Angela loves researching new facts, especially those about science and history. She feels that knowledge is essential in growth.
What Is the Great Sphinx?
The Great Sphinx of Egypt is a world-famous statue situated in the southwest of the modern-day Cairo greater metropolis. Its official name is "The Great Sphinx of Giza," as the Giza Plateau is located on the west side of the Nile River and is home to not only the Sphinx but some of the most famous ancient Egyptian pyramids and monuments.
It is a massive and awe-inspiring structure. It is 240 feet long, 66 feet tall, and 62 feet wide. Archeologists believe that it was likely constructed at the time of the Pharoah Khafre's reign (c. 2520 and 2494 BCE) during the Old Kingdom period.
In this article, I'm going to discuss the following 10 interesting facts about the Great Sphinx:
- It Is Based on the Egyptian Mythological Creature of the Same Name
- It Is the World's Oldest Monumental Sculpture
- It Is the Largest Monolith Statue on Earth
- Thutmose IV Supposedly Rediscovered It After Falling Asleep on It
- It Took Three Years to Create
- It Is Composed of (Mostly) One Single Slab of Limestone
- It Used to Be Quite Colorful
- No One Knows Why Its Nose Is Missing
- It Once Sported a Beard
- It Was Most Recently Restored in 1988
1. It Is Based on the Egyptian Mythological Creature of the Same Name
In mythology, a sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion. The myth is known in Egypt and Asia. It is also considered a Greek mythological creature. This one has a headdress because in Egypt, unlike in Asia and the Greek myth, sphinxes were depicted as being male with a Pharoah headdress. If it had been built in Asia or according to Greek mythology, it would have been created as a female with massive eagle-like wings.
2. It Is the World's Oldest Monumental Sculpture
It is believed to be the oldest standing monumental sculpture globally, with a possible construction date between 2520-and 2494 BCE. The first documented attempt at excavating the Sphinx was around 1400 BCE when Thutmose IV made an attempt (more on this later). Although it could be older than that, archeological evidence suggests this timeframe for construction, though there are not necessarily records of its erection.
3. It Is the Largest Monolith Statue on Earth
This massive beast stands approximately 66 feet high, 240 feet long, and 63 feet wide. This means it is enormous and the largest monolith statue still standing on Earth. It is unclear whether it ever was more extensive than its current state, as there is a possibility that its head had to be reconstructed, which is why some believe that its head is not proportionate to its massive body.
4. Thutmose IV Supposedly Rediscovered It After Falling Asleep On It
The earliest mention of the Great Sphinx, or "a statue of Khepi," as they called it, is in 1400 BCE. Unfortunately, for many years, it was covered by sand. Legend has it that Thutmose IV fell asleep on top of it without realizing it and dreamed that he was supposed to free the Sphinx from beneath the sand.
If he could do this, then he would become ruler of a unified upper and lower Egypt. He did uncover it and later achieved an alliance with the Mittani empire of northern Syria, which created a period of peace for Egypt. Thutmose IV left a monument to his dream between the Sphinx's paws, called the Dream Stela of Thutmose IV.
5. It Took Three Years to Create
Although we do not know for sure, scientist Mark Lehner estimated that it would've taken three years to finish this monument using chisels and hammers if 100 men were working on it. Researchers know how some of it was constructed because they did find abandoned toolkits near the worksite.
They believe the Egyptians may have intended it to be larger as they also left large stone blocks that had not been processed nearby. They also uncovered leftover lunches that consisted of cattle, sheep, and goat meat. Many are curious as to why they may have left in such a hurry.
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6. It Is Composed of (Mostly) One Single Slab of Limestone
It is believed that the Great Sphinx was sculpted from a single piece of limestone that had been leftover during the construction of the pyramids. The front paws are separate blocks of limestone. The single major piece of limestone was exposed when workers dug out a horseshoe-shaped quarry in the desert floor.
7. It Used to Be Quite Colorful
It is believed that at one time, whether it was when it was created or by a different group of people, the Great Sphinx was painted with a primary palette of red, yellow, and blue. It is believed that the face was red, and the headdress was a brilliant yellow. If you ever get a chance to see it, you will see some residual red color around its ear.
8. No One Knows Why Its Nose Is Missing
One of the Sphinx's most distinctive characteristics is the nose that appears broken off. It is believed that the original nose was at least one meter. No one truly knows how it was broken off, although there have been some discredited rumors, such as one involving Napoleon.
It used to be said that Napoleon's troops shot off the nose with cannon when they invaded Egypt in 1798. However, drawings uncovered before Napoleon's invasion show that the nose was already missing.
Another theory is that Sufi Muslims sawed it off in the late 1400s in a protest. This has not been proven true or false.
9. It Once Sported a Beard
The British Museum is home to a portion of the beard that was once set on the Great Sphinx's chin. It is believed he lost most of it due to erosion. It is uncertain if it was created with a beard initially or if workers later added it.
French archaeologist Dobrev believes the latter and has the support of the British Museum. This is thought to be because it would have suffered significantly more damage than it shows if it had been built simultaneously. One theory is that when Thutmose IV restored it, he had it added.
10. It Was Most Recently Restored In 1988
In 1988, the Egyptian government began the restoration of the giant monolith due to a 700-pound shoulder piece plunging to the ground. This damage was due to a 1933 restoration effort. In 1933, the Great Sphinx got a new headdress, and the Egyptian government also repaired the head and neck. Unfortunately, the restorations did not uphold well, hence the massive chunk falling off.
The Great Sphinx has a fascinating history with several myths surrounding not only the creature and the statue itself. Those that have the opportunity to see it share a site that those nearly 4,000 years also enjoyed.
- Lehner, Mark. Archaeology of an Image: The Great Sphinx of Giza. Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University
This study is the first systematic description of the Great Sphinx of Giza. It is an architectural, archaeological, and geo-archaeological approach based on many years of field work.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Angela Michelle Schultz