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The Sphinx: Guardian of the Tombs

Standing to the north, and slightly below the pyramids at Giza is the Sphinx. It is made of limestone. The body and head were cut from a single limestone rock, present at the site. The paws were added on after. With the head of a human and a lion's body, it has guarded the site of the pyramids for almost 4,500 years.

Named the Sphinx, after a creature in Greek mythology that had a woman's head and lion's body, it is supposed to be both intelligent and strong. The Egyptians call him Abu El Hol.

The main section of the body is 171 feet long; the total length including the paws, which stick out in the front, is 242 feet, with it reaching a height of 66 feet at the top of the head.

Although not all historians agree, the majority believes that King Khafra, the son of King Khufu, who built the Great Pyramid, probably built the Sphinx. King Khafra built the second pyramid at Giza, smaller than his father's but bigger than the third pyramid. The Sphinx lies beside the valley temple of Khafra's pyramid. The Ancient Egyptians thought that the Sphinx was a powerful God.

The face of the Sphinx has been badly damaged over the centuries, but it is still recognizable as a human face. Legend would have us believe that either the French used the Sphinx for target practice, with canons, during the Napoleonic wars, or perhaps the British troops during World War 1. The story goes that the nose of the Sphinx was shot off during this target practice. This legend is not true. We know from photographs that the nose was missing long before WWI. There are also drawings made of the Sphinx, before the Napoleonic wars, which clearly show the Sphinx without a nose. The best theory that anyone can come up with is that it was badly damaged by the wind and sand, and just disintegrated.

The Sphinx is wearing the classic headdress of a Pharaoh and has the beard of a god. The beard fell off, and was removed from the site. Part of it can be seen in the British Museum in London. Most historians believe that it was meant to have the face of King Khafra.

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped the Sphinx and offered sacrifices to it. They also left stones inscribed with messages, some of these stones have been found, scattered around the Sphinx.

The Sphinx is lying down in the sand, with his paws outstretched. Between the paws there is a large slab of red granite. Inscribed on it was the story of a dream. Soon after the stone was uncovered and the message deciphered, it began to crumble from exposure to the air. The writing can no longer be read.

The Dream

King Thutmose IV should never have been a King of Egypt, but he was. The story is that before he was King he used to go hunting in the desert, at that time he was a Prince, but not in a very good position to get the throne. One day he fell asleep while hunting, and had a dream.

In the dream the Sphinx appeared and told Thutmose that although he was not meant to be Pharaoh, he had been very dutiful to the Gods and deserved a reward. The Sphinx promised to make Thutmose king if he did one thing for the Sphinx, in return.

Prince Thutmose immediately asked what it was that the Sphinx required. The Sphinx replied that his statue was buried in the sand, and that nobody had done anything about it. It is reported that at that time, only the head of the Sphinx was showing above the surrounding desert. Prince Thutmose set about the task of clearing away the sand, and eventually became King of all Egypt.

Tall tale or True Story?

Many Egyptians believe that the story is true, and that the Sphinx really did talk to Prince Thutmose in a dream. However, this isn't very likely. It is far more likely that the Prince made up the story so that the people of Egypt would accept him as their King.

The Future

In recent times attempts have been made to stop the Sphinx from eroding even more. The blowing sands in the desert are gradually eating away at it. The closeness of Cairo, with all its traffic and pollution is also causing damage to the Sphinx. Different methods of preservation have been tried, but so far, none have been successful. Some of the methods have caused even more damage to the fragile structure.

If you look closely at the photograph you can see some of the damage. The red arrows show attempts to repair it. The neck has had mortar added. Bricks have been added to the outside of the body, using mortar. It has since been discovered that the mortar is eating away at the limestone even more quickly than the air pollution.

The Sphinx has stood, as Guardian to the Pyramids, for 4,500 years, but it is unlikely that it will be there in another 4,500 years, unless someone can come up with a good way of preserving it.

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