The Great Sphinx Of Giza, Egypt cover

The Great Sphinx Of Giza, Egypt

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No one knows for sure why or when the Great Sphinx of Giza -the largest monolithic statue in the world -was built. But it is likely this is the oldest monumental sculpture in the world. As happens in many cultures, the men of weight in Egypt wanted to preserve their status after death. One way to achieve this was to be buried in a sacred place, thus raising the deceased to the status of gods. The sacred Giza Plateau was used as the necropolis of pharaohs and other important people since the 27th century BC. Here were the most amazing structures of the antique world – the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.


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The Great Sphinx Of Giza, Egypt

Giza Plateau

No one knows for sure why or when the Great Sphinx of Giza -the largest monolithic statue in the world -was built, but it is likely this is the oldest monumental sculpture in the world.

The Giza Plateau formed some 50 million years ago, when the Eocene limestone (so called Mokkattam Formation) was exposed above sea level. The dry desert plateau overlooks the wide valley of the Nile and rises some 30 - 60 m above the fertile plains.

Great Sphinx In Giza

Great Sphinx In Giza

Cary Bass

CC BY-SA 2.0

Giza Plateau (Cont.)

As Ancient Egypt, one of the first civilizations in the world, started to develop here, the Giza Plateau became an important and sacred place.

The plateau is well suited to this: it is above the flood level of the Nile and consists of good construction stone. Most likely, before the construction of the pyramids and the sphinx, there was an important shrine to the Sun located here.

As it happens in many cultures, the men of weight in Egypt wanted to preserve their status after death. One way to achieve this was to be buried in a sacred place, thus raising the deceased to the status of gods. The sacred Giza Plateau was used as the necropolis of pharaohs and other important people since the 27th century BC.

Here were the most amazing structures of the antique world – the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Sphinxes

The Sphinx – a mythical creature with the body of animal and a human head - is a very ancient symbol. The oldest known depictions of sphinxes were made in Neolithic Age.

Found in the Nevali Çori site in Turkey were some 11,500 years old small and exquisite sculptures of these beings.

Although we cannot be certain of the purpose of this mythical creature, it seems that sphinxes often "served" as guardians of sacred places, such as temples for important burials. These ancient, carved stone guardians spread from Levant to Egypt, Persia, India, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Great Sphinx In Giza

Great Sphinx In Giza

David Holt London

CC BY-SA 2.0

The Riddle

In Greece, a sphinx was a demon of evil or bad luck. There is a famous legend of Oedipus, who saved the city of Thebes from a monster with the head of a women and the body of a lion.

The monster would stop all travellers and asked a riddle: "What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed and then three-footed?" None knew the answer, and sphinx strangled and devoured her hapless victims.

Oedipus knew the answer: "This is man - he crawls on all fours when he is child, walks on two in manhood and leans on a staff when he is old". Upon hearing this answer, the sphinx cast herself from the rock.

The name "sphinx" also comes from the Greek language and means "to bind" or "to squeeze".

The Oldest Egyptian Sphinx

Great Sphinx of Giza is the oldest known sphinx in Egypt.

It is a mystery as to exactly when and why it was shaped, but this Sphinx is the oldest monumental sculpture in the world. Many specialists consider that it was built in the time of pharaoh Khafra who reigned from 2558 to 2532 BC, but there are no direct proofs of this.

There are speculations that the Sphinx is even older, and that only its head was reshaped in the times of Khafra – to be made more similar to the pharaoh. The head of the statue is disproportionately small indeed and less eroded than the body of statue.

The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Chephren

The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Chephren

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

CC BY-SA 3.0

Layers

This difference in erosion though could also be explained by the different properties of the limestone layers.

The lower layer of limestone is of comparatively low quality, and is heavily eroded and banded with deep, horizontal ridges. The upper layer at the height of the head is less porous.

The exotic "water erosion hypothesis" concedes that this monument could be built even in the 6th - 5th millennium BC - in the period when the rainfall here was much higher and caused erosion of the enclosure around the Sphinx. The known history of Ancient Egypt does not support such a hypothesis, as such grand works required an organized and centralized society which did not yet exist.

The Building Of The Sculpture

It is possible that there was a natural limestone hill in the site of this giant sculpture. It is hard to tell now, because the ancient Egyptians heavily reshaped this area when taking material for the Great Pyramids and other structures.

Most of statue, though, was shaped by removing the limestone ground and creating a deep moat around the monument.

The removed stone blocks were used to build the Sphinx Temple next to the statue as well as the Valley Temple.

Traces of color have been found on one ear of Sphinx, thus raising the possibly that the statue was once brightly painted. The statue had a beard at one time - most likely added after its construction. Parts of this beard have been preserved to this day, and are located in the British Museum, in London.

The Sphinx, The Pyramids And The Sphinx Temple

The Sphinx, The Pyramids And The Sphinx Temple

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

CC BY 2.0

Giant Guardian

The length of statue is 73.5 meters, with 15 m of this in the forelegs. Its width is 19.3 meters, and height of 20.22 meters.

The Sphinx looks towards the sunrise, towards the Nile. The lion symbol in Old Egyptian mythology was closely linked to Sun (Sun deity Sekhmet), thus it is possible that the Sphinx was created as the guardian of the shrine on the Giza Plateau.

No mentions of the Sphinx have been found in the writings of the Old Kingdom, but in the New Kingdom it was called Hor-em-akhet. This name was found on a granite slab – the Dream Stele - which was placed between the forelegs of Sphinx by pharaoh Thutmose IV circa 1390 BC.

Buried

Buried

The Sphinx was located in the grounds of the most important funerary complex in Egypt. But when the necropolis was abandoned, the Sphinx became buried in the sand up to its shoulders.

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

PUBLIC DOMAIN

A Missing Nose

Several attempts to recover it were made in the times of the New Kingdom and again in Roman times. The statue was reinforced by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

The monument has lost its nose. Most likely this was done deliberately by Muslim fanatics in the late 14th century upon seeing that Egyptian peasants were making offerings to the Sphinx.

For many generations, and throughout millennia, people used to see just a part of the statue - a giant head rising out of the sand – which actually helped to preserve the unique statue. The Sphinx was recovered from the sand between the years 1925 to 1936 and is now one of the great symbols of Egypt, and one of the best known monuments of antiquity.

Background

Coordinates: 29.9753 N 31.1376 E

No: 346 (list of all attractions)

Categories: Ancient monuments and memorials, Rock cut architecture

Values: Art, History, Archaeology, Unexplained

Rank: 1

Address: Africa, Egypt, Giza Plateau, some hundred meters south-east from great pyramids of Giza

Writing in Arabian: أبو الهول العظيم في الجيزة, also أبو الهول‎

Age: ˜ 2558 - 2532 BC (?) or earlier

UNESCO World Heritage status: Part of "Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur", 1979, No.86