The Sphinx is a mythical creature having the body of a lion in a crouching position with outstretched paws and the head of a human, symbolizing the pharaoh as an incarnation of the Egyptian sun god Ra.
In ancient times Egyptians placed a sphinx in front of pyramids for guarding the tombs inside.
The Great Sphinx
Although there are several Sphinxes in Egypt, this colossal Sphinx is often called just The Sphinx because it’s the grandest and most famous Egyptian Sphinx and the largest monolith statue in the world. Its dimensions are mind-boggling; 240 feet long, 20 feet wide and 66 feet high. It’s the most colossal man-made sculpture ever made.
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This contemplative Sphinx has been gazing eastward for nearly five millennia saluting the rising sun and giving the impression of performing the task of a formidable protector of the funerary complex of Giza pyramids.
The Funerary Complex
Apart from the Sphinx and pyramids, the complex also includes two temples belonging to similar architectural style and built with massive blocks of limestone quarried out of a nearby source.
Mysteries Surrounding The Sphinx
Very little is accurately known about this Sphinx and hazy theories abound about its origin. Despite conflicting views about the age of this Sphinx and the identity of the head sculpted on the lion’s body, modern Egyptologists believe that it was built around 2500 BC and the face of the Sphinx is that of Pharaoh Khafre whose father Khufu’s pyramid also stands within the complex.
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It’s a mystery how in those ancient times the builders of the Sphinx brought this massive block of stone to this site and how they chipped it off to give it the shape of an enigmatic mythological creature. It was an enormous task and took some 20 years to complete.
The Sphinx was buried under sand up to its neck for over 1000 years. Thutmose IV of the New Kingdom had some initial problem to become a Pharaoh. He had a dream after falling asleep under the shadow of the Sphinx that he could claim his right to the throne by cleaning the sand and exposing the statue. He did that and became a Pharaoh and, out of gratitude, placed a granite slab – now known as Dream Stela – in between the lion’s paws with some inscription containing the only information we have about the Sphinx.
The quality of the stone used was poor almost up to the lion’s chest. The ancient sculptors, therefore, added solid blocks to strengthen it for carving the details. The Pharaoh’s head, with its striped headgear, a royal cobra on the forehead and ornamental beard was carved directly on the stronger layer of the pristine rock.
Missing Nose and Mutilated Face
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Controversies also abound about the Sphinx’s missing nose and mutilated face. Some blame Napoleon’s occupying soldiers for causing these damages while using it for target practicing with their canons.
Some also say that a 14th century Turkish fanatic was so outraged when he saw some local peasants worshipping the Sphinx for better harvest. He couldn’t bear the idol-worshipping and disfigured the face.
Beyond Facts and Legends
Legends are seldom facts; but they are interesting to hear. The Sphinx and the Giza necropolis are the only surviving wonders of the ancient world. Despite its mutilated face, the Sphinx’s contemplative posture against the eerie backdrop will continue to exude the dignity of a natural king and attract viewers in great numbers.