The Great Sphinx of Giza is a mysterious monument of the ancient world. Why was the Sphinx built?
Pharaoh Khafre is believed to have ordered the making of the Great Sphinx as part of his pyramid complex. It served as a spiritual guardian of Khafre’s eventual resting place and overlooked a temple devoted to Ra, the sun god, and to Khafre himself.
For more on the Great Sphinx and why it might have been constructed, read on.
A sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human and was a prominent creature in the mythology of ancient Egypt. The creature was believed to serve as a spiritual guardian and, in Egyptian art, it was often depicted wearing a pharaoh’s headdress.
Due to its role as a guardian, a sphinx was often depicted in tomb or temple complexes. This could take the form of wall carvings or, in some cases, statues.
The origins of the Great Sphinx at Giza are complicated by the fact that the pyramid complex was constructed over many years. The three pyramids were built to house the remains of three generations of Egyptian pharaohs.
The earliest of the pyramids was built for Pharaoh Khufu and is the largest of the three, known as the Great Pyramid. The second was made for Khafre, Khufu’s son, in a complex that also contains the Great Sphinx. The third was made for Khafre’s son Menkaure; while the smallest of the three, it also contains the most intricate interior.
It is possible that Khafre didn’t want to build a larger pyramid than his father’s, out of respect. He compensated for this by creating a more elaborate complex with several statues, including the Sphinx.
If the most widely accepted age of the Great Sphinx is accurate, Khafre would have ordered its construction in approximately 2550 BCE. The Sphinx faces east, looking at a temple. This suggests that the temple was built as a part of sun worship.
The temple in Khafre’s complex was likely intended for the worship of Ra, the sun god, in addition to Khafre himself. It has often been suggested that the face of the Sphinx is intended to be a likeness of Khafre, adding to the mythology surrounding the pharaoh.
One theory is that the Sphinx and its accompanying temple complex were intended to play a role in resurrecting Khafre’s soul, using the magical energy of the sun.
Unlike the pyramids, which were built above ground using large limestone blocks, the Sphinx was carved from a single enormous piece of limestone. There are a number of different layers of rock visible when it is examined.
The Sphinx was created by digging a trench into the surrounding bed of rock. The limestone that was excavated from around the Sphinx is believed to have been used to build the temple that it overlooks.
Traces of paint on the face and body suggest that the Great Sphinx was originally painted red, with a blue beard and a yellow headdress.
Archaeologists estimate that the Sphinx would have taken a team of a hundred people approximately three years to complete. However, there is also evidence that the Sphinx and temple were left slightly incomplete, as some of the bedrock is not finished.
The Sphinx has been neglected at various points in its history. Legend states that Prince Thutmose, who later became Pharaoh Thutmose IV, fell asleep near the Sphinx and had a dream that the statue spoke to him.
The Sphinx called itself Harmakhet and complained about the neglect it had endured, telling Thutmose that it would help him become pharaoh if he restored it to its former glory.
Whether or not this event truly happened, Pharaoh Thutmose promoted Sphinx worship during his reign. It became a popular religious and royal symbol throughout ancient Egypt, though it fell into disrepair again with the downfall of the ancient Egyptian civilization.
In the thousands of years since the Sphinx was constructed, it has suffered a great deal of erosion. Its face is also believed to have been vandalized, likely as a form of religious protest, leading to the loss of its nose.
Today, the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza are some of the most iconic and popular tourist attractions in the world. The monuments have stood for thousands of years and serve as a testament to their owners and creators.