The Egyptian Sphinx is undoubtedly one of the most mysterious monuments in the world. This gigantic statue consists of a human head and an elongated lion body. It stands in the Giza plateau, south of Cairo, near the pyramids.
A WORK LIKE NO OTHER
The Sphinx is a mythical hybrid creature that appears in Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian and Asian civilizations. The statue of Giza is distinguished by its unusual dimensions. It is 73.5 metres long, 14 metres wide and 20 metres high, a six-storey building.
Subject to constant erosion over thousands of years, this monument has been severely damaged. However, some damage is attributed to man. The mouth and nose of the Giza Sphinx were reportedly the target of cannon fire during the reign of the pagan Mamluks in the Middle Ages. Debris from the false beard is kept at the British Museum in London.
Another particularity of the Sphinx is that it is the largest monolith in the world. Indeed, it is carved from a single huge block of limestone, inside the quarry that was used to build the neighbouring pyramids. Only the long front legs were added in masonry. According to some ancient traces and descriptions, a painted plaster coating adorned the statue. The face and body were red. As for the emblematic headdress of the pharaohs, it was probably blue and yellow. A uraeus, the cobra threatening enemies, is always visible on the forehead.
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE GIZA SPHINX FOR?
Historians have found no mention of this monument in the texts of ancient Egypt. It would probably have been built at the same time as the pyramids, around 2500 BC. Although it is one of the most famous monuments in the country, it remains an enigma. There are many uncertainties regarding its dating, function and sponsor.
With the exception of eccentric speculation, four major explanations clash. The first is based mainly on the disproportion between head and body. She claims that the statue is well before the pyramids and that it was originally surmounted by a lion’s head. The other theories each attribute the realization of the Sphinx to a different pharaoh.
The largest of the three pyramids of Giza shelters the tomb of Cheops. He could have had the Sphinx built with his face to guard the entrance to the funeral complex. According to other archaeologists, the statue is the work of Djédefrê, son of Cheops, in order to honour his father’s memory.
The most recent thesis attributes the construction of the Giza Sphinx to another son of Cheops, Khephren. It is supported by the discovery of the remains of a temple dedicated to the cult of this pharaoh, 15 meters from the statue. During the two annual equinoxes, the shadows of the temple, the Sphinx and the Khephren pyramid at the back are perfectly aligned at sunrise and sunset. The statue, facing due east, would therefore have had a religious function. At that time, the sun god was revered and the lion symbolized the main star.
The stele placed between the legs of the statue brings back the legend of Thutmosis IV to the 14th century BC. It is said to have spread in the shade of the head that protruded from the sand after a hunting trip. The Sphinx then appeared to him in a dream to ask him to remove sand from his body in exchange for the throne of Egypt. Thoutmôsis was executed during a titanic construction site, then effectively became a pharaoh.
Today, more than 4500 years after its construction, the Giza Sphinx still intrigues researchers and continues to amaze visitors.