The Great Sphinx of Giza belongs to the Giza necropolis west of Cairo.
The site is a plateau containing the three great pyramids of Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura, together with the Sphinx and a number of smaller pyramids, temples, and tombs.
The Giza structures were built by 4th Dynasty kings at the height of the Old Kingdom. (Scholars divide ancient Egyptian civilization into:
the Predynastic (the ten centuries before 3050 BCE),
the Archaic or Early Dynastic (3050-2575 BCE),
the Old Kingdom (2575-2150 BCE),
the Middle Kingdom (2040-1783 BCE),
the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE),
and the Late Dynastic (1070-332 BCE).
So-called intermediate periods followed the Old and Middle Kingdoms.)
The Sphinx is the oldest and longest stone sculpture from the Old Kingdom.
During the eighteenth dynasty, it was called "Horus of the Horizon" and "Horus of the Necropolis", the sun god that stands above the horizon.
In later times, many sphinx images were carved in smaller sizes or in cameos with the faces of the reigning monarchs. The face of the Great Sphinx is believed to be that of Chephren, the fourth-dynasty pharaoh who built the second-largest pyramid in the Giza triad. In the image of the Sphinx, the pharaoh was seen as a powerful god.
Carved out of a natural limestone outcrop, the Sphinx is 19.8 metres (65 feet) high and 73.2 metres (240 feet) long. It is located a short distance from the Great Pyramid.
The main body sits along an east-west axis facing east. An enclosure of open floor surrounds the monument, narrowing somewhat in the western back end. There is an unfinished shelf along the western back wall slightly elevated from the rest of the enclosure floor. Large and small blocks of harder limestone, applied at different times in the past, form a protective covering or facing over the lower parts of the monument.
The rectangular structure known as the Sphinx Temple lies directly east of the statue. Adjacent and south of the Sphinx Temple lies a structure known as the Khafra Valley Temple. This is linked to a causeway that goes west-northwest to the second or Khafra Pyramid. The causeway runs above and along the south wall of the Sphinx enclosure. A Khafra Mortuary Temple stands east of the Khafra Pyramid on the upper plateau behind the Sphinx.
Plan of Khafre's causeway and the Sphinx enclosure.
Plan after Lehner, 1991
Originally, all three of the big pyramids at Giza (Khufu, Khafra, and Menkaura) had causeways, valley temples, and mortuary temples. These structures were originally faced with smoother and harder limestone or granite that was partly or entirely stripped in ancient and medieval times, leaving limestone core blocks that have weathered over the millennia.
The Tuthmosis IV Dream Stele
Between the enormous paws is a stele that records a dream Tuthmosis IV had when he was a prince. He dreamt that he stopped to rest in the shadow of the Sphinx during a hunting expedition in the desert. While asleep, the Sphinx spoke to him, saying that he would become king if he cleared away the sand that all but buried the Sphinx. When he became king, Tuthmosis IV cleared the sand and erected a stele that tells the story of his dream. After the work was completed, a chapel was built next to the Sphinx to venerate this sun god.
Tuthmosis IV Dream Stele located between Sphinx's Paws
Here is more detailed version of this story:
"On one of these days it happened, when the king's son Tuthmosis had arrived on his journey about the time of mid-day, and had stretched himself to rest in the shade of this great god, that sleep overtook him.
He dreamt in his slumber at the moment when the sun was at the zenith, and it seemed to him as though this great god spoke to him with his own mouth, just as a father speaks to his son, addressing him thus:
' Behold me, look at me, thou, my son Tuthmosis. I am your father Horemkhu, Kheper, Ra, Tmu. The kingdom shall be given to you .... and you shall wear the white crown and the red crown on the throne of the earth-god Seb, the youngest (among the gods). The world shall be yours in its length and in its breadth, as far as the light of the eye of the lord of the universe shines. Plenty and riches shall be yours; the best from the interior of the land, and rich tributes from all nations; long years shall be granted to you as your term of life. My countenance is gracious towards you, and my heart clings to you; [I will give you] the best of all things.
'The sand of the district in which I have my existence has covered me up. Promise me that you will do what I wish in my heart; then shall I know whether you are my son, my helper. Go forward let me be united to you. I am . . . '
After this [Tuthmosis awoke, and he repeated all these speeches,] and he understood (the meaning) of the words of the god and laid them up in his heart, speaking thus with himself: 'I see how the dwellers in the temple of the city honour this god with sacrificial gifts [without thinking of freeing from sand the work of King] Khaf-Ra, the statue which was made to Tmu-Horemkhu.' ......
The remaining lines of text have been lost - but as Tuthmosis became Tuthmosis IV is, perhaps, not difficult to tell what happened!"
The Tuthmosis IV Dream Stele reads:
"Now the statue of the very great Khepri (the Great Sphix) restin in this place, great of fame, sacred of respect, the shade of Ra resting on him. Memphis and every city on its two sides came to him, their arms in adoration to his face, bearing great offerings for his ka. One of these days it happened that price Tuthmosis came travelling at the time of midday. He rested in the shadow of the great god. (Sleep and) dream (took possession of me) at the moment the sun was at zenith. Then he found the majesty of this noble god speaking from his own mouth like a father speaks to his son, and saying, 'Look at me, observe me, my son Tuthmosis. I am your father, Horemakhet-Khepri-Ra-Atum. I shall give to you the kingship (upon the land before the living)... (Behold, my condition is like one in illness), all (my limbs being ruined). The sand of the desert, upon which I used to be, (now) confronts me; and it is in order to cause that you do what is in my heart that I have waited."