The Great Sphinx:
Guardian of Giza
The great Sphinx of Giza
by David Roberts, Scotland, 1838.
Probably the most recognized statue in the world, and one of the very oldest, the Sphinx sits near the edge of the Giza plateau as it sits near the edge of recorded human history. Much worn by the ages, today it is more a symbol than art, a symbol of the mystery associated with Ancient Egypt.
In the days the Pyramids were built, more than 4500 years ago, the Sphinx was painted with red ocher, green and black, a terrifying guardian of the royal cemetery. Conventional archaeology dates it to the reign of Pharaoh Chephren (Khafre) (Fourth Dynasty, 2558-2532 BC), builder of the Second Pyramid of Gisa, which stands directly behind it, or possibly to his father Cheops. The head of the Sphinx was carved from a natural hill, the body was excavated from the surrounding stone, and the stone blocks that were removed in that excavation were used in the construction of the Sphinx temple just to the east and the outer wall of Chephren's Valley Temple to the south.
from "la Description de l'Egypte"
engraving from original drawing c.1801
There is much speculation about the Sphinx, a lot of it based on the predictions of the American psychic Edgar Cayce that a secret chamber would be found buried near the statue containing records of Atlantis. There are caverns below the Sphinx, however permission to drill into them has not been given.
Some say the human face is a addition, perhaps by Pharaoh Chephren, that the body is that of the Jackal god Anubis, traditional guardian of the dead, and not that of a lion as is generally supposed.
Rene Schwaller de Lubicz and John Anthony West have advanced the theory that the Sphinx and the adjacent temples are relics of an earlier, otherwise forgotten, civilization. W.F. Petrie held similar views. The body of the Sphinx, its' enclosure, and parts of the Sphinx Temple and Valley Temple show deep, water-caused erosion in a climate with almost no rainfall.
Back wall of the Sphinx enclosure.
A modern protective wall is at ground level,
the Sphinx's body was carved into the plateau.
Photograph by Rhikal, CreativeCommons.
Geologist Robert Schoch explains: "..... if the granite facing (of Chepren's Valley Temple) is covering deeply weathered limestone, the original limestone structures must predate by a considerable degree the granite facing. Obviously, if the limestone cores (originating from the Sphinx ditch) of the temples predate the granite ashlars, and the granite ashlars are attributable to Khafre (Chephren) of the Fourth Dynasty, then the Great Sphinx was built prior to the reign of Khafre."
Other geologists have supported Schoch, with vastly differing ideas of how much older than Khafre the Sphinx is. Egyptologists insist there is "No single artifact, no single inscription, or pottery" (Zahi Hawass) found on the Giza Plateau that evidences an earlier civilization. But that evidence may not take the forms the Egyptologists are expecting.
The Valley temple of Chephren (foreground).
The unweathered granite can be seen in the bottom left corner,
the weathered large limestone blocks are just below the Sphinx.
Cheops' Pyramid is in the background.
Photograph by Henri Bechard, 1887
Here, in an early 19th century visit, we are content to experience the grandeur of one of the most powerful and fascinating places on Earth - the ancient burial ground of the Pharaohs of Memphis: Giza.
Edited Excerpts from
The Journal of Lt-Colonel George A. F. Fitzclarence,
Published in 1819
Adapted for PYMD.com, 2006
The Great Sphinx is about eight or nine hundred yards (meters) directly south of the Great Pyramid. At present (that is, in early 1818) more than 40 feet (12 meters) of it's height is buried, leaving only the head and chest above the sand. The entire statue is 66 feet (20 m) high from its base to the top of its head and 240 feet (70 m) long.
I have been most fortunate that my travel through Egypt was during a period of tranquility and security which has, within the last two years, permitted inquisitive and persevering explorers to clarify many points, and to make fresh discoveries. All the great objects which were now before me, the Sphinx and the Great and Second Pyramid, have been successfully explored, and much has been added to our knowledge of them. At a distance were workers employed by Giovanni Belzoni uncovering the Third Pyramid, and certainly, if we may judge from his former successes at Thebes and the Second Pyramid, it is to be hoped he will find fresh wonders there.
(L) Sphinx by Hector Horeau, 1841.
The face of the Sphinx has been often described, and I will therefore only repeat what I was told upon the spot by those who witnessed the removal of the sand, which has for ages hid the lower part of this colossal figure.
Captain Giovanni Caviglia and Mr. Henry Salt undertook to remove the sand that enveloped the Sphinx. This was accomplished by hiring workmen to carry it away in baskets, which, to any other than these persevering gentlemen, would have been regarded as an endless work.
A later excavation of the Sphinx
Photograph by Felix Bonfiles, 1878
They at last, however, cleared the drifts sufficiently to disclose the base of the chest, the left arm and paw, and the avenue or approach which led to the front of the figure. They discovered in that avenue, which is cut out of the limestone on which the Pyramids stand, two flights of steps, with an intermediate terrace, descending towards the Sphinx. On this terrace were two small Grecian style buildings. Between the paws of the Sphinx was a small altar. Among many ornaments found there were a most beautiful stone tablet, covered with hieroglyphics, which is now in the possession of Mr. Salt at his house in Cairo.
The back of the Sphinx, which extends to the westward, is just perceptible above the sand, and resembles the well trod path or limits of a sentry's walk. It is remarkable that in a mere year's time the sands have yet again engulfed the lower portion of the monument.
Photograph by Henri Bechard, 1887
Belzoni now took us to a spot where he had opened the ground between the Sphinx and the Pyramid, having dug down several feet until he met with a pavement of quite large blocks of well made flat stones. As it was much covered in, I cannot be a competent judge of all the attendant circumstances, but in one part there seemed to be a wall of low height, formed of stones upon the pavement.
I trust it will be recollected that I only visited this place once, and although I wished to remain for weeks, nay months, and to clear away every atom of sand and rubbish from so classical a spot, I had not come through Egypt intending to make antiquarian researches.
"Journal of a route across India,
through Egypt to England
in 1817 and 1818"
by Lt.-Colonel George FitzclarencePublished in 1819.
Adapted and edited considerably for PYMD.com, 2006.
The Sphinx in 1918, by Fredrich Perlberg.
Artist's views of the Sphinx reveal more of the artist and his time,
and little of the Sphinx itself.
It is true that you see what you look for...
Photograph by Douglas Sladen, 1911.
Professor Petre, some years later, again cleared the sand from the Sphinx.
He carried to England these fragments of the Sphinx's beard.
The Pharaohs added this symbol of kingship to the statue, probably in the New Kingdom.
How they managed to attach it is an open question.
British Museum, Photo from EgyptArchive.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
Map of the Giza necropolis by Prisse de l'Avennes, 1878.
The Great Sphinx is quite small at this scale.
It is located near the far right (East) of the plateau,
to the left and slightly below the word "Sphinx".
Ancient Egypt's Age of the Pyramids
Climbing the Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid of Cheops
The Second Greatest Pyramid - Chephren
Valley Temple of Chephren
The Pyramid of Menkaure
The Great Sphinx
More About Giza
The Pyramids at Saqqara
The Pyramids of Sneferu
The Greatest Mystery of All.
For many more pictures, stories and secrets
of Ancient Egypt explore the sister website: