One of the most recognizable monuments, the Great Sphinx of Giza is also one of the oldest—and biggest—monolithic statues in the world. With dimensions 66.3 feet tall,  62.6 feet wide, and 238 feet long, and although it is a true mystery as to the exact date of construction, it’s estimated that the sphinx was built during Egypt’s Old Kingdom, dating back to around 3000 BCE.

For centuries, the mystery around the Sphinx has intrigued and baffled, and the true details will probably remain unknown forever.

There are many mysteries that surround the Great Sphinx, but there is also some factual data that has been uncovered over time to give us a better understanding of this great monument.

Due to its location, the Sphinx has eroded substantially over time by sand and wind, and the its face has been subject to at least five key refurbishment efforts since 1,400 BCE. There are many visible and documented erosion patterns on the Sphinx, caused by intermittent wet periods which have dissolved salt deposits from within the limestone. These dissolved parts caused the softer stone to crumble and the hard layers to flake and be lost in the wind.

There is also solid evidence that the Sphinx was at some point in its existence painted in very bright colors, as remnants of red paint have been found on its face, and on the body blues and yellows.

The Great Sphinx was most likely built in a time of more reliable rainfall, before Egypt was a desert. The Sahara was once a lush, green land which over the course of 5,000-10,000 years evolved into the desert it is now. The construction of the Sphinx is thought to have been somewhere towards the end of the climate-changing era before landscapes dried out and harvests became less reliable, and labor forces were easily procured.

The theory that the Sphinx was constructed in a similar way to the nearby pyramids—by moving limestone blocks to the location—has been demonstrated to be incorrect. It was actually cut from the underlying bedrock.

The Great Sphinx of Giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza, ca. 1923

Located roughly a quarter of a mile from the pyramids, the Sphinx and the pyramids are a part of an extraordinary astronomical visualization. Not only is the Sphinx’s face pointing directly east, the three stars of Orion’s belt form a pattern in the sky that is virtually identical to the ground plan of the Giza Pyramids.

During the March and September equinoxes, from the eastern position the setting sun sinks into the shoulder of the Sphinx and into the south side of the Pyramid of Khafre on the horizon, creating merged silhouettes of the two. Also, If you stand near the Sphinx in summer, during the solstice, you’ll find that the sun actually sets right in the middle between the silhouettes of the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre. What this means is that the architects of these ancient monuments most likely created them to link solar events to the Sphinx and the temples, to harness the energy of the sun. It is also documented that there is an alignment with the stars of the constellations Orion and Leo with the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Nile River.

Whatever the fascinating history of the Great Sphinx of Giza holds, one thing is certain, and that is you simply cannot comprehend the awesomeness of it without visiting.