The Great Sphinx:
Guardian of Giza

The Great Sphinx.
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.

Buried in sand up to its neck, the Sphinx endures.
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.
These cliffs are about 40 feet (12 meters) tall.
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.

Located just south of the Sphinx, the Sphinx Temple is a mass of huge rectangular pillars and architraves.
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, 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.

A line of donkeys pass behind the Great Sphinx-By Hector Horeau, 1841. 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.

The face of the Sphinx is serious and calm.
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.
Excerpts from:
"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, 2006.

The Sphinx looks at the world of 1918.
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.

The Question of the Sphinx

by W M Flinders Petrie, 1897.

Near the Granite temple stands the Sphinx, and there is no evidence of its age. Its whole mass, lion's body and man's head, is entirely carved in unmoved native rock, although the weathering lines give the head the appearance of built courses. The body has been cased with stone, and the paws of it are built up with small masonry, probably of Roman age.

It must have been a knoll of rock, which ran out to a headland from the spur of the pyramid plateau, and the hardness and fine quality of the mass now forming the head had doubtless preserved it from the weathering which had reduced the soft strata below that. When then was this knoll of rock so carved? And by whom?

A later limit is given by the stele of Tahutmes IV (1400 - 1390 BC, Eighteenth Dynasty) placed between its paws, which records a dream of his. When taking a noonday siesta in its shadow, the Sphinx asked the Pharaoh to dig him out of the sand. It must then be much older than his time. On the other hand, it has been supposed to be prehistoric. But there is some evidence against that. No tombs at Gizeh are older than Khufu, nor are any in this part of the cemetery older than Khafra. We may see this on looking at the wide causeway in the rock up to the second pyramid. On either hand of that is a crowd of tomb shafts, but not one is cut in the whole width of the causeway. Another consideration points to its being later than the Old Kingdom, there is no figure or mention of the Sphinx itself on a single monument of the Old Kingdom, nor do any priests of his appear as they did for each pharaoh's tomb. On the stele of Tahutmes IV, Khafra is alluded to, perhaps as the maker of the Sphinx.

The front of the Sphinx was a place of devotion in Roman times and great brick walls were built to hold back the sand on the side next to the granite temple. A wide flight of steps leads down to the front, where a Roman altar of granite stood before the shrine between the paws, which was formed of tablets of Tahutmes IV., Ramesses II, etc. This front of the Sphinx has been cleared three times in this century, but the back of it, and lower part of the sides, have never been examined since ancient times.
Excerpted from: A History Of Egypt,
From the Earliest Times to the XVIth Dynasty,
by William Mathew Flinders Petrie, London, 1897.

But burials are not the only ancient use of a site, indeed most historic temples in Egypt do not contain burials. And the eroded stone in the Second Pyramid crypt may be an old temple, that, with the Sphinx, are the remains of an ancient site from pre-dynastic times. It is the better site at Giza, which Khufu avoided from respect and Khafra incorporated into his complex.

It is true that you see what you look for...
Photograph by Douglas Sladen, 1911.

Two blocks of stone with cross-hatched groves like a braided beard.
Professor Petrie, 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

The monuments of Giza include 9 large pyramids, the Sphinx, and countless tombs.
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".

wings of the Sun.

Ancient Egypt's Age of the Pyramids

Home Page
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
Before Giza:
The Pyramids at Saqqara
The Pyramids of Sneferu
The Greatest Mystery of All.

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