The Great Sphinx of Giza Necropolis is the most mysterious sculpture in the world. It was first made in Egypt as a flat picture at the start of the dynastic period. But the first sphinx-shaped statue of the King was made during the 4th dynasty.
Silent, ancient, and mysterious guardian of the Pyramids, the Great Sphinx of Giza represents one of the most important monuments of the capital of Egypt, Cairo, and the whole world.
The story of this monumental example of ancient art, carved in limestone, is a figure widely represented in the myths of Egypt and the mythology and history of ancient Greece.
In this article, we want to provide you with a comprehensive guide to understand better the Sphinx of Giza in Egypt, a must-see during your visit to the Giza Necropolis during a magical trip to Egypt.
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Where is the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt?
The Great Sphinx of Giza is located on the Giza plateau, within the homonymous Necropolis, in the context of one of the most amazing archaeological sites, known throughout the world for having inside not only the largest Sphinx ever built but also the main three Pyramids of all of Egypt: that of Cheops, Chephren, and Menkaure.
Geographically, we can place the monumental Sphinx of Giza on the bank of the western Nile. For the ancient Egyptians, it represented the realm of the dead due to its position corresponding to the setting sun.
Furthermore, at this point, the Nile River separates the plateau of the archaeological site from the crowded capital of Cairo.
In detail, we can say that, within the complex of the Necropolis, the Sphinx belongs to the funerary area of the Pyramid of Chephren, to be precise on the ramp where the processions from the valley temple to the Pyramid took place.
In turn, the Sphinx of Giza is located on a stone platform and surrounded by a rocky fence. Still, in any case, its position is recessed concerning the rest, often being covered by desert sand over time and subject to erosion and elements.
Characteristics of the Great Sphinx of Giza
People say the statue is one of the world’s most mysterious art pieces. The Great Sphinx is made of limestone and is 57 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 20 meters tall. It is the most impressive statue made from a single piece of stone. The Sphinx faces east, and between its paws is a small temple.
The Great Sphinx of Giza Facts
- King Djet Ra, who came after King Cheops, was the first to have a statue like this. It is considered the first attempt to show a king as a Great Sphinx. It was found near its Pyramid at Abu-Rawash in Giza and is now kept at the Louvre Museum.
- The largest of these was the Great Sphinx at the Giza necropolis. There are two theories about who this monument belongs to: one is based on a granite plaque in the Egyptian Museum that says it belongs to Cheops, and the other is based on a pharaoh from the IV Dynasty named Chephren.
- The “Nemes” style royal cap had wrinkles all over its surface. Khafre’s, on the other hand, had some wrinkles in it.
- All the statues of Khafre and all the kings after him had a handle in high relief on the Nemes, but the Great Sphinx didn’t have any decorations or that handle on its forehead.
- The fake beard is now in the British Museum and the Cairo Museum and is plaited and curved. This kind of counterfeit divine beard first appeared in the New Kingdom, making scholars think it was added later as a separate part.
- The position of Sphinx is located in the southeast corner of the Great Pyramid of King Cheops, near where the Pyramid’s quarries used to be. Since the Sphinx was made from a piece of rock left over from the great Pyramid, it should belong to King Cheops.
- King Khafre was mentioned twice in the dream stele of Tutmés IV and his father, Amenhotep II, but the name of King Cheops was only mentioned once.
If the theory that Cheops owns the Great Sphinx is true, then he was the first person in ancient Egypt to have one. If the Sphinx belonged to Chephren, then King Dejd Re was the first person in the world to have one in Egypt. There are a lot of theories about the history of the Pharaohs.
History of the Sphinx of Giza
The year of the creation of the Great Sphinx of Giza is still uncertain today. Scholars and Egyptologists think that its construction began around 2,500 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Khafre, who reigned from 2,520 to 2,494 BC.
This leads us to consider that the Sphinx is located near the Pyramid of the ruler of the fourth dynasty, who wanted it to protect his Pyramid in the Necropolis of Giza.
Another peculiarity concerning the Sphinx of Giza in Egypt is that its position is isolated, compared to the sphinxes that were built later and found only in pairs at the entrances of the buildings for extended protection.
In the 80s, the material that makes up the Sphinx was finally analyzed, discovering a carved stone structure, a body in ancient stone and of limestone origin, a center in poor quality stone, which today is, in fact, more ruined, and a superficial and upper layer, such as that of the neck and head which are more challenging, reaching up to the head which is composed solely of pure stone, thus making it the most resistant part.
Furthermore, thanks to recent studies, it is hypothesized that the face of the Sphinx of Giza is the same as that of the pharaoh Chephren or his son Kheper, who reigned from 2570 to 250 BC, but still not finding a specific answer today.
Its secret passages
Among the many mysteries that revolve around the figure of the Sphinx of Giza, some are still supported today by discoveries and legends, such as some tunnels and secret passages within its structure.
To date, only three royal underground courses are known. The most important is the one that comes out of the back of the Sphinx’s head, 5 m long, and discovered in 1837 during excavations to find a chamber in the sculpture’s center.
The others, found in more recent times following the works for the restoration of the Sphinx, are located near the tail, for a length of 15 m, and in front, where Tuthmosis IV placed a stele between his paws.
However, Egyptologists are convinced that many other secret passages inside the Sphinx of Giza must be discovered, especially those that lead to a hypothetical chamber beneath the creature.
Furthermore, a legend tells of a secret library known as the Room of Records, where one would find priceless writings on the knowledge of these ancient people and the construction of the pyramids on papyrus paper.
These suppositions are pseudo-scientific, but it is always interesting to know every aspect and curiosities of the places and works we visit during our travels.
The Sphinx inside the Giza Necropolis
As we have seen, the Pyramid of Giza has a central role within the archaeological complex of the Necropolis of the Giza plateau. Due to its position, we can say that it belongs to the funerary area of the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest.
We can find the Sphinx right on the ramp, used for processions during the priests’ rites, between the valley temple, the area dedicated to the preparation of the body and mummification, before accompanying the pharaoh’s body inside the Pyramid.
Furthermore, we can find two temples to the east of the monumental sculpture, the Sphinx Temple of Giza and the Temple of Khafre.
These two structures were made with the same material as the Sphinx. Furthermore, thanks to the studies carried out on the materials; it was possible to understand that the stone fence around the Sphinx was built later, thus allowing further protect the structure from the erosion of the elements and the flooding of the Nile.
The Development of the Sphinxes in the Empires of Ancient Egypt
The statues had the head and body of a lion with a fake royal beard and a noble headdress.
It showed the King as the Sphinx, with the human head in the middle of the lion’s mane. Amenemhat III, in the second half of the 12th dynasty of the Middle Empire, was the first king to call himself a “lion-maned sphinx.”
The sculptures keep the style of the Middle Empire, but they add a twist by making the lion’s front legs look like human arms holding religious objects. King Amenhotep III was the first king to show himself in this way.
The value of the Sphinx:
From what we know about the history of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs, the Sphinx was essential to most kings who ruled the country.
Since the second half of the 12th dynasty, most queens and princesses wanted their Sphinx, so statues of women started to appear.
The statue of Queen Nefertiti is the most famous female statue that has been found so far, and it was located in the eastern part of the Karnak complex, near the temple of the god Aton. People also think the first Sphinx in Egypt showed Queen Hetepheres II of the fourth dynasty.
The best and most famous Sphinx is a statue with a human face and a lion’s body. It was made by Chefren (Khafra), a ruler from the 4th dynasty. Even though no one is sure when it was built, his head is thought to be on the Great Sphinx.
The Sphinx is part of the Giza Necropolis. It is 73.5 meters long, 20.22 meters high, and 6 meters wide (the head measures 4 meters). It is on the west side of the Nile and faces east. It is part of the complex of pyramids at the foot of the Nile and is in the north.
The Great Sphinx of Giza has become a symbol of Egypt, often shown on Egyptian stamps, coins, and official documents.
Even during the Greek-Roman period, sphinxes were still being made. Many emperors wanted sphinxes made in their honor, which would then make their way to Rome and be used to decorate cities and palaces across the empire.
Many pharaohs also had their heads carved on sphinxes to show how close they were to Sekhmet, a lioness who was a powerful solar goddess. One famous Egyptian Sphinx has the head of Pharaoh Hatshepsut on it and is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Another is the Sphinx in Menfi, which is in an open-air museum in Luxor.
What’s the statue’s purpose?
The Great Sphinx of Giza was built in Egypt to watch over the pyramids. This is written on its mouth: “I keep your tomb from getting into the chapel. I retain your room of death. I support people from coming in. I throw my enemies and their weapons to the ground.
I kick evil people out of the chapel of the tomb. I find where your opponents are hiding and destroy them there, making it so they can’t leave “.
This job of keeping things safe is easy to understand because, to the Egyptians, the lion was the protector of sacred places and the underworld, and his image was linked to the god Aton.
Origin of the word “Sphinx.”
The word “sphinx” comes from the Egyptian word “shesep-ankh,” which means “living image.” Based on this name, we can guess that they mostly stood for the image of the King, a mix of mental and physical power.
The human head shows a person’s intelligence, while the lion’s body shows a person’s strength.
Curiosity: why does the Great Sphinx of Giza have no nose?
As with everything that concerns it, even the lack of the nose of the Sphinx of Giza is still partially shrouded in mystery. Indeed, there are various versions of the story, and the most famous concern is Napoleon and his stay in Egypt during the famous Battle of the Pyramids.
This version sees the Napoleonic army “having fun” by firing cannon shots at the Sphinx in 1798; various factors make this version unreliable. Different drawings have been found that demonstrate that the Sphinx was without a nose many years before Napoleon arrived in Egypt.
Another version – albeit more boring than a cannon shot – sees the nose wear away naturally due to erosion by the elements. Finally, the hypothesis most validated by historians is that which sees Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a Muslim fundamentalist believer living around the fifteenth century, as responsible for the Sphinx’s mutilation.
He saw blasphemy in the Sphinx, so he decided in the fifteenth century to destroy the nose of the work, which for Islamic culture, represents a symbol of pride in man.