Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza | A Monument to the Pharaoh Khafre

The colossal limestone statue of the Great Sphinx of Giza is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt, and also perhaps one of the most recognizable statues in the world. It was built on the Giza Plateau by the ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, during the reign of Pharaoh Khafre.

What is the Great Sphinx of Giza?

great sphinx of giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a sculpture of a man with the body of a lion. It was called a “Sphinx” by the ancient Greeks, as it resembled the ancient Greek mythical winged monster.  To the Arabs, it was known as Abu Al-Hol (which translates to “Father of Terror”).

It was carved from the bedrock along the causeway that connected the Pyramid of Khafre to its Valley Temple. This makes it likely that it was carved during Khafre’s reign (c. 2558–2532 BC). It is also believed that the face of the Sphinx was based on Pharaoh Khafre’s own features. 

The Sphinx faces from west to east, and measures 73 meters (240 feet) long and 20 meters (66 feet) high.

The Temple of the Great Sphinx

great sphinx of giza

Visit the Great Sphinx of Giza

Visit the Giza Necropolis to see the Great Sphinx of Giza. There you can also see the three famous Pyramids of Giza as well as many other ancient Egyptian treasures. Its opening hours are from 8 AM – 5 PM in the summer months and 8 AM – 4 PM in the winter months.

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Where is the Great Sphinx of Giza Located?

great sphinx of giza

About the Great Sphinx of Giza

great sphinx of giza

Building the Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza was carved from the bedrock of the Giza Plateau during the reign of Khafre around 2500 BC. It was likely built after Khafre’s Pyramid and his Valley Temple.   

Like many other ancient Egyptian monuments, the sphinx was once decked out in bright yellow and blue paint, but this has since disappeared. 

Since the purpose of the Sphinx has been long-forgotten, many intriguing legends and superstitions have sprung up about its creation.

Great Sphinx of Giza

Excavations During the New Kingdom

Some time after the end of the Old Kingdom, the Giza Necropolis was abandoned. However, around 1400 BC, the New Kingdom Pharaoh Thutmose IV excavated the front paws of the Sphinx and erected a shrine with a Dream Stele (an inscribed granite slab) proclaiming his kingship.

Later, further excavations were undertaken by Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who also built a temple to the sun god Hor-em-akhet in the 1300s BC, and Ramesses II the Great.

great sphinx of giza

A Roman Tourist Destination

In Graeco-Roman times, Giza was a popular tourist attraction, and the Pyramids and the Sphinx were considered antiquities. 

The Great Sphinx in particular was visited by a number of Roman Emperors. And, in the first century AD, the Sphinx was once again cleared of sand, and a monumental stairway was erected leading up to the paws. Around 166 AD, there was further restoration of the walls surrounding the Sphinx. 

But, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the Sphinx was again left to be engulfed by the sands.

great sphinx of giza

The Middle Ages and the Broken Nose

While the cult of the Sphinx persisted into the middle-ages, Arab writers saw it as Belhib, a version of the Canaanite god Hauron. They also believed that it was a talisman that guarded Giza and Cairo against the desert

However, it was also during this time that the nose of the Sphinx was broken off. It is believed that it was intentionally broken with chisels between the 3rd and 10th centuries AD. 

Arab historian al-Maqrīz believed that this was an act of retribution by Muhammad Sa'im al-Dahr, against local peasants praying to the Sphinx.

Great Sphinx of Giza

Modern Excavations and Restorations

The first modern archaeological excavation took place in 1817, supervised by Giovanni Caviglia, during which the Sphinx’s chest was uncovered. A further dig in 1887 by Eugène Grébaut, uncovered the paws, the altar, and the stele of Thutmosis IV.

In 1931, a number of restorations were made, some questionable. The damaged head of the Sphinx was repaired using concrete, which created an altered profile. The Roman stairway near the paws was also dismantled.

great sphinx of giza

The Great Sphinx Today

Today, the Great Sphinx still retains some of its scars. But, its body has been shored up with layers of new limestone blocks. 

Recently, a series of repairs and restorations were undertaken in 1988 and the 1990s.

While it continues to stand tall, it is also under threat from pollution and rising groundwater and needs constant repairs. Nevertheless, it is a wonder to behold and is a symbol of the might and artistic wonder of the ancient Egyptians.

Interesting Facts About the Great Sphinx of Giza

  • The Great Sphinx is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt and was constructed around 2500 BC, during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre.
  • It measures 73 meters (240 feet) long from paw to tail, and 20 meters (66 feet) high from the base to the top of the head. At its widest point near the haunches, it is 19 meters (62 feet) wide.
  • The Sphinx was carved directly from the limestone bedrock, and the different strata of the stone have eroded at different speeds, leading to the horizontal striations seen today. 
  • The statue of the Great Sphinx of Giza was once covered with plaster. Its face was painted red and the menes (or headdress) was painted yellow and blue. 
  • The face of the Sphinx is said to be based on that of Khafre himself. However, today it is heavily damaged, with a broken nose and a missing beard.
  • Despite the myth that the nose was destroyed, by the army of Napolean Bonaparte, artwork from before his time (by Frederic Louis Norden in 1737) shows the Sphinx already had a broken nose. 
  • The Sphinx is oriented from west to east, and faces east towards the rising sun. This was important to the ancient Egyptians who worshipped the sun and had a number of sun gods. 

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All Your Questions About the Great Sphinx of Giza Answered

Q. What is the Sphinx of Giza?

A. The Sphinx of Giza is a statue of a creature that has the body of a lion and the head of a man. It is named after a prominent mythological figure in Asian, Egyptian, and Greek mythology.

Q. Who built the Great Sphinx of Giza?

A. The Great Sphinx was built during the reign of the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre, around 2500 BC.

Q. Why is the Great Sphinx important?

A. The Great Sphinx at Giza is one of the largest and oldest statues in the world. It is also a symbol of the royal power of the ancient Egyptians.

Q. How tall is the Great Sphinx of Giza?

A. The Great Sphinx is 240 feet long and 66 feet high from the base to the top of the head.

Q. What is inside the Great Sphinx?

A. While the Sphinx of Giza is mostly solid, there are a number of passageways and tunnels bored into the structure. It is still not known who made these or why. 

Q. Can tourists go inside the Great Sphinx of Giza?

A. No. While tourists can enter some of the Pyramids of Giza, you are not allowed to enter the Great Sphinx.

Q. Can you buy tickets to visit the Great Sphinx?

A. Yes, you can buy your tickets for visiting the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx here.