The most enigmatic of sculptures, the Sphinx was carved from a single block of limestone left over in the quarry used to build the Pyramids. Scholars believe it was sculpted about 4,600 years ago by the pharaoh Khafre, whose Pyramid rises directly behind it and whose face may be that represented on the Sphinx.
The Sphinx from the rear, gazing down on Cairo.
Half human, half lion, the Sphinx is 240 feet long and 66 feet high. Badly eroded, it has undergone numerous restorations over the millennia, beginning with one conducted about 1400 B.C. by the pharaoh Tuthmosis IV, who dreamt that the Sphinx asked him to clear the sand around it in return for the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The Sphinx has recently undergone a major modern restoration.
The so-called “dream stela” of Tuthmosis IV, which the pharaoh placed between the Sphinx’s paws about 1400 B.C.
In this 180° image, as you “walk” around the Sphinx from its left side to its right, watch the sunrise first strike the top of the Khafre Pyramid in the background, then light up the Sphinx itself. To get a sense of the sheer size of the sculpture, keep an eye out, too, for the man standing below it.
The temples of Luxor and Karnak are separated by about three kilometers with the sacred lake between them. The Temple of Karnak is as splendid at that of Luxor, perhaps even more so, and offers visitors some rare glimpses into the ancient past of Egypt. There are many wonderful things to see and enjoy here. Karnak is divided into three areas separated by rough brick walls. The largest area measures approximately 30 hectares and is the best restored area. This temple, dedicated to the god Amon, and is believed to be the oldest of the four temples at Thebes. To its left is the sanctuary of Manatee, the god of war and across from it is the sanctuary to the goddess Mut, Amon’s wife, who, interestingly enough, was symbolically represented as a vulture.
The size of the temple of Amon is amazing. It is the largest temple supported by columns in the world. The most imposing structure is the hypostyle hall which measures over 300 feet long and 159 feet wide. Within its area stands 34 columns, each almost 70 feet high, with open papyrus shaped capitals. Stones resting on top of these columns offer some of the best views of what the temple was like in ancient times. Protected from the Sun the hieroglyphics on their underside are still the brilliant colors they were thousands of years ago. The temple was built by various pharaohs over a long period of time. Amon-Ofis III built the twelve columns architraves, Ramses I began the decoration of this and it was continued by Seti I and Ramses the II. There are a number of obelisks on the temple grounds. Only one remains from Tutmose I and it measures almost 70 feet high and is estimated to weigh 143 tons. Another, higher still, was erected by Hatshepsut, daughter of Tutmose I, and it is said that she provided “bushels of gold as if they were sacks of grain” to build it.
The Temple of Karnak was very elaborately carved with hieroglyphics honoring many different gods. One could spends months just gazing upon these inscriptions and imagining the people who carved them. Continue to the next page to see more of the Temple of Karnak.
Similar to other temple sites in Egypt, the presently standing complex at Dendera marks the location of a very old holy place. An indication of the antiquity of the temple site is given by the astronomical alignment of the main temple to Gamma Draconis before 5000BC. Early texts refer to a Pre-dynastic temple that was rebuilt during the Old Kingdom, and further developed by New Kingdom pharaohs including Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, and Ramses II and III. The present structure dates to the Greek and Roman periods, with the sanctuary and its surrounding chapels built by the later Ptolemies in the 1st century BC, and the great Hypostyle Hall by the Romans in the 1st century AD. Dendera was the chief place for the worship of Hathor, who is variously seen as the patroness of earthly love, the goddess of healing, and the great feminine source of all nourishment (like the Hindu goddess Kali, Hathor also has her terrible aspects; in one ancient myth she is a raging lioness sent to punish mankind for its rebellion).
Recent studies indicate that the temple of Dendera had several interrelated functions. It was a venerated place of pilgrimage where miraculous cures were effected by the goddess; it was a sort of hospital where various physiological, psychological and magical therapies were practiced; and it was the scene of great processions and festivals throughout the astrological cycle. A feature of Dendera not found elsewhere in Egyptian temples are the dozen mysterious crypts, some underground, some enclosed within the massive double walls of the upper temple. It has been suggested that these crypts were the dwelling place of the goddess, where her statue and ritual objects were kept, and where began the great New Year’s processions celebrating the dawn of creation. In the dark of night, the temple priests brought the statue of the goddess from the crypt, through the corridors of the enormous temple and, ascending to the roof, awaited the coming of the dawn. As the first rays of the morning sun broke upon the horizon, the statue was unveiled. Ancient texts speak of this ceremony whereby: “the goddess Hathor might be united with the beams of her father, Re” and that “the sky rejoices, the earth dances, the sacred musicians shout in praise.”
Enclosed within the precincts of the Dendera complex are a sacred lake, a temple of the goddess Isis, and a brick sanatorium where divine healing was practiced. There is also an early Christian church that typifies the situation in so many Egyptian temples, whose sacred precincts were usurped by the Christians. Within the main temple it is interesting to study the beautiful and highly detailed astrological calendars carved and painted upon the ceilings. Visitors may wonder about the blackened condition of other ceilings in the temple. When Napolean’s scholars first visited Dendera they found a centuries-old Arab village firmly established inside the great temple; the villagers’ cooking fires had blackened the ceilings over the years.