The Great Sphinx of Giza is a limestone statue of a reclining or couchant sphinx (a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human head) that stands on the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile in Giza.
It is the largest monolith statue in the world, standing 73.5 metres long, 19.3 metres wide, and 20.22 m high. It is the oldest known monumental sculpture, and is commonly believed to have been built by ancient Egyptians of the Old Kingdom during the reign of the Pharaoh Khafra.
Pharaoh Khafra (c. 2558–2532 BC)
The builder of Giza’s second pyramid, Khafra is perhaps best known because his face was the model for that of the Great Sphinx, which guards his tomb site. One of the younger sons of the pharoah Khufu, Khafra succeeded his half-brother Djedefra to become fourth king of the Fourth Dynasty. Khafra also adopted the title ‘Son of Ra’ (sa Ra), which his half-brother had initiated to reflect the importance of the cult of the sun god Ra at this time.
Unlike Djedefra, who built his pyramid at the site of Abu Roash, Khafra returned to Giza to build his own tomb – close to that of his father, Khufu. Although a little smaller than his father’s, Khafra’s pyramid was built on slightly higher ground, to lessen the difference in height. Its ancient name, Khafra is Great, reflects the status of its omnipotent owner.
A sphinx is a mythical creature with, as a minimum, the body of a lion and a human head.
According to Greek tradition, it has the haunches of a lion, the wings of a great bird, and the face of a woman. She is mythicised as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer her riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster.
Unlike the Greek sphinx which was a woman, the Egyptian sphinx is typically shown as a man. In addition, the Egyptian sphinx was viewed as benevolent in contrast to the malevolent Greek version and was thought of as a guardian often flanking the entrances to temples.