One of the most impressive sights you'd almost certainly visit while on a tour of Egypt is one of the best known and most recognizable statues in the entire world. The Sphinx, named after a Greek word, is a limestone statue that depicts a reclining mythical creature which combines a human head and a lion's body.
The statue is 73 meters long (240 feet) and 20 meters high (66 feet) from the top of the head to the bottom, with its head meaning to resemble its builder (commissioner): Pharaoh Khafre. It was located in front of the pyramid of Khafre, towards the entrance of the Giza Necropolis and it is there, relatively intact, today.
- 1. Who Built, and How?
- 2. Why was it Built?
- 3. What Happened throughout History
- 4. What Happened to the its Nose?
- 5. Can You Visit the Inside of it?
Who Built the Great Sphinx, and How?
The Great Sphinx was allegedly built during the reign of Khafre (between 2558 and 2532 BC), the builder of the second-largest pyramid at Giza. However, not a lot is known about it at that time. For example, it is uncertain what name the Sphinx was given at the time or how it was referred to, and whether there were plans to build more structures including a Sphinx temple nearby the statue. On top of that, the Sphinx itself may not have ever been fully completed.
The Sphinx was carved from the bedrock at the Giza plateau, the same bedrock which provided stones for the building of the pyramids as well as other monuments in the area, which you will be able to see when you visit the other sights.
Experts have suggested that the Sphinx's head was carved first, and that the moat that you can see around the statue only appeared because the stones were needed for the full body of the Sphinx, with its surrounding area serving as a quarry of sorts to supply construction.
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Why was the Great Sphinx Built?
The Great Sphinx of Giza was likely built in order to guard the pyramid of Khafre — this is the most widely accepted theory about why the Great Sphinx was built due to its positioning in front of Khafre's pyramid. The statue faces from west to east, towards the rising sun, in line with ancient Egyptian belief in the power of the sun.
The sun was of great importance in ancient Egypt, and the way that both the Sphinx and the pyramids are aligned in relation to the sun and how the sun moves throughout the day have both answered and posed many questions to researchers today.
In ancient Egyptian ideology, the sphinx also represented a spiritual guardian confirming the theory of the sphinx guarding the pyramid. There may also have been a celestial purpose to the Great Sphinx and its positioning, to help resurrect the soul of the pharaoh by channeling the power of the sun. However, certain aspects of this are unlikely to ever be answered for sure due to the uncertainty surrounding a lot of the aspects of the Sphinx.
What Happened to the Sphinx throughout History?
During the First Intermediate Period (roughly 2181–2055 BC) the Giza complex was abandoned with sand burying the Sphinx up to its shoulders, making it barely visible. The Sphinx was then attempted to be excavated around 1400 BC by a young prince called Thutmose who later became a pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
During the New Kingdom, a ceremonial pharaonic beard was added to the Great Sphinx of Giza, as well as a granite stele at its feet, with inscriptions that today have mostly faded. Part of the beard is currently on display at the British Museum in London, after it broke off and British archaeologists completed their excavations.
What Happened to the Sphinx's Nose?
Sometime during its life, the Sphinx statue also famously had its nose knocked off, but nobody knows exactly what happened or has ever found evidence of the missing nose in surrounding areas.
One theory was that Napoleon's men accidentally knocked off the nose, but depictions of the Great Sphinx of Giza have been found from before that time that which show the nose was already missing before Napoleon and his troops arrived in Egypt. Archaeological evidence has confirmed this, and predicted that the nose was likely intentionally broken off at an unknown time between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD.
Other theories around the nose speculate that there were Turkish soldiers practicing their aim on the nose of the Sphinx, that the incident was a result of iconoclastic attacks, or that somebody who believed the nose to be evil chiseled it off on purpose.
Can You Visit the Inside of the Great Sphinx of Giza?
There is knowledge of a rump passage within the Great Sphinx, which was first discovered in 1926 and subsequently forgotten about again. This passage was then rediscovered in 1980, when it was shown that the passage has two sections that lead to cavities within the Sphinx. It is not possible to visit these at the moment, but these discoveries show that more research and excavations are still needed to further explore this impressive statue, as is the case with a lot of Egypt's incredible historical sights.
Today, the Sphinx stands tall and is an important marker of Egypt and its historical treasures, however, national efforts are needed to maintain the Sphinx, as the statue continues to erode with time and as a result of its exposure to the elements, its proximity to the roads and traffic, as well as water leakages from surrounding areas.
As a result, restoration work has actively taken place on the site from the 1950s by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, and will continue to be done in phases to try and protect the Sphinx as much as possible.
Further Mysteries Surrounding the Sphinx
In case you are interested, there are many mysteries surrounding the Sphinx today, including the well-known ones about where its nose went and how precisely it relates to the other monuments found at Giza, but there are also plenty of conspiracy theories that keep researchers busy.
One question asks whether or not the Sphinx is actually aligned in order to point at more hidden chambers within the pyramids at Giza, and some believe the statue has supernatural powers, or that the Sphinx of Giza is an embodiment of antiquity itself.
There was also speculation that certain documents containing knowledge from Atlantis were hidden underneath the Sphinx, but no secret chambers have been found underneath the statue to this day.
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Visitor Information: How to Visit the Great Sphinx
Ticket prices to enter the Giza Necropolis (where you'll also find the Great Pyramids of Giza) are 200 Egyptian pounds (10.2 US dollars).
When you visit, it is best to wear light clothing depending on the time of year, to avoid getting too hot. We also recommend wearing proper footwear as you'll be walking around a lot in order to see everything! It is also a good idea to wear sunscreen or a hat to avoid getting sunburned if you go on a particularly sunny day, but in general the Great Sphinx of Giza is quite exposed to the sun.
We recommend seeing the Sphinx first, and then heading over to the pyramids afterwards.
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What Else to See Near the Great Sphinx of Giza?
While you are not able to go inside the Sphinx or climb on it in order to protect the statue, you can see it from the outside. It is better to see it from a little further away, as it is huge! Near the Sphinx, you'll be able to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza, the three pyramids include the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure (you can read more about what to see there in this article about the pyramids), which makes a perfect day of sightseeing altogether. They're all on the same archaeological site and within walking distance of each other.
Ticket prices for the pyramids are as follows:
- The Pyramids of Giza: 200 EGP or 10.4 US dollars
- Entry to the Great Pyramid: 400 EGP or 20.4 US dollars
- Entry to the 2nd or the 3rd pyramid: 100 EGP or 5.1 US dollars
- Entry to the Solar Boat Museum: 100 EGP or 5.1 US dollars
Nearby you'll also find the new Grand Egyptian Museum which is opening in November of 2022, so there is lots to do and see within close proximity. The museum probably requires a separate day, so in total we recommend taking two full days to visit Giza's attractions. The new Grand Egyptian Museum has a separate Tutankhamun Hall, which is worth taking the time for, with some of the artefacts on display there never having been on show in a museum before.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Great Sphinx?
The best time of year to visit the Great Sphinx of Giza is either March or April (in the spring) or October to November, in the fall. During the summer months of May, June, July and August, Giza can get extremely hot and we recommend avoiding those months if possible with your schedule. While December and January are also good times for visiting, these are peak season in Egypt and all tourist sites will be busier than usual.
Temperatures in Giza in March and April are between 20 and 29 °C during the day (64 to 84 °F). October sees temperatures of around 30°C (or 86°F) during the hottest part of the day, and November around 25°C (77°F).
During the day, the Sphinx can get quite busy with crowds, so we recommend visiting either at dawn or dusk if you can, and starting or finishing your day at the Giza Necropolis with the Sphinx (also because of its location). That way there will not only be fewer people for a better atmosphere, but you'd also be able to take better photographs with fewer other people in.
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