The Great Sphinx, a Real World Wonder When one hears of Egypt, they most likely think of the massive pyramids or the hieroglyphics that told of its history. While fascinating, they cannot compare to the marvel of the Great Sphinx of Egypt. Although it failed to receive the title, the history and beauty of the Sphinx make it worthy of being one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Egyptian artwork can be said to fall under two categories; Creation for the purpose of religious or political importance, or the symbolic depiction of the power of the Pharaoh. So what is the purpose of the Sphinx?
The Sphinx proudly lies 6 miles west of Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, and has been said to be built for the purpose of protecting or guarding the pyramid of Khafre (Chefren) in Giza. By combining the head of a God or Pharaoh with the body of a lion, the Sphinx gracefully symbolizes the King’s power and wisdom. Carved out of sandstone and limestone, the statue lays 260 feet long, and reaches a height of 65 feet, which equates to over 2 meters higher than Mt. Rushmore. While the Sphinx was constructed from a single ridge, the 50 foot long paws were carved from separate blocks and then later attached.
The Ancient Egyptians had a love for massive and varying proportions, as can be seen by the design of the Sphinx and various pyramids. Arabs in the Egyptian desert refer to the Sphinx as the “Father of Terrors”. The head is disproportionate compared to the rest of the body, and is said to be the portrait of Khafre himself. What remains a mystery is that scholars have noticed that the face of the Sphinx far more resembles the face of Khafre’s older brother, Pharaoh Djedefre. If this assumption is true, seeing as this was built around 2500 BC, this would be one of the earliest known portraits in history.
Egyptologists, through steady research, have speculated a different date of creation. Additional evidence for the great age of the Sphinx may perhaps be indicated by the astronomical significance of its shape, being that of a lion. Roughly every two thousand years (2160 to be exact), and because of the precession of the equinoxes, the sun on the vernal equinox rises against the stellar background of a different constellation.
For the past two thousand years that constellation has been Pisces the Fish, symbol of the Christian age. Prior to the age of Pisces it as the age of Aries the Ram, and before that it was the age of Taurus the Bull. […]. Perhaps the builders of the Sphinx likewise used astrological symbolism in designing their monumental sculpture. (Gray). These findings indicate that the Sphinx could have possibly been constructed before 10,000 BC, during the Age of Leo the Lion, which lasted from 10,970 to 8810 BC. Ian Waldron backs up this claim that, “In his ground-breaking book Fingerprints of the Gods (Heinemann-Mandarin), Hancock pointed out that the ‘First Time’ date of 10,500 BC also denoted the beginning or ‘First Time’ of the Age of Leo.
This was when the ‘lion’ constellation would have risen heliacally (at dawn before the sun) on the day of the spring (vernal) equinox. ” The Ancient Egyptians were the possessors of one of the most remarkable civilizations the world has ever known. They were the heirs and successors to a very great knowledge, a wealth of information that has surrounded the walls of temples and tombs over thousands of years. The creation of the Sphinx is far more remarkable than just an ordinary monument. Due to the ever changing terrain of the desert, the Sphinx has been buried up to the shoulders numerous times in history.
King Thutmose IV placed a Dream Stela between the front paws of the Sphinx. It is said that during a dream, while Thutmose IV was still a prince, the sphinx spoke to Thutmose IV and told him to remove the sand around his body because it was choking him. “The sphinx told him that if he did this, he would be rewarded with a kingship. Thutmose carried out this request and the sphinx held up his end of the deal” (Dunn). In 1400 BC, the sand had been cleared away by a party led by Thutmose IV. After much trouble, the excavation party was able to dig out the Sphinx up to the paws.
Thutmose IV eventually became king. The first modern excavation of the Sphinx was recorded to be in 1817 and successfully led to the uncovering of the chest. 1925 brought the complete uncovering of the statue. More recently, in the 1980’s, a carefully planned restoration of the Sphinx was in progress. Over 6 years, about 2,000 limestone blocks were added to the body of the sphinx. Along with this, scientists injected chemicals into the blocks to strengthen them. Sadly, the treatment did not work and the chemicals flaked away with the original pieces of the stone.
Workers were assigned to fix the flaking. In 1988, the shoulder started to wear away and blocks began to fall. Currently, attempts at restoration are under the control of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ archaeologists. It is said that the damage is being caused by soil seepage through the blocks. The restoration has a goal: To repair the Sphinx to its near-original state, while keeping as close to the original size as possible. One of the famous attributes, as well as one of the mysteries of the Sphinx, is the nose, which originally measured to 1 meter long.
A legend still remains that claims that during a time of war, a cannon ball from one of Napoleon’s cannons took out the nose. This seems like a possible reason for the destruction of the Sphinx, but early sketches illustrated in 1755 show the Sphinx already without a nose, thus proving the legend false. The vandalism is accredited to Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr by historian al-Maqrizi in the fifteenth century. It is said that al-Maqrizi discovered the Egyptians offering gifts to the Sphinx in order for a successful harvest.
Outraged, he ordered that the nose of the Sphinx be destroyed. In addition to the missing nose, a ceremonial beard has been thought to have been attached during creation. This may have been added in later periods after the original construction. An Egyptologist named Rainer Stadelmann has postulated that the rounded beard may not have existed in the Old or Middle Kingdoms, but came around later in the New Kingdom to identify the Sphinx with the God Horemakhet. This is assumed because the fashion of later pharaohs consisted of wearing a plaited beard of authority.
The beards of the pharaohs were fake, held together with chin straps, and can be seen in some early statues. Pieces of this beard are kept in the British Museum and Egyptian Museum. The Sphinx plays a very important role for Egypt’s tourism. Egypt houses over 10,000 antiquities, including temples, paintings, tombs, and inscriptions. These records share with the world the beliefs, lifestyle, and history of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. These are important because our modern cultures were influenced by the past.
The problem Egypt faces today is that it guards this ancient heritage, but may have trouble preserving them. The monuments are extremely old and Egypt is growing rapidly. The pyramids and the Sphinx have been around for thousands of years, and Egypt now homes more than 53 million people. This growth and the thriving tourist trade have caused more damage to the monuments in the past 50 years than the past 4,000 years (Borcover).
The big issue with the Sphinx is that it is partly made out of limestone, which is highly affected by humidity and rain. The Sphinx has lso been affected by pollution from cars, which up until recently, were allowed to drive very close to the monument. If these treasures are destroyed, the tourist economy of Egypt will be greatly affected (Hedges). It is important for us to preserve these global treasures from the past so all men and women can see its beauty and learn from the cultures of the past. The Great Sphinx of Egypt is not considered a wonder of the world, but in many people’s eyes, it is.