Sphinx in Pictures
The Sphinx by Zangaki, before 1880.
Thousands of photographs were taken of the Sphinx as the age of photography got under way, by amateurs as well as professionals as the business of photography in the field became simpler and more reliable after about 1880. Before that, there was a ready market for prints of Egyptian antiquities sold by professional photographers like Beato, Bonfils, Hammerschmidt, Lekegian, Sebah and Zangaki. Their photographs chart chiefly the swamping and clearance of the sand about the monument.
A striking picture by Hammerschmidt, in which foreground trees grow out of half-submerged ruins on the slope of the Giza Plateau, shows the Sphinx head peeping out of the sand below the Great Pyramid of Khufu: it was taken in 1858, at about the time that Mariette was excavating at the Sphinx. Despite Mariette's work, the sands soon invaded the breast area of the monument again and photographs from the 1860s show no front paws, no chapel, no stela - all this was once more buried under a sand drift.
The Sphinx by unknown nineteenth-century photographer.
One of Zangaki's photographs shows picturesque camels at the Sphinx's breast, sitting on a sandbank that hides the forelegs, chapel and stela below, with the photographer's traveling darkroom drawn up alongside the upper right flank of the monument. A picture by Sebah, taken from the north-east, with Menkaure's pyramid in the background, shows particularly clearly the great fissure at the hindquarters and the severe gouge in the left-hand side of the top of the head. Another, by an unknown photographer, also shows this deep (and inadvertently rather characterful) cut in the top of the head, with a sentinel figure sitting above the uraeus: the pyramid to the right of the picture is that of Khafre. A second photograph taken by Sebah shows the Sphinx's head with the Khufu pyramid behind it and the valley temple of Khafre in the foreground, first excavated by Mariette: the plain granite pillars and lintels of the temple interior are clearly seen, together with some of the massive (and highly eroded) limestone blocks of the core construction of this building. Though cleared by Mariette, sand is seen in this photograph to be reinvading the interior. A picture by Fiorillo of 1882 shows members of the British Army disporting themselves on and around the Sphinx in the year when the British under Sir Garnet Wolseley asserted Britains imperial power in Egypt.
It was partly to give tourists something extra to see in Lower Egypt (which, despite the pyramids, could not rival Upper Egypt for spectacular ruins) that Maspero undertook further excavations at the Sphinx in 1885. After that, the Sphinx remained on fuller view than before. A photograph by Lekegian documents the erosion of the southern flank of the Sphinx, with the cavernous fissure of the haunches at the left, and shows the ancient masonry work that was added to build up the eroded body of the monument.
Last Updated: June 13th, 2011
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