The Great Sphinx of Giza: Egypt’s mysterious landmark

The Big Sphinx

On the west bank of the Nile, on the Giza plateau near Cairo, next to Chephren Pyramid is one of the most famous and perhaps the most mysterious historical monument of ancient Egypt – the Great Sphinx.

Great Sphinx

What is the Great Sphinx

The Great, or Great, Sphinx is the oldest monumental sculpture on the planet and the largest of Egypt’s statues. The statue is carved from a monolithic rock and depicts a lying lion with a human head. The length of the monument is 73 meters, the height is about 20.

The statue’s name is Greek and means “strangler,” reminiscent of the mythical sphinx of Thebes, which killed travelers who failed to solve its riddle. The Arabs called the giant lion “the Father of Terror,” and the Egyptians themselves called it “shepes ankh,” “the image of the living.

The Great Sphinx was highly revered in Egypt. A sanctuary was built between its front paws, on the altar of which the pharaohs placed their gifts. Some authors relayed the legend of an unknown god who fell asleep in the “sands of oblivion” and remained in the desert forever.

The image of the sphinx is a traditional motif for ancient Egyptian art. The lion was considered a royal animal dedicated to the sun god Ra, so only the pharaoh was always depicted as a sphinx.

Since ancient times, the Great Sphinx was considered a representation of Pharaoh Khafr (Chephren), because it is located next to his pyramid and as if guarding it. Perhaps the giant was indeed called to guard the peace of the deceased monarchs, but the identification of the Sphinx with Khafra is erroneous. The main arguments in favor of the parallel with Chephren were the images of Pharaoh found at the statue, but there was a memorial temple of Pharaoh nearby, and the findings could be related to it.

In addition, studies by anthropologists have revealed the Negro face type of the stone giant. Numerous inscribed sculptural images available to scientists do not bear any African features.

Sphinx Mysteries

By whom and when was the legendary monument created? For the first time doubt in the correctness of the generally accepted point of view was introduced by Herodotus. Describing the pyramids in detail, the historian did not mention a word about the Great Sphinx. Pliny the Elder added clarity 500 years later when he described the cleaning of the pyramid from the sand deposits. Probably in the era of Herodotus the Sphinx was hidden under barchans. How many times in the history of its existence this may have happened, one can only guess.

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There is not a single mention of the construction of such a grandiose statue in written documents, although we know many names of authors of much less majestic constructions. The first mention of the Sphinx dates back to the New Kingdom. Thutmose IV (14th century BC), not being the heir to the throne, allegedly fell asleep next to the stone giant and was told in a dream by the god Horus to clear and repair the statue. In return the god promised to make him a pharaoh. Thutmose immediately ordered him to begin freeing the monument from the sand. The work was completed a year later. In honor of this event, a stele with the appropriate inscription was placed at the statue.

It was the first known restoration of the monument. Subsequently, the statue was freed from the sand deposits more than once – under the Ptolemies, Roman and Arab rule.

Thus, historians cannot present a substantiated version of the origin of the Sphinx, which gives space for the creativity of other specialists. For example, hydrologists noticed that the lower part of the statue bears traces of erosion from being in water for a long time. Increased humidity, in which the Nile could flood the base of the monument, characterized the climate in Egypt in the IV millennium BC. There is no such damage on the limestone from which the pyramids were built. This was considered proof that the Sphinx was older than the pyramids.

Romanticists believed that the erosion was the result of the biblical Deluge – a catastrophic overflow of the Nile 12,000 years ago. Some even spoke about an epoch of the Ice Age. The hypothesis, however, has been challenged. The destruction was attributed to the rains and the poor quality of the stone.

Astronomers contributed by putting forward the theory about the single ensemble of pyramids and the Sphinx. By building the complex the Egyptians allegedly immortalized the time of their arrival in the country. The three pyramids reflect the location of the stars of Orion’s Belt, which embodied Osiris, and the Sphinx looks at the point of sunrise on the day of the vernal equinox in that year. This combination of astronomical factors dates back to the 11th millennium BC.

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There are other theories, including traditional aliens and representatives of praticivilizations. Explicit evidence for these theories apologists, as always, do not give.

The Egyptian colossus conceals many other mysteries. For example there is no suggestion which of the rulers it represents, why the underground passage from the Sphinx to the Cheops pyramid was dug and so on.

Current state

The final clearing of the sands was done in 1925. The statue survived in pretty good state of preservation. Perhaps the centuries-old sand cover saved the Sphinx from the weathering and temperature changes.

Nature spared the monument, but not people. The giant’s face was badly damaged – his nose was broken off. At one time the damage was attributed to Napoleon’s artillerymen who shot the statue from their cannons. However, in the XIV century Arab historian al-Makrizi reported the absence of the nose of the Sphinx. According to his story, the face was damaged by a crowd of fanatics at the instigation of a certain preacher, because Islam prohibits the image of a man. This claim is questionable because the Sphinx was revered by the local population. It was believed that it caused the life-giving floods of the Nile.

There are other assumptions as well. Damage is explained by natural factors, as well as the revenge of one of the pharaohs, who wished to destroy the memory of the monarch whom the Sphinx represents. According to a third version, the nose was beaten off by the Arabs during the conquest of the country. Some Arabian tribes had a belief that if you knock away the nose of a hostile god, he would not be able to take revenge.

In ancient times, the Sphinx had a false beard, an attribute of the pharaohs, but now only debris remains from it.

In 2014, after the statue was restored, it was opened to tourists, and now you can get up close and personal with the legendary giant, whose history has many more questions than answers.

The Big Sphinx

Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx is one of the most famous and largest monolithic monuments of the ancient world, located in Egypt. It is part of the pyramid complex at Giza, the most visited tourist attraction in the country.

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The Sphinx is a mythical creature with the head of a man and the torso of a lion. According to some scientists, the head of the Sphinx is similar to the head of Pharaoh Khafr (Chephren), whose pyramid is located next to the statue. The sphinx lies with its forelegs straightened, as if guarding the valley of the pyramids.

According to scientists, the Sphinx, like the pyramids of Giza, was built about 4,500 years ago, but its origin and purpose are the subject of ongoing debate among historians.

Made from a solid mass of limestone, the statue has suffered a fair amount of erosion over time, but to this day it has survived almost exactly as it was created.

Great Sphinx

History and riddles

Modern Egyptology largely agrees that the Sphinx was built around 2500 B.C. during the reign of Pharaoh Khafr, whose face is believed to bear a resemblance to that of the Sphinx. However, there are other opinions about the age of the statue. Some scholars attribute its appearance to an earlier period, around 3,000 BC.

As for the purpose of the Great Sphinx there are also theories, the main of which still attributes it to the pharaoh Khafr (Chephren), whose pyramid is located nearby. Historians believe that the statue was a kind of protector and guide Pharaoh into the realm of the dead, to ensure that he would later meet with the Sun God.

Inside the sphinx has three tunnels, the purpose of which over the years is unclear. The tunnels are currently inaccessible to man.

Restoration of the Great Sphinx was first begun around 1400 BC by Pharaoh Thutmose IV. He ordered the forelegs buried under the sand to be excavated. It is believed that Ramses II may have ordered a second excavation between 1279 and 1213 BC.

The first modern attempt to excavate the Sphinx was made in 1817 AD. These excavations completely exposed the Sphinx’s chest. Between 1925 and 1936 the entire Sphinx was finally excavated. Engineers restored the head of the Sphinx in 1931 by order of the Egyptian government. Restoration of the Sphinx continues today, although some of the work has done more harm than good. The deterioration of the statue continues, especially on the thorax. This is also due to the high degree of erosion of the rock from which it is made.

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Great Sphinx

It is known that originally the Great Sphinx had a nose, which has been lost over the centuries. There are several versions by scholars, the main one being that the 1-meter long nose was blown away by the Arabs at the beginning of our era.

The Sphinx is missing not only a nose, but also a superimposed ceremonial beard. Its history is also disputed by scholars. Some believe that the beard was added to the statue much later. But it remains one of the many mysteries of the Great Sphinx.

The destruction of the sculpture and its restoration has helped scientists find interesting facts. For example, some archaeologists came to the conclusion that the Sphinx was built before the neighboring pyramids. In addition, they found under the left leg of the statue a tunnel going in the direction of the Chephren pyramid.

The mysteries of the Great Sphinx at Giza can be counted in dozens. In fact, almost nothing is known about it. This is what attracts tourists and scientists from all over the world.

Great Sphinx

What to see nearby

The Great Sphinx is part of the pyramid complex, which includes the three largest and most famous pyramids of Giza and Egypt as a whole. They are the Pyramid of Cheops, the Pyramid of Chephren, and the Pyramid of Menkerin. They are located within walking distance of the Sphinx and a single ticket is purchased for them. But the closest to the statue is the Chephren pyramid, which is often perceived as a single ensemble, and the Sphinx is called its keeper.

The Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) is the largest structure in Giza. It was 146.6 meters high at the time of construction, but is now almost 9 meters lower because its upper stones fell during earthquakes. Inside the pyramid of Cheops there are no inscriptions or decorations. There are three burial chambers, but no mummies were found there.

The Pyramid of Chephren is the second largest on the Giza plateau and belongs to Cheops’ son, Khafr (Chephren). Sometimes it seems that this pyramid is larger than the first, but this is a deception of the desert view. Its height is a little more than 135 m. Inside the pyramid there are two burial chambers and passages to them.

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Completes the ensemble of the great pyramids of Giza pyramid Mikerina (Menkaura), the smallest of the three giants. Its height is 66 m. It has only one burial chamber cut out in its rocky base.

In addition to the three main sites, there are smaller pyramids to the south, surrounded by a common wall. It is believed that the wives of the pharaohs and the priests were buried in these pyramids.

Great Sphinx

Ticket price to visit the Great Sphinx in 2022

In order to visit the pyramids of Giza and see the Sphinx, you need to buy a single ticket to visit. Its cost is 200 EGP for foreign nationals.

The ticket entitles you to travel freely on the Giza Plateau and see its sights.

You will not be able to get close to the sphinx, it is fenced, as an archaeological area. But there are many places where the angle will be panoramic and details will be visible.

Great Sphinx

How to get to the Great Sphinx at Giza

The sphinx statue is located in the suburbs of Giza, a small city located 30 km from the capital of Egypt – Cairo, but the tourist flow allows you to get to it without difficulty and in different ways.

The most convenient option for tourists is to order an organized tour in one of the many local travel agencies or directly in the hotel of residence. The tour includes transfers and services of a guide, as well as entrance tickets. It will cost from $30-40 for such a package.

But there is an opportunity to get to the Sphinx and on your own, thus winning time to visit. For example, by intercity bus M7 from Cairo. It departs from the Abdel Munim Riad Square stop every 30-40 minutes throughout the day. The bus arrives at Giza in about 20-30 minutes. The stop closest to the Sphinx is Mena House. From there to the ticket office and the entrance is about 10 minutes on foot.

You can also take the subway to the Great Sphinx. The nearest station is called Giza (line 2, orange). From there you need to order a cab or take a bus.

You can also get to the Great Sphinx at Giza by car, there is a parking lot nearby, or you can use mobile cab applications: Uber, KiwiTaxi or local carriers.

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