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Following on from my review of the great Pyramids of Giza I am now writing a review on the Great Sphinx which is part of the complex of the Pyramids but is worth a separate review in its own right.
The great Sphinx is sited at Giza just south of the Pyramids. The Sphinx is a mythological creature half Lion and half human. The lion's body is lying down and the head represents that of a Pharaoh or the Ram God Amun. In some cultures the Sphinx may be represented by two animals but essentially the statue composes the head of one creature and the body of another and can be found throughout the Middle East and also the far Eastern cultures.
In Luxor there is an avenue of Sphinxes that stretches from the Luxor temple to the Temple at Karnak three kilometres away. The sphinxes are lying down on plinths and line either side of the road and originally there were over 2000 of these statues. The statues had the head of a Pharaoh on the body of the Lion. There is only one that is totally intact today because their heads were either cut off or disfigured after the succession of the New Pharaoh or during periods of dissent of idol worship. Most of the Sphinxes represent the Solar God Sekmet.
In Egypt the Great Sphinx is a beautiful sight situated about half a mile before reaching the Great Pyramids. It is found in a slight depression that was a stone quarry. They believe that the way it was built was by cutting around the area leaving a large block from which they were then able to carve the sphinx into the remaining block of stone. The stone is limestone which is fairly easy to carve.
The aim of the Sphinx was to guard the tombs and to act as a form of protection of the Pyramids. The head of the Sphinx at Giza is supposed to represent the head of the Pharaoh Kafre who was buried in the second largest pyramid. One story was that when ever a man wanted to pass the Sphinx in order for it to pass it had the man had to answer a riddle which was what crawls on all fours in the morning, walks on two legs at noon and walks on three legs in the evening. Those who were unable to answer this riddle were eaten. The word sphinx translates into Greek as strangle which is the way a lion kills its prey by biting on the neck of the victim strangling it to death. The answer was supposed to represent the path of life. A baby crawls; an adult walks on two legs and then finally walks with the aid of a stick in old age.
The sphinx appears quite huge when standing near it at nearly 240 feet long and 72 feet high and there are three entrances leading into the Sphinx but are dead ended and the reason for them is unknown.
The Sphinx for most of its life had been buried beneath sand up to its neck until 1400 years BC. When Napoleon arrived in Egypt in the 1798 they began to remove some of the sand from around the statue. Again in 1816 they tried again to remove the sand but were overwhelmed by how much sand there was and only cleared it as far down as the chest. Eventually the sand was finally cleared in 1936 exposing the whole of the statue to the elements.
The quality of the stone is very poor and fragile and the only reason it has probably survived this long is because of the sand protected it. Now it is exposed to the elements of the wind and pollution from Cairo it is again in danger and the main aim is to preserve it.
Parts of the face are missing and there are stories to say that it was defaced by French soldiers who used the statue for target practice and the nose was blown off by a cannonball however there is a painting from the 1500's which shows the face as it currently is with the nose and the beard missing. The beard is thought to have been attached to the Sphinx as it was the custom of men to be clean shaven in Eygpt. Parts of the beard are now in the British museum and the Egyptian museum. One theory is that a Muslim Fanatic on seeing offerings being made to the Sphinx was so enraged that he chopped off the nose and was later hanged for defacing the great monument.
During the excavation of the site they also discovered ante chambers around the perimeter of the quarry. In front of the Sphinx there is a small museum and an arena where they perform a nightly Son et Lumiere show.
The view of the sphinx is absolutely fantastic against the back drop of the pyramids and it is marvellous to see it from different angles along the side and especially from the front. Sadly the encroaching City has come right up close to the Sphinx and you are rewarded with shops close by including the delightful (NOT) KFC and pizza hut. Putting these shops right out of your mind it is well worth a visit to the sphinx and it is an essential monument to visit which is integral to the meanings of the Great Pyramids.
When I visited Cairo about 4 and a half years ago, I had a quick itinerary planned but a late night arrival set me back a bit as I woke up late the next day, I soon became embraced in the city and ended up spending a couple of months there.
Obviously not everyone has this option but if you do, I certainly recommend it. It was a good few weeks that I was in Cairo before I made the journey out to Giza and the pyramids and I definitely benefited from it, I had a pretty relaxing day there and wasn't in a hurry like a lot of the tourists. The grounds are quite large and walking around in the heat can make you a bit agitated, so best to take it easy!
The Sphinx is a dominating feature, one which I'd always dreamt about visiting, the powerful size of it made the small hoards of tourist seem like little ants and you didn't really notice how busy it was. The problem with things of this size of course is that, they are best admired from a distance.
It's debatable whether the extra entrance fee to The Sphinx grounds is worth it, as you walk around its paws, there are no real options for a decent photo but as long as merely being around it keeps you happy then I'd recommend going though.
There's quite a lot of debate about what this sour puss is supposed to represent, it's known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol (Father of Terror) and this limestone carving is definitely not a cheerful Garfield, he's quite threatening! Some say it was an idea of Khafre to build it with the excess limestone left behind after the Pyramid of Khafre whilst others think it could represent Khafre himself, either way it's a true masterpiece and when I compare my personal efforts with a bucket and spade on a beach and this ancient relic, it really is wonderful!
Obviously it is quite a limited spectacle but it's still worth seeing!
You always see pictures of The Sphinx with a pyramid behind it. Ever wonder about that? The reason is that there is nothing else to see. You pay your money to go in to the temple of The Sphinx, and all you see is a few walls and, er, The Sphinx close up. For the best pictures you need to be outside the enclosure anyway. So, my advice is this: Walk down to The Sphinx, take your photos and then take this opportunity for your one camel ride of the holiday. Haggle over a camel to take you up the hill and back to the pyramids. It’s a long walk back in that heat. P.S. Thinking about it, there are good pictures to be had inside the enclosure, but I am not sure it is worth the money.
Located in Giza.