There are no longer any restrictions on the number of visitors, and tickets for the Giza plateau do not need to be booked or bought in advance. Tickets for the plateau have risen in price, which will be discussed further below in this article.
At the end of 2014, the Egyptians completed another restoration of the Great Sphinx near Cairo in Giza, and now tourists are allowed close to this grandiose monument. The opportunity to examine the statue in detail gave rise to more questions than answers among tourists. In this article, we will indicate what tourists should pay attention to, tell about the history of the Sphinx, its secrets and riddles.
The Sphinx statue is 73.5 meters long, 19.3 meters wide and 20.2 meters high. The face of the statue is 4.17 meters wide, the mouth is 2.31 meters wide, and the nose is 1.7 meters high.
The Great Sphinx guards the Great Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. For 4.5 thousand years, and perhaps longer, he has been looking to the east, meeting the rising sun with his gaze.
It is difficult to find another ancient monument on earth, about which so many fantastic hypotheses would have been born, so many articles in the “yellow” press would have been written and so many pseudo-scientific mystical films would have been shot.
The reason for this situation is very simple – we know almost nothing about the Great Sphinx at Giza.
The Egyptians did not leave us a single written document where we could read about the time of the construction of the Sphinx, its creators, or even about its purpose.
Many readers have heard the expression “the riddle of the Sphinx”. The Sphinx is often mentioned in European literature, acting as a symbol of sometimes wisdom, sometimes cunning, and sometimes cruelty. All these images have nothing to do with Egypt at all, all these are elements of the culture of ancient Greece.
The Sphinx in ancient Greece looked a little different. It was a creature with the body of a lion, the head of a woman, the wings of an eagle, and a tail in the form of a snake with a head. As you noticed, the main difference from the Egyptian version is the female gender of the Greek monster. Statues of such sphinxes can be found not only in Greece, in the photo on the left is a sculpture from the Belvedere Palace in Vienna in Austria.
Many medieval travelers visited Egypt and left their memories of the Sphinx. In their records, it is sometimes noted that the statue has a woman’s face and has a woman’s chest, although nothing like this is found in the drawings of that time. It’s amazing how the cultural factor made people see something different from what it really is.
The image of the Sphinx in culture was formed by the Greeks. They considered this creature evil, but wise. It symbolized the wisdom of ancient people and punished everyone who did not strive for knowledge. The word “sphinx” itself is of Greek origin, and is translated literally as “strangler.”
The name “Strangler” comes from the way the monster killed its victims. The Sphinx asked a man a riddle. If a person did not guess the riddle, then the monster strangled him. Of course, the Egyptians themselves never used this name.
The ancient Egyptians gave the Great Sphinx many names. One of them – “Shesep-ankh”, which translates as “Animated image” or “Shesep-ankh Khafra”, translates as “Animated image of Khafra”.
Another name “Khoremahet” is translated as “God of Horus on the horizon”. It appeared in the era of the New Kingdom.
Several other less common names for the Great Sphinx were associated with its direction to the rising sun. The Egyptians called him “Overcoming Darkness” and “God of the Sunrise.”
In 642, Egypt was conquered by the Arabs. They named the Sphinx “Abu al-Khul” (after another transcription “Abu-Hola”), which translates as “Father of Fear”.
From this name, some researchers conclude that the statue used to look scarier than it does now. This version is not supported by anything. Such a loud name is understandable. Before that, the Arabs lived on the Arabian Peninsula and did not build any monuments, they simply did not have the resources for this. Think what impression the Great Sphinx made on people who really saw nothing in their life except camels? It is logical that he seemed to them huge and terrible.
The riddle of the Sphinx
In fact, the “mystery of the Sphinx” is a real mystery. It sounds like this: “Who walks on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?”
According to legend, the Sphinx (Greek, not Egyptian) settled at the aisle to the Greek city of Thebes (not to be confused with the Egyptian city of Thebes). He asked passing travelers riddles and killed them when they could not answer.
The inhabitants of the city promised to make king anyone who would deliver them from the monster. Oedipus passed by, to whom the Sphinx asked this riddle, and he answered it. Answer: human. In early childhood we crawl on all fours, already in adulthood we move on two legs, and in old age we walk with a stick or a stick.
Hearing the answer, the monster could not stand the shame, flew up into the sky and fell down, one might say, self-destructed. Oedipus became king, which ended sadly for him, but the continuation of the story is not interesting to us now.
There is also a second version of the riddle of the Sphinx: “There are two sisters, one gives birth to the second, and the second gives birth to the first”.
Answer: day and night. Now many readers will say that the word “day” is masculine, how can a day be a sister? That is why we don’t guess. In the Greek language, the word “day” is feminine, so it was in antiquity, and it remains so now. It turns out that in Greek, night and day can be sisters.
When we talk about the mysterious facts and phenomena associated with the Sphinx, we will use the phrase “secrets of the Sphinx” so as not to get confused.
Let’s move on from theory to practice. Let’s talk about what a tourist in Egypt can find interesting in the statue.
How much is it worth seeing
You do not need to pay separately to see the Great Sphinx. You only need to pay for a ticket to the Giza plateau for 200 Egyptian pounds (price in September 2021). For the current pound exchange rate, see our article “Money in Egypt”. Further, the statue of the Sphinx can be examined from all sides, but climbing on it is strictly prohibited.
If someone asks you for additional money, then you should know that these are scammers. Read about popular ways to cheat tourists in the article “How to cheat tourists in Egypt.”
What to look at – cladding
Of course, tourists are fascinated by the size of the statue. It is even difficult to imagine that this statue was carved from a solid rock 4500 years ago. However, after looking at the Great Sphinx, most visitors to the Giza plateau conclude that the statue is assembled from stone blocks, like the pyramids.
This impression is not accidental, since the joints are clearly visible on the outer surface (see photo on the left). This feeling is partly even true, since the legs of the statue are indeed made of bricks. But the body is carved out of solid rock.
These are the joints between the granite slabs of the facing of the statue. A similar cladding once covered all the pyramids, and now its remains can be seen on the northern side of the lowest pyramid of Mikerin.
During the construction of the statue during the period of the Old Kingdom, this facing was not yet, there was simply no need for it. It appeared 1200 years later, already in the era of the New Kingdom. Two pharaohs at different times carried out the restoration of the Sphinx – these are Thutmose IV and Ramses II. We do not know for sure which of them made the facing, but most Egyptologists lean towards Thutmose IV.
What to look at – the rock itself
Some tourists notice that the rock in the neck area is slightly different in color from the rest of the statue. This effect is difficult to notice. He can be seen in the photo below.
Indeed, the rock from which the Great Sphinx was carved resembled a hamburger in structure. Hard limestone at the bottom, soft in the middle and very hard at the top in the head area.
This became a serious problem for the ancient stonecutters, but they got out of a difficult situation. The neck of the sculpture was specially made thicker so as not to break under the weight of the head.
If you look at the Sphinx in profile, you will see that the neck looks a little awkward. The second consequence of such a flaky structure of the rock was the very good preservation of the head of the statue, with the deplorable state of the body and neck.
What to look at – paint
Did you know that in ancient times the statue of the Sphinx was painted with bright colors? However, the Egyptians painted all the statues in different colors. The ancient inhabitants of Egypt were cheerful and cheerful people, they loved everything beautiful. In addition, the statues were considered to be the receptacles of some parts of the soul of the deceased, and, therefore, had to be as similar to him as possible.
The last painting of the statue of the Great Sphinx was made by the same Pharaoh Thutmose IV from the XVIII dynasty.
Now we do not know exactly what colors the Sphinx was painted with then, but we can say for sure that the blue color was present. There are traces of blue paint in front of the statue’s right ear (see photo on the left). It is difficult to see them, especially in sunny weather, but it is worth trying to do it.
The rest of the colors are unknown to us for sure. According to the most widespread opinion, the face was dark red, and in the headdress there were alternating red and blue stripes. Such a headdress was called “nemes”. On the forehead of the statue is an object called “urei,” a depiction of the snake goddess Uajit. The urey was painted red and blue. Once again, we want to warn you that this is only a version that has no material evidence.
What to look at – a stele at your feet
There is a memorial stone between the legs of the statue, it is called the “stele of sleep” or “stele about a dream.” She really tells about the dream of Thutmose IV – the pharaoh of the XVIII dynasty. This is a very interesting legend, which we will tell about in the next section of this article. Now let’s dwell on another important fact about this stele.
Scientists have long been concerned with the question of who built the Great Sphinx. The most plausible version is Pharaoh Khafren. The Sphinx was part of the architectural ensemble of the pyramid of Khafre, two memorial temples of this pharaoh, the statue itself and the temple of the Sphinx.
This hypothesis has no direct evidence, only one indirect – this stele. On it, in the 13th line, the syllable “khaf” was mentioned. The first stele was studied by the philologist Thomas Young from England. He made a copy through tracing paper (facsimile), which turned out to be the right decision (see photo on the right). Now this line is completely erased.
It said: “We will glorify (text lost) Khaf (syllable lost) statue.”
From the context, Thomas Young immediately understood that this was the name of Pharaoh Khafre (Khafre). But now scientists are already questioning this. First, the cartouche was not clearly visible around the name. The cartouche is a circle around the name, which clearly shows that this name belongs to the pharaoh. Secondly, the syllable “khaf” could belong to another word, and not to the name of the ruler.
Pharaoh Khafren could indeed be mentioned in this text, but it is not claimed that he was the one who built the Sphinx. He could have been mentioned for another reason. For example, he could cleanse it of sand in the same way as Thutmose IV did, who erected this stele, writing on it a story about himself.
The Legend of Thutmose IV
Thutmose was the son of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, but he was not the eldest. That is, he stood in line for the throne, but somewhere at the end of this line.
Once Thutmose was hunting on the Giza plateau and decided to rest. He lay down to sleep in the shadow of the Great Sphinx, or rather in the shadow of his head, as the body of the statue was covered with sand.
In a dream, the great god Horus (Harmahis) appeared to Thutmose and asked him to dig out a statue from the sand. As payment for the service, Horus promised Thutmose to make him pharaoh. Thutmose agreed to the deal and soon became ruler. He fulfilled his promise: he dug up the statue, restored and painted again.
This legend is in the spirit of the ancient Egyptians. Man and God make an agreement, and both fulfill their obligations. It would seem that it could be criminal?
Now let’s think together. Thutmose was far away in line, and unexpectedly came first! And where did the rest of the queue members go? Naturally, they went to Osiris in the afterlife. There was no other way of abdicating the throne in ancient Egypt.
There are ancient texts that accuse Thutmose of killing his brother, although there is no direct evidence of this fact.
Such a coming to power of Thutmose with the death of other heirs raised doubts and made his power illegitimate in the eyes of the priesthood and the people.
Thutmose IV urgently needed to show that power was given to him by the gods, otherwise he himself would have gone to Osiris. In addition, he needed to somehow do it without the participation of the priests, which made his task even more difficult.
The Great Sphinx turned out to be an excellent way out of the situation. The incarnation of a god, with whom the future pharaoh could communicate personally, without the participation of the priests. So this legend was born, and everything worked out “for the top five”. We do not find any doubts about the legitimacy of the power of Thutmose IV in the ancient texts.
Thutmose IV ruled for only 9 years, the causes of his death are unknown. He died young, which is clear from his mummy. Perhaps he still did not please the priests of Amun, who even then had tremendous power. At least Thutmose IV came up with another function for the sphinx in addition to its main purpose.
Appointment of the Great Sphinx
Dozens of hypotheses have already been expressed about the purpose of the Great Sphinx. Let’s start with the most believable one.
Nowadays, excursion groups, guides and souvenir merchants work on the Giza plateau near the Great Pyramids. But in ancient times, only priests and builders were allowed to enter here. All ordinary Egyptians were personami non grata on the Giza plateau.
Naturally, some methods were needed to deflect unexpected visitors from the pyramids. It was too expensive to put a guard every meter. It was more effective to put something intimidating that would scare people away. And the Great Sphinx became such a scarecrow.
It is located between the pyramids and the ancient city of Memphis, just in the most convenient place for this task. For ancient people, the Sphinx looked very frightening, many did not dare even approach it.
When the Old Kingdom of Egypt fell and anarchy broke out in the country, the Sphinx did not stop the robbers. All pyramids were plundered. The Sphinx was not injured, he had no treasures, and there was nothing to take.
The second version about the purpose of the Sphinx is already more interesting for an ordinary tourist. Scientists have found that twice a year, the sun’s rays fall on the face of the statue in a strictly perpendicular direction. In addition, the shadows from the pyramids and the Sphinx converge in a specific way once a year.
From all this, the hypothesis was born that the Great Sphinx was used in ancient Egypt for keeping a calendar. And you can’t argue with this version!
Indeed, no one bothers to use the shadow of the statue to determine the days of the summer and winter solstices and keep a calendar according to these marks.
On the other hand, why is the Sphinx needed for this? You can keep a calendar in this way for any stationary object that gives a shade from the sun.
Each reader can start keeping their own calendar using a nearby lamppost. It is necessary to empirically identify the maximum distance of the shadow from the object, fix this moment and this place. Further, next year, when the shadow reaches this length, then know that the moment of the winter solstice has come. It is not at all necessary to create a huge statue for this.
Another interesting suggestion is related to the Sphinx Temple, which is next to the statue. The temple had 24 columns, which clearly symbolizes 12 noon and 12 noon.
Of course, the Egyptians in ancient times did not know such a unit for measuring time – an hour. It would be more correct to say: 12 parts of the day and 12 parts of the night, these parts did not necessarily last the same time. All this symbolically means life and death, our world and the world of the dead.
The hypothesis says that the Sphinx and its temple were the places of contact of the worlds – the only place where you can communicate with the dead.
Of course, there is no evidence for this hypothesis, but objects that archaeologists call “false doors” indirectly indicate this. This is a door that does not lead anywhere, that is, there is a wall behind it. It is believed that these doors were made in temples for the arrival of the dead in our world if necessary.
Another version. The Sphinx is a symbol of the power of the pharaohs, it symbolizes the power given to the ruler by the gods. There is no doubt that the statue had such a function, but it was clearly not the main purpose.
And one more theory – “Theory of the constellation Orion”. She is the most beautiful, but also the most meaningless.
As you know, stars are constantly changing their location. There are calculations by which you can find out what the constellations looked like N years ago.
Egyptologists Graham Hancock and Robert Buval calculated what the constellation Orion looked like 10,500 BC. They found that the Giza complex closely mirrors the configuration of the three stars in Orion’s belt (see photo on the right).
The pyramids are the three main stars of the constellation Orion. The Nile is the milky way. The Sphinx is the constellation Leo. Very beautiful and romantic, but what sense could it have for ancient people 12,500 years ago? By the way, there is no Sphinx temple in this theory, which spoils such a beautiful picture a little.
Near the feet of the statue was a temple, which was in the shape of a diamond with sides of 30 meters and with 24 columns 12 meters high. The temple is almost completely destroyed. No interesting archaeological finds were made there. The purpose and functions of the temple have not been clarified. For tourists, he is not of interest.
Who built the Sphinx and whose face does it have?
Disputes about the authorship of the monument have been going on for more than 50 years. The classic version – the Great Sphinx was built by the pharaoh Khafren (Khafra), and the statue has the facial features of this pharaoh. Now we will not talk about the similarity of facial features. See two photos and compare: a photo of the Sphinx’s face and a photo of the face of the sculpture of Pharaoh Khafre, now exhibited in the Cairo Museum.
This version has no direct evidence, but there are many indirect ones. First, the faces of the Sphinx and other statues of Pharaoh Khafre are stylistically close, which allows us to conclude that they were created in the same era.
The statue is located next to the memorial temple of Khafre and opposite his pyramid. The sculpture fits very harmoniously into the Giza pyramid complex, therefore, the entire architectural complex was created in one era.
Near the Sphinx, archaeologists have found a figurine of Pharaoh Khafre, which the ancient builders forgot in the construction waste. We have already mentioned the “stele of sleep”, which is located between the paws, Pharaoh Khafren is mentioned there.
By the sum of all these circumstantial evidence, the version of Khefren was most widespread. But many disagree with her.
Some scientists believe that the Great Sphinx was created 9-10 thousand years BC. The supporters of this theory have their own circumstantial evidence.
The most important proof is the erosion that can be seen on the body of the statue. Some experts claim that it is caused by water.
Tourists visiting the pyramids do not even suspect that heavy rains once fell on this place. And it really was. Even 4500 years ago, the climate in Egypt was much more pleasant, there was no Sahara Desert, it was just advancing on Egypt.
Rains may well have caused erosion 4,500 years ago, this evidence should not be taken lightly.
Another proof was presented to us by the Japanese scientist Sakuji Yoshimura in 1988. He was able to determine that the stone from which the Sphinx was carved is older than the blocks of the pyramids. He used echolocation. Nobody took him seriously. Indeed, the age of the rock cannot be determined by echolocation.
The only serious evidence of the “theory of the Sphinx’s antiquity” is the “Inventory Stele”. This monument was found in 1857 by Auguste Mariet, the founder of the Cairo Museum (pictured on the left).
On this stele there is an inscription that Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu) found the statue of the Sphinx already buried in the sand. But this stele was created during the 26th dynasty, that is, 2000 years after the life of Cheops. Don’t trust this source too much.
One thing we can say for sure – the Sphinx has the head and face of the pharaoh. This is evidenced by the headdress nemes (or claft) (see photo) and the decorative element urey (see photo) on the forehead of the sculpture. These attributes could only be worn by the pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt. If the statue had preserved its nose, then we would have been closer to the solution.
By the way, where is the nose?
In the mass consciousness, the version dominates that the nose was knocked down by the French in 1798-1800. Napoleon then conquered Egypt, and his gunners trained by shooting the Great Sphinx.
This is not even a version, but a “fiction”. In 1757, the traveler Frederic Louis Norden from Denmark published sketches made by him in Giza, and then the nose was gone. At the time of publication, Napoleon was not even born yet. You can see the sketch in the photo on the right, there really is no nose.
The reasons for accusing Napoleon are clear. The attitude towards him in Europe was very negative, he was often called a “monster”. As soon as there was a reason to accuse someone of damaging the historical heritage of mankind, of course, he was chosen as the “scapegoat”.
As soon as the version about Napoleon began to be actively refuted, a second similar version emerged. It says that the Mamluks fired from cannons at the Great Sphinx. We cannot explain why public opinion tends so much to hypotheses involving guns? It is worth asking sociologists and psychoanalysts about this. This version was also not confirmed.
A proven version of the loss of the nose is expressed in the work of the Arab historian al-Maqrizi. He writes that in 1378 the nose of the statue was beaten off by a religious fanatic. He was outraged that the inhabitants of the Nile Valley worship the statue and bring it gifts. We even know the name of this iconoclast – Muhammad Saim al-Dahr.
Nowadays, scientists have conducted research on the area of the Sphinx’s nose and found traces of a chisel, that is, the nose was chipped off with this particular tool. There are two such marks in total – one chisel was hammered under the nostril, and the second from above.
These footprints are small, and the tourist will not notice them. However, you can try to imagine how this fanatic was able to do it. Apparently, he was lowered down on a rope. The Sphinx lost his nose, and Saim al-Dahr lost his life, he was torn to pieces by the crowd.
From this history, we can conclude that the Sphinx was still the subject of worship and worship of the Egyptians in the 14th century, although almost 750 years have passed since the beginning of Arab rule.
There is another version of the statue’s loss of the nose – natural causes. The erosion destroys the statue, and part of its head has even fallen off. It was installed back during the last restoration. And this statue has had many restorations.