You might have heard about the Great Sphinx of Giza before, at least in your history textbooks. There are many reasons why this figure is known throughout history, some fascinating, some mysterious.
Let us walk you through all the details on why the Sphinx of Giza earned the tag “Great” to its name.
It becomes apparent when you consider the size of the Sphinx. The Great Sphinx of Giza is the world’s largest monolith statue. It measures 20.22 meters in height, 19.3 meters in width and 73.5 meters in length.
It was believed to be built about 4500 years ago by the pharaoh.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of things, let’s see what a “Sphinx” is and why does it have such a significance in the history of Egypt.
The Sphinx - A Mythological Creature That Roamed Thebes
Sphinx is a mythological creature that has a lion’s body and a woman’s head. The creature has significance in both Egyptian and Greek mythology.
We can trace back the word Sphinx to the Greek verb “Sphingen” that translates to “to squeeze” to “to bind.”
There is no real connection between the meaning of the name and the creature itself. In Greek culture, a Sphinx was a woman, daughter of Orthus.
She had wings and a serpentine tail. The Sphinx used to roam outside the city of Thebes, asking riddles to all the travelers. If they answered correctly, they were allowed to pass.
According to the mythology, the Sphinx only asked two riddles to the travelers, let’s see if you can answer them!
Riddle 1: Which is the creature that has one voice, but has four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night?
Riddle 2: There are two sisters; one gives birth to the other, who in turn gives birth to the first. Who are they?
According to the myth, the creature ate the ones who could not answer these riddles correctly!
But since we only know of a Sphinx that is made from stone, there’s nothing to worry about today. The answer to the first riddle is 'a Human'.
You might have guessed the first one correctly, but the second one might be a bit hard. The answer to the second riddle is 'the cycle of day and night'.
Only Oedipus, the mythical Greek king was able to answer her riddles correctly, after which, the Sphinx took her own life.
Since the Greek mythology has a profound effect on the Egyptian culture, it’s not hard to see how the Egyptians included the Sphinx in their culture.
Who Built The Great Sphinx of Giza?
Talking about the actual statue, archeologists date back the structure to be built around 2500 BC. However, new theories also emerged in recent years that claim the statue was built 9,000 years ago.
The striking aspect of this structure is that how Egyptians were able to achieve such a feat back when the idea of using a crane or any hydraulic assisted machine did not even exist.
The Great Sphinx of Giza is all about the face that is carved in the structure. There is no real confirmation on whose face the statue carries.
But the archeologists have come to a consensus that it is the pharaoh named Khafre because the age of the Sphinx dates back to the reign of King Khafre.
The construction of the Great Sphinx is something to behold as there are many details that are simply mind-bending.
To start with, many believe that the great Sphinx is missing the tail of a classic Egyptian Sphinx statue. But if you observe the statue, you can see the tail of the Sphinx being wrapped closely to its body.
The Great Sphinx of Giza, How it Looked 4500 Years Back!
It is believed that the body and face of the Sphinx were painted red. The headdress had a yellow sheen and beard had a blue coat on it. Hard to believe? You can still see the residual red paint on one of the Sphinx’s ear.
The Sphinx rests on the ground with its paws forward and near to each other. However, if you look closely, you can see that there are a temple and a Stela situated right between the paws.
The temple carries inscriptions in praise of the Sun God. The Stela carries the story of Thutmose IV, who had a dream of the Sphinx speaking to him about freeing the Sphinx from sand and he would be made the king of Egypt.
The positioning of the Great Sphinx is in such a way that it faces east where the sun rises.
According to a research led by Mark Lehner, the construction of the Great Sphinx would have taken approximately 3 years to finish with 100 workers steadfast on the job. The whole statue was made from a single rock of limestone.
The estimates show that the tools used by the workers were copper chisels and hammers.
There is also an evidence that suggests The Great Sphinx was supposed to be built even bigger than it currently is, but the workers left the work in a hurry. The archeologists found large stone blocks that were left behind without being processed.
Toolkits were also abandoned near the worksite.
Further excavations gave insights on what the workers ate during the build of the Great Sphinx. Archeologists have deduced that the workers were given delicacies including cattle, sheep and goat meat.
An archeological survey led by Lehner studied that graffiti on the walls of the Sphinx and came to an opinion that the Egyptian ruler didn’t use slaves as his workforce. This was in direct contrast to what many believed.
Lehner is of the opinion that the Egyptians used a feudal system in their kingdom where each citizen owes a service to the ruler. Hence, the workforce can be a set of citizens who rotated their shifts on a periodic basis.
The Great Sphinx Suffered Extensive Damages Due to Erosion and Weathering
Even the sheer size of the Sphinx is a no match against the powers of nature, as it has been recorded several times to fall victim to the shifting sand dunes.
The shifting sand deposits around the Sphinx and slowly start to build volume. The result is the burial of the Sphinx.
In addition, geologists agree that ancient Egypt faced a great flood and it has done a great of damage to the exterior of the Sphinx.
One among the most recent excavation done to restore the Sphinx was done in the 1920s. By that time, the front paws of the Sphinx were nearly covered by sand.
Unfortunately, there is no real one-time solution to this problem as the movement of the sand is based on a variety of factors.
We Weren’t Helping Much At First Either!
We humans can be a bit too hasty with fixing stuff that we don’t fully understand. During the restoration process that spanned between the 1920 and 1980, the lack of knowledge in handling limestone structure of that scale made some of the parts of the Sphinx to be in a worse condition than it was before.
The reason for the damage was the use of gypsum mortar and cement to fill the holes that were made by erosion. This modification built up new stresses in the limestone structure of the Sphinx.
The archeologists then had to repair the damages made by the restoration process. They reversed the whole process by carefully removing the cement from the cracks and sealing it with something that is non-invasive.
The restoration team led by Dr. Zahi Hawass found success in developing a new mixture that uses quicklime and sand. By 1998, the Great Sphinx of Giza was carefully restored to the maximum possible level using this mixture.
In his own words, Dr. Zahi Hawass remarks, "I think the main message that people should know is that the Sphinx is safe and that we are like good physicians trying to look after it all the time. I really believe that it keeps all the secrets of our past, and if you ruin that, you will never have a future. And this is why I think that maybe God brought me to be the guardian of the Sphinx to save it for everyone. The Sphinx is not really for Egypt only. It is for everyone. And this is why, even when people see the Sphinx from far away, they can feel that magic."
Where is the Nose And is it All That’s Missing?
When you see the various pictures of the great Sphinx or even when you see it in real life, one question that you always want to ask is where is the nose? Well, there is quite a story attached to it.
It was believed that the Sphinx lost its nose when Napoleon Bonaparte led a siege in Egypt. It was also believed that the cannon fire from one of Napoleon’s group destroyed the nose.
However, the 18th-century sketches show the Sphinx already was missing the nose. Backtracking further into history, we can find that the scriptures accuse Muhammad Sa’im Al Dahr, A Sufi Muslim leader, of being the reason for the damage inflicted to the Sphinx’s face.
The ruler destroyed the nose out of anger when he saw a sect of people practicing idolatry.
The Surface Specialties of the Sphinx
One of the fascinating things about the Sphinx is that it doesn’t have any inscriptions on the surface. In that era, inscriptions were a great part of the Egyptian culture and art.
The Sphinx that we see today isn’t what it used to look like back in the days of its completion. The Sphinx had a beard that was also made of limestone. The beard fell off due to erosion, and the way it broke off from the statute states that it was not a part of the original structure.
Archeologists believe that the beard was added later in the rule of Thutmose IV.
Was This the Only “Great” Sphinx?
You might not believe this, but we are no way close to surveying every bit of the Egyptian desert. Hence, we can’t rule out the possibility of similar or other structures hidden beneath the sand dunes.
Another reason why this possibility may be true can be attributed to the fact that the Egyptian inscriptions always show Sphinx in pairs. Many archeologists believe that there was a second Sphinx that was built somewhere around the Great Pyramid of Giza or even opposite to the first Sphinx but may have been destroyed.
What Lies Beneath the Great Sphinx?
To this day, we are not completely sure of what lies beneath the Great Sphinx of Giza. From 1991 to 1993, an independent Egyptologist, John Antony West led a series of investigations to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the Sphinx.
The team’s findings were nothing less than shocking, as they found the erosions suffered by the Sphinx make it at least 10,000 years old. However, this doesn’t make sense with what we expect as archeologists believe that the Sphinx was only 4,500 years old.
By using a seismograph, the team was able to find out that there are two rectangular chambers at least 25 foot deep under the paws of the Sphinx. Theories arose that the chamber contained the “Hall of Record of Atlantis,” which is a set of records that are believed to have the information on life itself.
However, the Chief Inspector of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, expelled the team from the site out of anger. He explained that the findings of the Sphinx being older than the Egyptian civilization makes no sense, and the connection with Atlantis is pure “American Hallucinations.”
Although, there are many tunnels and cavities inside the Sphinx, which are still unexplored.
Many have tried using sophisticated instruments to see if they could find The Hall of Records inside the chambers. Unfortunately, none of the research returned a positive outcome.
What We Don't Know Yet About The Sphinx
The grandeur of the Great Sphinx amazes almost all of us but there are still some things that we haven’t figured out about the statue yet. Let us have a look at where we currently stand;
We still don’t know whose face the Great Sphinx carries.
There is still a confusion on the exact age of the Sphinx.
The Sphinx temple is made from the large limestone rocks, which weighed 2.5 tons, we are still confused on how the Egyptians moved them!
We are still in the dark about what lies underneath the Sphinx.
It seems that we have just scratched the surface of the Egyptian history. But this is how things are with history; we need to dust and uncover lost pages that are weathered down by time.
The Great Sphinx might hold many more secrets, and uncovering every single one of them would take time, but it’s a journey worth taking!