to the north, and slightly below the pyramids at Giza is the Sphinx. It
is made of limestone. The body and head were cut from a single limestone
rock, present at the site. The paws were added on after. With the head
of a human and a lion’s body, it has guarded the site of the pyramids
for almost 4,500 years.
Named the Sphinx, after a creature in Greek mythology that had a woman’s head
and lion’s body, it is supposed to be both intelligent and strong. The Egyptians
call him Abu El Hol.
The main section of the body is 171 feet long; the total length including the
paws, which stick out in the front, is 242 feet, with it reaching a height of 66
feet at the top of the head.
Although not all historians agree, the majority believes that King Khafra,
the son of King Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid, probably built the Sphinx.
King Khafra built the second pyramid at Giza, smaller than his father’s but
bigger than the third pyramid. The Sphinx lies beside the valley temple of
Khafra’s pyramid. The Ancient Egyptians thought that the Sphinx was a powerful
The face of the Sphinx has been badly damaged over the centuries, but it is
still recognizable as a human face. Legend would have us believe that either the
French used the Sphinx for target practice, with canons, during the Napoleonic
wars, or perhaps the British troops during World War 1. The story goes that the
nose of the Sphinx was shot off during this target practice. This legend is not
true. We know from photographs that the nose was missing long before WWI. There
are also drawings made of the Sphinx, before the Napoleonic wars, which clearly
show the Sphinx without a nose. The best theory that anyone can come up with is
that it was badly damaged by the wind and sand, and just disintegrated.
The Sphinx is wearing the classic headdress of a Pharaoh and has the beard of
a god. The beard fell off, and was removed from the site. Part of it can be seen
in the British Museum in London. Most historians believe that it was meant
to have the face of King Khafra.
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped the Sphinx and offered sacrifices to it.
They also left stones inscribed with messages, some of these stones have been
found, scattered around the Sphinx.
The Sphinx is lying down in the sand, with his paws outstretched. Between the
paws there is a large slab of red granite. Inscribed on it was the story of a
dream. Soon after the stone was uncovered and the message deciphered, it began
to crumble from exposure to the air. The writing can no longer be read.
King Thutmose IV should never have been a King of Egypt, but he was. The
story is that before he was King he used to go hunting in the desert, at that
time he was a Prince, but not in a very good position to get the throne. One day
he fell asleep while hunting, and had a dream.
In the dream the Sphinx appeared and told Thutmose that although he was not
meant to be Pharaoh, he had been very dutiful to the Gods and deserved a reward.
The Sphinx promised to make Thutmose king if he did one thing for the Sphinx, in
Prince Thutmose immediately asked what it was that the Sphinx required. The
Sphinx replied that his statue was buried in the sand, and that nobody had done
anything about it. It is reported that at that time, only the head of the Sphinx
was showing above the surrounding desert. Prince Thutmose set about the task of
clearing away the sand, and eventually became King of all Egypt.
Tall tale or True Story?
Many Egyptians believe that the story is true, and that the Sphinx really did
talk to Prince Thutmose in a dream. However, this isn’t very likely. It is far
more likely that the Prince made up the story so that the people of Egypt would
accept him as their King.
In recent times attempts have been made to stop the Sphinx from eroding even
more. The blowing sands in the desert are gradually eating away at it. The
closeness of Cairo, with all its traffic and pollution is also causing damage to
the Sphinx. Different methods of preservation have been tried, but so far, none
have been successful. Some of the methods have caused even more damage to the
If you look closely at the photograph you can see some of the damage. The red
arrows show attempts to repair it. The neck has had mortar added. Bricks have
been added to the outside of the body, using mortar. It has since been
discovered that the mortar is eating away at the limestone even more quickly
than the air pollution.
The Sphinx has stood, as Guardian to the Pyramids, for 4,500 years, but it is
unlikely that it will be there in another 4,500 years, unless someone can come
up with a good way of preserving it.