MYSTIC PLACES – The SPHINX
The Great Sphinx of Giza belongs to the Giza necropolis west of Cairo.
The site is a plateau containing the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura, together with the Sphinx and a number of smaller pyramids, temples, and tombs.
The Giza structures were built by 4th Dynasty kings at the height of the Old Kingdom. (Scholars divide ancient Egyptian civilization into:
- the Predynastic (the ten centuries before 3050 BCE),
- the Archaic or Early Dynastic (3050-2575 BCE),
- the Old Kingdom (2575-2150 BCE),
- the Middle Kingdom (2040-1783 BCE),
- the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE),
- and the Late Dynastic (1070-332 BCE).
So-called intermediate periods followed the Old and Middle Kingdoms.)
The majestic Sphinx
The Sphinx is the oldest and longest stone sculpture from the Old Kingdom.
During the eighteenth dynasty, it was called “Horus of the Horizon” and “Horus of the Necropolis”, the sun god that stands above the horizon.
In later times, many sphinx images were carved in smaller sizes or in cameos with the faces of the reigning monarchs. The face of the Great Sphinx is believed to be that of Chephren, the fourth-dynasty pharaoh who built the second-largest pyramid in the Giza triad. In the image of the Sphinx, the pharaoh was seen as a powerful god.
Carved out of a natural limestone outcrop, the Sphinx is 19.8 metres (65 feet) high and 73.2 metres (240 feet) long. It is located a short distance from the Great Pyramid.
The main body sits along an east-west axis facing east. An enclosure of open floor surrounds the monument, narrowing somewhat in the western back end. There is an unfinished shelf along the western back wall slightly elevated from the rest of the enclosure floor. Large and small blocks of harder limestone, applied at different times in the past, form a protective covering or facing over the lower parts of the monument.
The rectangular structure known as the Sphinx Temple lies directly east of the statue. Adjacent and south of the Sphinx Temple lies a structure known as the Khafra Valley Temple. This is linked to a causeway that goes west-northwest to the second or Khafra Pyramid. The causeway runs above and along the south wall of the Sphinx enclosure. A Khafra Mortuary Temple stands east of the Khafra Pyramid on the upper plateau behind the Sphinx.
Plan of Khafre’s causeway and the Sphinx enclosure.
Plan after Lehner, 1991
Originally, all three of the big pyramids at Giza (Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura) had causeways, valley temples, and mortuary temples. These structures were originally faced with smoother and harder limestone or granite that was partly or entirely stripped in ancient and medieval times, leaving limestone core blocks that have weathered over the millennia.