "riddle." Is it the pharoah Khafre whose likeness is carved in the rock, or someone else? Its broken nose, an iconic image itself, adds to the mystery. Legends abound as to who actually broke the nose, from Napoleon's soldiers, to British troops, although sketches from the early eighteenth century show the sphinx noseless, There is also the mystery of the sphinx's ceremonial beard, which appears to have been attached later, and which later fell off.

In any case, the Great Sphinx is now restored to a state that basically resembles what the statue must have been originally designed to look like, whoever that may be.

The Restored Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx at Giza
The Great Sphinx at Giza

Today, the Great Sphinx is a popular tourist attraction. Located very close to Cairo, tourists enjoy the majesty of this mysterious monument right beside the Great Pyramids of Giza, apparently guarding them.

Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza
Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza

On a lighter note, the Great Sphinx is also staring straight ahead to a KFC/Pizza Hut in a shopping plaza located right beside the Giza complex. Tourists certainly have it easy these days!

The Sphinx and KFC/Pizza Hut

Artistic Views of the Great Sphinx

Such an iconic image, the Great Sphinx and the Great Pyramids, it is little wonder that artists delight in photographing this site under a variety of lighting conditions. Here are some examples of the way lighting, both natural and artificial, add to the majesty and mystery of this amazing stone monument.

In this view at sunset, the angle makes the Great Sphinx appear larger and more impressive than the Great Pyramid.

With the artificial lighting the Great Sphinx shines like a god in the twilight, a guardian of the Great Pyramid which house the earthly remains of pharoahs.

With lighting also on the great front paws that have been restored to their original impressive appearance, the Great Sphinx takes its place between the illuminated Pyramids of Giza.

Buy your own Great Sphinx!

Well, not the actual statue of course! But here's a cool replica.
Design Toscano Great Sphinx of Giza Sculpture - Medium

More about the Great Sphinx of Giza

Updated: 06/25/2016, jptanabe
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What do you think about the Great Sphinx?

blackspanielgallery on 10/08/2015

The works of the ancient world are so often amazing.

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