Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a statue of a reclining lion with a human head that stands on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile, near modern-day Cairo, in Egypt. It is the largest monolith statue in the world, standing 73.5 m (241 ft) long, 6 m (20 ft) wide, and 20 m (65 ft) high. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture, and is commonly believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians in the third millennium BCE. The Great Sphinx faces due east and houses a small temple between its paws.


It is not known by what name the original creators called their statue, as the Great Sphinx does not appear in any known inscription of the Old Kingdom, and there are no inscriptions anywhere describing its construction or its original purpose. The commonly used name Sphinx was given to it in Classical antiquity, about 2000 years after the accepted date of its construction, by reference to a Greek mythological beast with a lion's body, a woman's head and the wings of an eagle (although like most Egyptian sphinxes, the Great Sphinx has a man's head and no wings). The English word sphinx comes from the Ancient Greek Σφιγξ (sphingx), apparently from the verb σφιγγω (sphingo, English: I strangle), after the Greek sphinx who strangled anyone who failed to answer her riddle.

The name may alternatively be a corruption of the Ancient Egyptian Shesep-ankh, a name given to royal statues of the Fourth Dynasty (2575–2467 BCE and later) in the New Kingdom (circa 1570–1070 BCE) to the Great Sphinx more specifically, although phonetically the two names are far from identical.

In the New Kingdom, the Sphinx was also called Hor-em-akhet (Horus of the Horizon) (Hellenized: Harmachis), and the Pharaoh Thutmose IV (1401–1391 or 1397–1388 BCE) specifically referred to it as such in his Dream Stela.

Medieval Arab writers, including al-Maqrīzī, call the Sphinx balhib and bilhaw, which suggest a Coptic influence. The modern Egyptian Arabic name is (transliteration: Abū al-Hūl; English: Father of Terror).

Origin and identity

The Great Sphinx is one of the world’s largest and oldest statues, but basic facts about it, such as who was the model for the face, when it was built, and by whom, are still debated. These questions have resulted in the popular idea of the "Riddle of the Sphinx”, although this phrase should not be confused with the original Greek legend.

Traditional hypothesis

’s pyramid]] Most Egyptologists believe that the Great Sphinx was created by the Pharaoh Khafra (Hellenized: Chephren) and that the Sphinx therefore dates to his reign (2520-2494 BCE). Some Egyptologists have put forward as models for the Sphinx different members of the royal family, including Khafra's father, Khufu, and his 'brother', Djedefre, and some geologists have suggested theories dating the Sphinx to various periods before Dynasty IV.

Selim Hassan, writing in 1949 on recent excavations of the Sphinx enclosure, summed up the problem:

Taking all things into consideration, it seems that we must give the credit of erecting this, the world’s most wonderful statue, to Khafre, but always with this reservation that there is not one single contemporary inscription which connects the Sphinx with Khafre, so sound as it may appear, we must treat the evidence as circumstantial, until such time as a lucky turn of the spade of the excavator will reveal to the world a definite reference to the erection of the Sphinx.

The "circumstantial" evidence mentioned by Hassan includes the Sphinx's location in the context of the funerary complex surrounding the Second Pyramid, which is traditionally connected with Khafra. Apart from the Causeway, the Pyramid and the Sphinx, the complex also includes the Sphinx Temple and the Valley Temple, both of which display the same architectural style, with 200-tonne stone blocks quarried out of the Sphinx Enclosure.

A diorite statue of Khafra which was discovered buried upside down along with other debris in the Valley Temple, is claimed as support for the Khafra theory.

The Dream Stela, erected much later by Pharaoh Thutmose IV (1401–1391 or 1397-1388 BCE), associates the Sphinx with Khafra. When the stela was discovered, its lines of text were already damaged and incomplete, and only referred to Khaf, not Khafra. An extract was translated:
...which we bring for him: oxen ... and all the young vegetables; and we shall give praise to Wenofer ... Khaf ... the statue made for Atum-Hor-em-Akhet.
The Egyptologist Thomas Young, finding the Khaf hieroglyphs in a damaged cartouche used to surround a royal name, inserted the glyph ra to complete Khafra's name. However, the stela offers no indication of the relationship between the Sphinx and 'Khafra' – as its builder, restorer, worshipper or otherwise. When the Stela was re-excavated in the 1925, the lines of text referring to Khaf flaked off and were destroyed.

Alternative hypotheses

Some Egyptologists and geologists have disagreed with the traditional hypothesis and have proposed various alternative theories—about the builder and/or the dating—to explain the Sphinx's construction.

Early Egyptologists

Many of the early Egyptologists and excavators of the Giza pyramid complex believed the Great Sphinx and other structures in the Sphinx Enclosure predated the traditional date of construction (the reign of Khafra or Khephren, 2520–2492 BCE).

In 1857, Auguste Mariette, founder of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, unearthed the much later Inventory Stela (estimated Dynasty XXVI, c. 678-525 BCE, which tells how Khufu came upon the Sphinx, already buried in sand). Although certain tracts on the Stela are considered good evidence, this passage is widely dismissed as Late Period historical revisionism,

Gaston Maspero, the French Egyptologist and second Director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, conducted a survey of the Sphinx in 1886 and concluded:

The Sphinx stela shows, in line thirteen, the cartouche of Khephren. I believe that to indicate an excavation carried out by that prince, following which, the almost certain proof that the Sphinx was already buried in sand by the time of Khafre and his predecessors [in Dynasty IV, c. 2575-2467 BCE].

In 1904, English Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge wrote in The Gods of the Egyptians:

This marvelous object [the Great Sphinx] was in existence in the days of Khafre, or Khephren, and it is probable that it is a very great deal older than his reign and that it dates from the end of the archaic period [c. 2686 BCE].

Revisionist approaches

, former director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, examined the distinct iconography of the nemes (headdress) and the now-detached beard of the Sphinx and concluded that the style is more indicative of the Pharaoh Khufu (2589–2566 BCE), builder of the Great Pyramid and Khafra's father. He supports this by suggesting that Khafra’s Causeway was built to conform to a pre-existing structure, which, he concludes, given its location, could only have been the Sphinx.

Colin Reader, an English geologist who independently conducted a more recent survey of the Enclosure, points out that the various quarries on the site have been excavated around the Causeway. Because these quarries are known to have been used by Khufu, Reader concludes that the Causeway (and thus the temples on either end thereof) must predate Khufu, thereby casting doubt on the conventional Egyptian chronology.

In 2004, Vassil Dobrev of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale in Cairo announced that he had uncovered new evidence that the Great Sphinx may have been the work of the little-known Pharaoh Djedefre (2528–2520 BCE), Khafra's half brother and a son of Khufu. Dobrev suggests that Djedefre built the Sphinx in the image of his father Khufu, identifying him with the sun god Ra in order to restore respect for their dynasty.

Frank Domingo, a forensic scientist in the New York City Police Department and an expert forensic anthropologist, used detailed measurements of the Sphinx, forensic drawings and computer imaging to conclude that Khafra, as depicted on extant statuary, was not the model for the Sphinx's face.

Water Erosion Debate

R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, a French polymath and amateur Egyptologist, first noticed evidence of water erosion on the walls of the Sphinx Enclosure in the 1950s. Author John Anthony West investigated further and in 1989 sought the opinion of a geologist, Robert M. Schoch, associate professor of natural science at the College of General Studies, Boston University.

From his investigation of the Enclosure's geology, Schoch concluded that the main type of weathering evident on the Sphinx Enclosure walls could only have been caused by prolonged and extensive rain. According to Schoch, the area has experienced a mean annual rainfall of approximately one inch (2.5 cm) since the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2134 BCE), and since Egypt’s last period of significant rainfall ended between the late fourth and early third millennia BCE, he dates the Sphinx's construction to the sixth or fifth millennia BCE.

Colin Reader agrees that the evidence of weathering indicates prolonged water erosion. Reader found, inter alia, that the flow of rainwater causing the weathering had been stemmed by the construction of 'Khufu's quarries', which lie directly "" of the Sphinx Enclosure, and therefore concludes that the Sphinx must predate the reign of Khufu (2589–2566 BCE), and certainly Khafra, by several hundred years. Reader however disagrees with Schoch's palaeometerological estimates, and instead concludes that the Sphinx dates to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2686 BCE).

David Coxill, a geologist working independently of both Schoch and Reader, concludes from the evidence of weathering in the Enclosure:
the Sphinx is at least 5,000 years old and pre-dates dynastic times [before 3100 BCE].

Most Egyptologists, dating the building of the Sphinx to Khafra's reign (2520-2492 BCE), do not accept the Water Erosion Theory. Alternative explanations for the evidence of weathering, from Aeolian processes and acid rain to exfoliation, haloclasty, thermal expansion, and even the poor quality limestone of the Sphinx, have been put forward by Egyptologists and geologists, including Mark Lehner, James A. Harrell of the University of Toledo, Lal Gauri, John J. Sinai and Jayanta K. Bandyopadhyay, Alex Bordeau, and Lambert Dolphin, a former senior research physicist at SRI International.

The chief proponents of the Water Erosion Theory and others have refuted these alternative explanations. Reader, for example, points to the tombs dug into the Enclosure walls during the Dynasty XXVI (c. 600 BCE), and notes that the entrances of the tombs have weathered so lightly that original chisel marks are still clearly visible. He points out that if the weathering on the Enclosure walls (up to a metre deep in places) had been created by any of the proposed alternative causes of erosion, the tomb entrances would have been weathered much more severely. Similarly, Schoch points out that the alternative explanations do not account for the absence of similar weathering patterns on other rock surfaces in the complex.

Orion Correlation Theory

Шаблон:See This theory was originally posited by authors Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval, in a series of separate and collaborative publications from the late 1980s onwards. The basis of the theory is the proposed exact correlation of the three pyramids at Giza with the three stars ζ Ori, ε Ori and δ Ori, together forming the asterism commonly called Orion's Belt, in the relative positions occupied by these stars in 10 500 BCE. Extensions to the theory concern the geographic relationship of the Sphinx, the Giza pyramids and the Nile as a reflection of Leo, Orion and the Milky Way, respectively.

The hypothesis has been examined by several scientists, who have published detailed criticism and rebuttal of these ideas, including two astronomers, Ed Krupp of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles and Anthony Fairall, professor of astronomy at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Using planetarium equipment, Krupp and Fairall independently investigated the angle between the alignment of Orion's Belt and North in c. 10 500 BCE and found that the angle differed considerably from the "perfect match" claimed by Bauval and Hancock in their Orion Correlation Theory: 47-50 degrees (planetarium measurements) compared to 38 degrees (pyramids). Furthermore, Krupp highlighted that the pyramids' line bent northwards, whereas Orion's Belt has a "kink" to the south, which had led Bauval and Gilbert to invert the pyramid map in their publications without revealing they had done so.

The Orion Correlation Theory and other similar hypotheses are used to support an overall belief in an ancient and technologically-advanced, but now vanished, global progenitor civilization (often Atlantis), a theory rejected by most archaeologists.

Racial characteristics

The face of the Sphinx has been damaged over the millennia, making conclusive racial identification difficult. This issue is part of the Ancient Egyptian race controversy.


.]] After the Giza Necropolis was abandoned, the Sphinx became buried up to its shoulders in sand. The first documented attempt at an excavation dates to c. 1400 BCE, when the young Thutmose IV (1401-1391 or 1397-1388 BCE) gathered a team and, after much effort, managed to dig out the front paws, between which he placed a granite slab, known as the Dream Stela, inscribed with the following (an extract):

...the royal son, Thothmos, been arrived, while walking at midday and seating himself under the shadow of this mighty god, was overcome by slumber and slept at the very moment when Ra is at the summit [of heaven]. He found that the Majesty of this august god spoke to him with his own mouth, as a father speaks to his son, saying: Look upon me, contemplate me, O my son Thothmos; I am thy father, Harmakhis-Khopri-Ra-Tum; I bestow upon thee the sovereignty over my domain, the supremacy over the living ... Behold my actual condition that thou mayest protect all my perfect limbs. The sand of the desert whereon I am laid has covered me. Save me, causing all that is in my heart to be executed.

Later, Ramessess II the Great (1279-1213 BCE) may have undertaken a second excavation.

Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist, originally asserted that there had been a far earlier renovation during the Old Kingdom (c. 2686-2184 BCE), although he has subsequently recanted this "heretical" viewpoint.

In 1817 CE, the first modern archaeological dig, supervised by the Italian Captain Giovanni Battista Caviglia, uncovered the Sphinx’s chest completely. The entire Sphinx was finally excavated in 1925.

Missing nose and beard

fragments of the Sphinx's beard.]] The one-metre-wide nose on the face is missing. The Egyptian Arab historian al-Maqrīzī, writing in the fifteenth century CE, attributes the loss to iconoclasm by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, a Sufi Muslim fanatic from the khanqah of Sa'id al-Su'ada. In 1378 CE, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose, and was hanged for vandalism. Al-Maqrīzī describes the Sphinx as the “talisman of the Nile” on which the locals believed the flood cycle depended. Some legends claim that the nose was broken off by a cannonball fired by Napoléon’s soldiers and that it still survives. Other variants indict British troops, the Mamluks, and others. However, sketches of the Sphinx by the Dane Frederick Lewis Norden, made in 1737 and published in 1755, illustrate the Sphinx already without a nose.

In addition to the lost nose, a ceremonial pharaonic beard is thought to have been attached, although this may have been added in later periods after the original construction. Egyptologist Vassil Dobrev has suggested that had the beard been an original part of the Sphinx, it would have damaged the chin of the statue upon falling. The lack of visible damage supports his theory that the beard was a later addition.

Additionally, Egyptologist has posited that the rounded ceremonial beard may not have existed in the Old or Middle Kingdoms and was only being introduced in the New Kingdom to identify the Sphinx with the god Hor-em-akhet. Шаблон:Fact This may also relate to the fashion of later pharaohs, which was to wear a plaited beard of authority — a false beard (chin straps are actually visible on some statues), since Egyptian culture mandated that men be clean shaven. However the statues of 4th Dynasty pharoahs such as Khafra and Menkaura clearly show that kings wore plaited beards in those early days too.

Pieces thought to belong to the Sphinx's beard are today kept in the British Museum and the Egyptian Museum.


Robert Temple has suggested that the Sphinx was originally not a lion, but rather a dog or jackal, and was intended as a huge statue of the god Anubis, who in Old Kingdom times was the primary god of the dead. The Great Sphinx was thus believed to stand as guardian of the tombs on the Giza Plateau, facing out from the world of the dead towards the rising sun.

Colin Reader has proposed that the Sphinx was probably the focus of solar worship in the Early Dynastic Egypt, before the Giza Plateau became a necropolis in the Old Kingdom (2686–2134 BCE). He ties this in with his conclusions that the Sphinx, the Sphinx temple, the Causeway and the Khafra Mortuary Temple are all part of a complex which predates the 4th Dynasty. The lion has long been a symbol associated with the sun in ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Images depicting the Egyptian king in the form of a lion smiting his enemies date as far back as the Early Dynastic.

In the New Kingdom, the Sphinx became more specifically associated with the god Hor-em-akhet (Hellenized: Harmachis) or Horus at the Horizon, which represented the pharaoh in his role as the Shesep-ankh (Living Image) of Atum. Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1427-1401 or 1397 BCE) built a temple to the north east of the Sphinx nearly 1000 years after its construction, and dedicated it to the cult of Hor-em-akhet.

Images of the Sphinx over the centuries

In the last 700 years there have been a proliferation of travelers and reports from Lower Egypt, unlike Upper Egypt, which was seldom reported from prior to the mid-18th century. Alexandria, Rosetta, Damietta, Cairo and the Giza Pyramids are described repeatedly, but not necessarily comprehensively. Many travellers, such as George Sandys, André Thévet, Athanasius Kircher, Balthasar de Monconys, Jean de Thévenot, John Greaves, Johann Michael Vansleb, Benoît de Maillet, Cornelis de Bruijn, Paul Lucas, Richard Pococke, Frederic Louis Norden and others, gained fame and fortune due to their often highly popular works. But there is an even larger crowd of more anonymous people who wrote obscure and little-read works, sometimes only unpublished manuscripts in libraries or private collections, including Henry Castela, Hans Ludwig von Lichtenstein, Michael Heberer von Bretten, Wilhelm von Boldensele, Pierre Belon du Mans, Vincent Stochove, Christophe Harant, Gilles Fermanel, Robert Fauvel, Jean Palerne Foresien, Willian Lithgow, Joos van Ghistele, etc.

Over the centuries, writers and scholars have recorded their impressions and reactions upon seeing the Sphinx. The vast majority were concerned with a general description, often including a mixture of science, romance and mystique. A typical description of the Sphinx by tourists and leisure travelers throughout the 19th and 20th century was made by John Lawson Stoddard;


From the 16th century far into the 19th century, observers repeatedly noted that the Sphinx has the face, neck and breast of a woman. Examples included Johannes Helferich (1579), George Sandys (1615), Johann Michael Vansleb (1677), Benoît de Maillet (1735) and Elliot Warburton (1844).

When one looks at the pencil and paint renderings by European travellers (see the gallery below), one realizes that it took Europeans some time to focus accurately on the image of the Sphinx. Seven years after visiting Giza, André Thévet (Cosmographie de Levant, 1556) described the Sphinx as "the head of a colossus, cause to be made by Isis, daughter of Inachus, then so beloved of Jupiter". He pictured it as a curly-haired monster with a grassy dog collar. Athanasius Kircher (who never visited Egypt) depicted the Sphinx as a Roman statue, reflecting his ability to conceptualize (Turris Babel, 1679). Johannes Helferich's (1579) Sphinx is a pinched-face, round-breasted woman with straight hair; the only edge over Thevet is that the hair suggests the flaring lappets of the headdress. George Sandys stated that the Sphinx was a harlot; Balthasar de Monconys interpreted the headdress as a kind of hairnet, while François de La Boullaye-Le Gouz's Sphinx had a rounded hairdo with bulky collar.

Richard Pococke's Sphinx was an adoption of Cornelis de Bruijn's drawing of 1698, featuring only minor changes, but is closer to the actual appearance of the Sphinx than anything previous. Norden made the first nearly true drawing of the Sphinx (Voyage d'Egypte et de Nubie, 1755) and he was the first known to depict clearly that the nose was missing.

In 2008, the film 10,000 BC showed a supposed original Sphinx with a lion's head. Before the film, the theory was presented on earlier documentary films about the origin of the Sphinx.


See also




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Abinesh S
4 January 2018
Negotiate the horse carriage prices to lesser than half before getting on the horse. And all the pyramids in the area are walkable. As the 'guides'to cut the bullshit when they say u can't walk. GMID
1 November 2012
Just say "no thank you no". To all the camel and horse scammers. They may take pictures and say is free or also free ride saying "pay what makes you happy" be careful. But nothing to worry about.
Dave Mc
31 August 2018
No, Napoleon Bonaparte didn't shoot off his nose, but yes the head looks smaller than the body so maybe there was originally a larger head that was re-carved into what we see today?
Bassem Helal
1 March 2018
It is really amazing to see. My advice to you is to go there at winter not summer due to the scorching sun and sunburns many will try to sell you stuff and make you ride for money.Enjoy.
Angeline Teoh
9 December 2019
The side and front angle looks amazing. Great place for photography but be aware of pick pockets and gift sellers who continues to pester you non stop
Aurélien Barré
25 August 2014
Le Sphinx est une créature mythologique possédant le buste et la tête d'un homme, et le corps d'un lion. Il est censé incarné l'etre parfait. Quel dommage qu'il est perdu son nez... Splendide.
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