Colossal statues are one of the hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, and the Great Sphinx of Giza is the most famous. It was carved directly out of the bedrock during the 4th Dynasty (c.2613–2494 BC), which also makes it the oldest. Ancient Egyptian sphinxes represented the king with the body of a lion, in a clear demonstration of his power.
The evidence points to the Great Sphinx having been carved during the reign of Khafre (Khefren to the ancient Greeks; c.2558–2532 BC), the builder of the second of the Giza pyramids. The Great Sphinx and the temple in front of it, called the Sphinx Temple, lie directly next to Khafre’s valley temple and the lower portion of the causeway leading up to his mortuary temple and pyramid. Careful archaeological analysis has revealed that the valley temple was finished before work was begun on the Great Sphinx and its temple. Analysis of the Great Sphinx’s facial features has also revealed striking similarities with those of Khafre’s statues.
The Great Sphinx has captured the imagination of travelers and explorers for millennia, even in ancient Egyptian times. During the 18th Dynasty (c.1550–1295 BC), it came to be seen as a manifestation of the sun god, and was called Horemakhet “Horus in the Horizon”. King Amenhotep II (c.1427–1400 BC) built a temple next to the Sphinx, which he dedicated to this god. His son, Thutmose IV (c.1400–1390 BC), erected a monumental stela between its front paws, called the Dream Stela, on which he recorded a fascinating event.