- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
See the Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza is the largest, the oldest and probably the most famous monumental statues in the world and an iconic symbol of Ancient Egypt. It is a massive seventy-three and a half meters (two hundred and forty-one feet)long and twenty meters (sixty-six feet) high. It takes the form of a couchant lion with the head of a man wearing the Nemes headdress of a pharaoh (although some have argued that it originally had the head of a lion and was later recarved). However, there are numerous debates about its meaning, its age and the name of the pharaoh that built it.
There is no firm evidence that a cult of the Sphinx was active during the Old Kingdom. The Sphinx temple located in front of the Sphinx is thought to date to the Old Kingdom but it was never finished and there are no records of any priests or priestesses servicing this temple so it may never have been operational.
There are some who argue that the Sphinx pre-dates the pyramids and that there was a solar cult acting in the Giza area before Giza became the necropolis of the fourth dynasty kings. It has been proposed that the Sphinx, the Sphinx temple, the mortuary temple and the valley temple of Khafre were built at the same time and that their attribution to Khafre is erroneous. Referring to the Inventory Stela discovered by Mariette and the Dream Stele some have suggested that the Sphinx was in fact renovated during the Old Kingdom. However, this view is unpopular amongst Egyptologists and some who once proposed it now reject the theory.
The popularity of the Sphinx reached its height in the New Kingdom, often at the expense of the buildings of the pyramid complexes. In particular the causeway of the pyramid of Khafre seems to have been harvested for the stone to repair the Sphinx and build temples in its honour.
Amenhotep II (eighteenth dynasty, New Kingdom) built a temple to the Sphinx in which he also praises Khufu and Khafre, implying that he considered there was a connection between those two pharaohs and the Sphinx.
The Dream Stele (or Sphinx Stele) records that the son of Amenhotep II, Prince Tuthmosis, apparently fell asleep by the Sphinx who prophesised in his dream that he would become pharaoh if he cleared the sand that had engulfed it.
He did indeed effect repairs to the Sphinx and went on to become Thuthmosis IV of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Tuthmosis replaced sections of masonry that had eroded and built a huge mud brick enclosure wall which resembles a cartouche around the Sphinx quarry. Devotional stele were built into this wall including seventeen which depict Thuthmosis (sometimes accompanied by his wife Nefertari) making offerings to the Sphinx. He also built a temple dedicated to Horemakhet in which the Sphinx is named as Horemakhet-Hauron (Hauron being the Syrian and Palestinian god of the underworld).
The Sphinx fared better than most of the traditional gods during the Amarna Period, perhaps because of its strong solar connection. The remains of a villa built by Tutankhamun (and adapted by Ramesses II) have been found close to the Valley temple of Khafre and there is some evidence of another villa dating to the Amarna Period but it is not clear who should be credited with its construction. Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti were depicted as sphinx so it is possible that the other villa was constructed by this enigmatic pharaoh.
Seti I repaired and renovated the temple built by Amenhotep II and Ramesses II renovated the temple of Tuthmosis IV and added two base reliefs on which he appears making offerings to the sphinx.
Unfortunately a number of New Kingdom mudbrick structures were cleared from the area around the Sphinx during the early twentieth century with little or no record being made of them for posterity.
There is evidence of a fairly major repair during the twenty-sixth dynasty (Third Intermediate Period). Patches of masonry that had crumbled away were replaced and the structure was clad in the same limestone used in earlier repairs. Further restoration was conducted during the Roman Period, but this only consisted of the addition of small brick-sized stones to eroded parts of the body of the Sphinx. These can still be seen in places but as they used relatively soft white limestone they have deteriorated badly.