The Great Sphinx of Giza – Conservation, and Restoration of the Sphinx

The Great Sphinx is located on the Giza plateau is a truly mysterious wonder from the days of ancient/antique Egypt. A sphinx is a zoomorphic figure depicted as a recumbent lion with a human head but sometimes as a lion with the head of a falcon, hawk, or ram. In Greek mythology, a sphinx is represented as a monster with a head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and a serpent-headed tail. It has its origins in sculpted figures oh Old Kingdome Egypt, and is associated with the solar deity Sekhmet. Similar creatures appear throughout South & South-East Asia. The body of a lion with the top of a lord or god, the sphinx has come to represent strength and astuteness. The ancient as well as the modern national symbol of Egypt, the Great Sphinx is an archetype of antiquity whose image has inspired the imagination of poets, scholars, adventures, and tourists for centuries. The Sphinx is the image of the king who combines human nature with divine and leonine power. The utilization of heads of other animals atop the lioness body followed the titular deities of the city or area where they were built, or which were prominent in the Egyptian pantheon at the time.

The word sphinx is derived from the Egyptian expression shesep ankh (living image) meaning a sculpture that represents a deity with the body of a lion and the head of a human or animal.

The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx of Giza that stands above the desert sands, termed by the Arabs as Abu Hol (the father of terror) is a unique monument in the history of Egyptian statues in which Sphinxes are characteristic elements.

The Sphinx was carved out of the natural bedrock of the Giza plateau at the base of Khafre’s causeway. The rectangular secondary enclosure wall surrounding Khafre’s pyramid complex would if extended eastwards include the Sphinx. The southern side of the Sphinx ditch forms the northern edge of Khafre’s causeway as it runs past the Sphinx, entering Khafre’s valley temple. Hence, the probability that the Sphinx was carved for Khafre. The lion was a solar symbol in several cultures of the east besides being a common archetype of royalty. The regal human head on a lion’s body symbolized power & might be controlled by the intelligence of the pharaoh. The headdress was the particular way of folding the scarf that was exclusive to Egyptian kings. The royal scarf’s flaring sides replaced the lion’s mane to bring the human head into proportion with the lion’s chest.

Even though the Great Sphinx head is badly battered in some spots, traces of the original color/paint can still be seen near one ear. It is accepted that the Sphinx was painted and was very beautiful. Since then, the nose & beard have been broken away. The nose was the unfortunate victim of target practice by the Turks in the Turkish time duration. The destruction of the Sphinx’s nose has many theories attached to it. Some theories say that it was destroyed by Napoleon’s soldiers, but 18th century drawings reveal that the nose was missing long before Napoleon’s arrival. Many Egyptologists believe that a Sufi who lived in the 9th century A.D. damaged it to show the people that the Sphinx was just a stone and not the sacred object they thought it was.

Generally, the role of Sphinx was as a temple guardian. They were put in relationship with architectural structures such as regal tombs or religious temples. The biggest and well-known is the Great Sphinx of Giza, sited at the Giza Plateau on the west shore of the Nile River and facing due east, is also from the same dynasty. Although the date of its construction work is undecided, the head of the Sphinx now is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.

What names their constructor gave to these statues is unknown. At the site, the inscription on a stele erected thousand years later, by Thutmose IV in 1400 BC, records the names of three parts of the nearby sun god of that period, Khepera–R–Atum. The addition of these figures in tomb & temple complexes rapidly became traditional and the number of pharaohs had their heads carved atop the guardian statues for their tombs to show their close relationship with the amazing divinity, Sekhmet.

Some other famous Egyptian Sphinxes incorporate one bearing the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, with her resemblance carved in granite and the alabaster sphinx of Memphis. The subject was extended to formation great avenues of guardian sphinxes lining the approaches to temples & tombs as well as serving as details atop posts of flights of stairs to grand complexes.

Afterward, the sphinx image, something fundamentally the same as the original Egyptian concept, was incorporated into different civilizations often interpreted quite differently due to translations of descriptions of the originals and the evolution of the concept in relation to the tradition of other cultures.

The Riddle of the Sphinx

The Sphinx is said to have protected and guarded the ingress to the Greek town of Thebes and to have asked a charade to travelers to allow them passage. The certain riddle asked by the great Sphinx was not specified by early tellers of the stories and was not authenticated as the one given below until late in Greek history.

Folklore has it that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland (the Greeks always remembered the foreign origin of the Sphinx) to Thebes in Greece where she asks all passersby the most famous riddle in history: Which creatures in the morning go on four legs, at mid-day on two & in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?

She strangled & devoured anyone not able to answer. Oedipus cleared up the riddle by answering: Man who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult & then walks with a cane in old age.

The tale continues, the great Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock & died. An optional version says that she devoured herself.

The Sphinx Temple

Discovered right in front of the Sphinx, constructed out of local limestone lined in the inside with Tura limestone, granite and alabaster are the Sphinx Temple. Twenty-four pillars surrounding the large courtyard are believed by many to represent twenty-four hours of the day.

Dream Stela

A granite Stela 3.5 m in height and weighing 15 tons located between the front paws of the Sphinx, erected by Thutmose IV dated to the first year of his reign, 1400 BC. Commemorating his accession to the throne, it tells the story of how as a young prince while on a hunting expedition in the vicinity of the Sphinx, he fell asleep in the shadow of the status’s head, with sand that came right up to his neck. While asleep, the Sphinx as the embodiment of the sun in its three aspects Khepera-R-Atum appeared in a dream and offered him the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt in return for repairing its body and clearing the sand. At the top of the Stela, Thutmose etched a view of himself giving offerings and libations to the great Sphinx of Giza.   

Dream Stela

Conservation & Restoration of the Great Sphinx of Giza

The earliest restoration of the Great Sphinx of Giza was undertaken by Thutmosis IV in 1400 BC. Temporary measures through the interventions right up to the 1980s to restore the Sphinx did more damage than good. Restoration work can be said to have been done in five phases.

Stage 1st of the Great Sphinx’s Conservation

Thutmosis IV and other New Kingdome (18th-19th Dynasties) Stage 1st of conservation consisted of the following:

  1. After clearing away the sand in the precinct, protective mud-brick walls were built around the Sphinx to protect it from wind and sand.
  2. As the Sphinx was damaged and that the old Kingdome stones were falling down, they were put back in their original places and more may have been commissioned.
  3. Granite Stela (Dream Stela) was brought from Aswan and the story known as the dream story was inscribed.
Stage 2nd of the Great Sphinx Conservation

Saite period (500 BC)

In 1853 the inventory Stela of the daughter of Cheops (Khufu) was found on the east side of the pyramid indicating that the Sphinx was repaired in this period. The major layer of restoration masonry on the upper part of the great Sphinx’s body on the south side may have been executed during this duration. This layer, composed of smaller slabs than those of the Old Kingdome, was laid over the earlier layer of Thutmosis IV, the surface of which was cut away in phase II for fitting the new stones. The restores did not remove the Old Kingdome stones from the Sphinx. The Saite restoration focused on the Sphinx’s tail & on the headdress. The great Sphinx may also have painted by the Egyptians of this period.

Stage 3rd of the Great Sphinx Conservation

Roman period

Ancient/antique sources attest that the Sphinx was in the Roman period again freed from the sand. The Great Sphinx in the Roman time was a famous gathering place. The Egyptians came to sit by the Sphinx and the place was highly romanticized apart from serving as a backdrop for the performance of plays.

The Roman comprised of a layer of protective stones applied to the paws & two sides of the Sphinx. These stones were recorded and planned in the photogrammetric map that was made in 1979. These stones were applied directly over the old Kingdome courses. Smaller stones were utilized as required to retain the modeling & proportions of the Great Sphinx.

The ground floor (GF) of the great Sphinx sanctuary was paved during the Roman period. This stage of work can be accepted as the greatest reclamation exertion in ancient history.

Stage 4th of the Sphinx Conservation

Many centuries passed before the next phase of conservation was undertaken by Emile Baraize who cleared the area around the Sphinx to free it from the sand. Baraize’s restoration program (stage 4th) and its consequences are summarized below:

  1. Records show that a crack located at the top center partitioned the great Sphinx into two segments. The head was in severe condition. A large passage was open on the north side. Baraize reinstated the head with cement, for at the time it was considered significant for the security of the head.
  2. Baraize shut the northern passage with masonry work. It would be of benefit to open it to see the interior of the lion’s body and take specimens. The northern side of the Sphinx was a significant issue as the crumbling of the packaging stones was is in a further developed state.
  3. Baraize reestablished the break on the highest point of the Sphinx with concrete and supplanted the old Kingdome stones.
  4. Many other parts on the Sphinx were also restored which can be seen now on the left and right shoulder of the Sphinx and on the southern shoulder where a fallen chunk from the mother rock was restored.

Parts on the southern, northern and the rear of the lion body were reestablished.

Most of these restorations have been taken out and restored with the new method currently in use on the south side.

Stage 5th of the Great Sphinx Conservation             

Egyptian Antiquities Organization-EAO (1955-1987)

Stage 5th comprises a series of occasional restorations carried out by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization’s (EAO) restoration department in 1955, 1977, 1979, and 1982-1987. There was no extensive arrangement of work nor was the defense work that was finished recording. The laborers were essentially taking care of the job with no management by a planner or conservator. As a result, this work didn’t help with the conservation of the Sphinx.

The year 1955 saw transitory reclamation work done on the Sphinx for the most part in the regions where exceptionally slender layers of limestone in the chest had begun to chip off. Restorers started to infuse the chest with a compound substance. The infusion was done distinctly in the surface layer of the chest. After two months, this layer started to tumble down.

In September 1979, the engineering division of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO) started reclamation on the northern side of the Great Sphinx. The workers began to add new stones toward the north side while at the same time taking the prior stones out. Unfortunately, the workmen used mortar which consisted of cement and gypsum. Even at that time, the formulation was known to be harmful to monuments.

In October 1981 facade stones started tumbling off the north rear paw of the Sphinx.

The designer of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO) coordinated the rebuilding program from 1982-1987. The biggest problems in this phase of the work were the following:

  1. They didn’t utilize the mortar suggested in the research-based report yet rather utilized a lot of cement and gypsum. Besides, they put the mortar instantaneously on the mother rock.
  2. The workmen had no supervision and the architect in charge rarely visited the site.
  3. The huge stones utilized in the rebuilding totally unclear the representation and the ratio of the Sphinx. This packaging was applied on the southpaw, north paw, the northern side, the back, the tail, the masonry work boxes, the Roman steps, the Sphinx sanctuary, and the back paw of the northern side. All these areas looked totally new and unusual.
  4. This effort focused attention on cosmetic renovations. The reclamation comprised of just displacing stones and mortar and substitution works. They additionally added braces of stone and mortar (once more, cement and gypsum) over the mother rock of the Sphinx on the rump, north and south side part.
  5. They eliminated every one of the antiquated stones that were added to the Sphinx in the stage III rebuilding. These stones were never recorded or saved away.
  6. A wall was constructed on the north side which totally unclear the representation of the Sphinx’s shoulder. This was wholly unwarranted archeologically.

The results of this kind of work on the Sphinx were:

  1. The Sphinx body couldn’t endure a particularly large amount of mortar (cement and gypsum). The mortar rock of the Sphinx couldn’t inhale and started to push the recently applied stone out. This was particularly the situation on the rear of the northern paw and the region of the tail.
  2. Crumbling and salt began to show up on the new stone. The salt issue showed up during the work on the back northern paw. To prevent this disintegration they covered this zone with mud.
  3. The laborers cut the paws that had been engraved in the stone by the old Egyptians.
Stage 6th of the Great Sphinx Conservation


The Sphinx has been under siege from many elements. These are:

  1. The rising groundwater level.
  2. Vibrations from aircraft and vehicular traffic, especially buses, in the immediate vicinity.
  3. Increase in the population of villages around the Sphinx.
  4. Seepage of wastewater from nearby rural areas which lack sewage treatment systems.
  5. Modern developments of the sound & light show installation and the cutting of the tunnels for cables.
  6. Climatic factors such as rainfall and variations in moisture and temperatures.
  7. Modern innovation, like industrial facilities close to the memorial and the resultant populace.
  8. The practice of using stop-gap and hurtful procedure of protection, reinstatement, particularly those utilizing cement & gypsum on the mother rock of the Sphinx’s lion body.
  9. The limestone quarry close to the Giza plateau, which uses dynamite to pulverize lime for use in sugar industrial units.

Since 1988 several foreign specialists have come to the great Sphinx to research & offer solutions to these issues. All have agreed that the new casing stones & the cement should be taken off instantly.

In 1989 a Sphinx committee was established. The team used the elevations and plans to begin restoring the contours of the Sphinx as they existed prior to 1982-1988 interventions.

The project was divided into 3 stages.

Stage 1st of the Sphinx Restoration

Stage first which is presently attracting to a close-by involved completing many research-based investigations just as accomplishing reestablishment work in select territories.

The territories join the southern paw, the southern side of the incomparable Sphinx, and the tail. The old large stones and cement were completely displaced and the mother rock was dealt with. New stones were chosen from a quarry at Helena after the examination has shown it was consistent with the limestone of the mother rock. Rather than utilize thin-facing slabs that would require lots of mortar, large blocks of stones were used, placed end first against the mother rock, and laid in overlapping courses. This method continued in brick lying, interlocks the stones, and allows simplicity of substitution. The mortar was made of lime and sand blended in the ratio of 1:3 (lime: sand).

The mixture was permitted to remain in plastic bags for 10-15 days to take into consideration the greatest solidification. In this first stage also the chest was given a defensive course of limestone on the sides matching the construction methodology of the originals.

The water level is now 7 meters below the base of the Great Sphinx. This is down 5 meters from the situation that prevailed for a minimum of 50 years. The drop in the water table might be a result of the new sewage system that the Egyptian government built.

This stage of preservation has secured an improvement in the great Sphinx’s environment. One of them being the seismic waves emanating from blasting activities at quarries in the vicinity. These seismic waves were found to be a potential hazard to the Sphinx of Giza.

Based on suggestions from this study, limits were placed on the size of the blasts, and timetables were set up to space out the explosion so as to prevent covering. Recording stations were set up in the Sphinx complex to observe compliance with these limitations.

In May 1990 a solar-powered monitoring station was installed on the back of the Great Sphinx designed to measure such potentially destructive environmental factors as wind, precipitation, relative moisture, and condensation. Data collected thus far show the strong, sand-bearing North-West wind as the principal source of wind erosion.

The data also indicates that moisture in the atmosphere, reacting on a daily basis with slats contained in the limestone, contributes at least in part to the surface flaking of the Sphinx.

Specimens of rock taken from the Sphinx & nearby outcrops were analyzed permitting composition analyses.

Petrographic & X-ray diffraction analyses indicate, among other things, that the uppermost layers of the Sphinx are made out of marly limestone, the heterogeneous nature of which contributes to decomposition. The lower parts, on the other hand, are made out of fossiliferous limestone which, while harder and more compact, raises other defense concerns.

Stage 2nd of the Modern Sphinx Restoration

This stage was very important because the Sphinx’s north side had the following:

  1. Large stones had been placed that don’t match those of the Old Kingdom or Roman period.
  2. 3 meters of cement were put on this side.
  3. Salt started to show up on the left paw.
  4. Stones began to move from the north side due to pressures caused by the fact that the cement prevented the limestone from breathing.
  5. The ratio of that side was totally lost because of faulty restoration.
Stage 3rd of the Sphinx Restoration

This stage is connected with the chest of the Great Sphinx of Giza. It was decided to restore the chest with chemicals that could stop the flaking of the Sphinx’s chest. All the center, upper part, and the neck were reestablished with mortar comprising of lime & sand.

It is very essential to note that the great Sphinx of Giza is the oldest patient and requires steady attention.

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