The Great Sphinx of Giza
It may be a cliché answer, but if I had to pick a favorite out of all of the wonders we saw in Egypt, I would have to say the Great Sphinx at Giza. The Giza plateau is the most famous of all the Ancient Egyptian sites and for good reason. I’ve experienced this with other things to a smaller degree, but photographs just can’t compete with the experience of seeing these wonders in person (I say this as a preface to a post containing … photographs 🤷♀️). Scale, detail and sense of place are all essential components that are impossible to grasp second-hand.
Because of our tour’s connection to Dr. Zahi Hawass, we had special permissions to meet him at the base of the Sphinx. There is a public viewing platform on the left side, but we were able to stand right in between the great paws and walk around the perimeter of the original, oversized roadside attraction (just a few days before Melania racked up her extravagant hotel bill).
Built in the Old Kingdom circa 2558–2532 BCE for the Pharaoh Khafra—the builder of the second pyramid at Giza—the Sphinx was carved into the bedrock of the plateau. It is 240 feet long from paw to tail, 66 feet high from the base to the top of the head and 62 feet wide at the rear.
“Sphinx” is a Greek word for a mythical winged creature with the head of a woman and the body of a lion. The most famous Sphinx in the world has been called that since antiquity, although the Egyptian version has the head of a man and is not winged.
At one time the Sphinx was buried up to its shoulders in sand and several excavations of the site were attempted over the years as early as 1400 BCE. The entire Sphinx was finally uncovered from 1925 to 1936, and in 1931 repairs were made to the head. Renovations to its base and body were done in the 1980s, and again in the ‘90s, but Dr. Hawass insists that it should never be fully restored and should be allowed to exist as a ruin (I agree).
The Sphinx is famously missing its nose, but the legend that it was broken off by a cannonball from Napoleon’s army is incorrect because sketches that predate Napoleon’s time have been found depicting the Sphinx without a nose. Fragments of a ceremonial beard have also been found, although it may have been added later and therefore would not have been included in the original design. Traces of pigment are remarkably still visible on the face and headdress of the Sphinx, leading experts to believe that it was once brightly painted like most of the stone monuments and temples built by the Ancient Egyptians.
The Sphinx is such a remarkable and enigmatic figure that I found myself completely enchanted by it, thousands of years after its construction. Despite various theories, Dr. Hawass insists that there is nothing hidden within, or underneath the Sphinx, but that hasn’t stopped people from insisting otherwise. It may be the most famous “ruin” in the world, but I was struck by the power it still has to captivate—especially when combined with the pyramids rising majestically behind it.