Sphinx to remain a ruined ruin Lion-man: The experts who restored the Great Sphinx of Giza wanted to retain its historical character by leaving the ravages of ancient age on its human face. But its lion's body was restored and even got a nail clip.

Sun Journal

December 30, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

GIZA PLATEAU, Egypt -- The newly restored Sphinx has neither the nose nor the beard that once graced its massive stone head. It hasn't had a complete set of facial features at least since an Islamic mystic damaged its face in the ninth century.

So Egyptian antiquity authorities left the nose and beard out of the $1.6 million restoration newly completed this month. To restore the features would change the statue's historical character, says Zawi Hawas, supervisor of the Great Pyramids complex outside Cairo.

"We would have another sphinx," he says. "The Great Sphinx of Giza is a ruin, and it should be kept as it is."

As the scaffolding that has surrounded the Sphinx for 17 years comes down, the famous visage retains its scars, but the lion body has been shored up and refitted with new limestone. This most recent restoration began in 1989, mostly to undo past shoddy work and to refit the stone structure for the future.

"By this work, I can say the Sphinx can live for thousands of years," says Hawas, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, during a recent tour of the restored historic site. "The Sphinx is really smiling now."

Built by King Chephren about 2650 B.C., the Sphinx resembles a king and a lion to signify the ruler's divinity. In its 4,600-year-old history, the statue has endured centuries of abuse. Nature took its toll. So, too, did man.

Thieves plundered the statue. Desert winds eroded its limestone structure.

To repair the damage, holes have been drilled into the hulking figure crouching in the sand. Cement has been poured into its crevices, chemicals injected into its flaking chest.

One work crew clipped its nails.

The Sphinx on three occasions was found buried in sand. It was first dug out by an ancient king, then by Napoleon Bonaparte and finally by a turn-of-the-century explorer.

The Romans applied protective stone to the Sphinx's paws and sides during one of the largest renovations and inscribed a plaque to their Emperor Nero. At the time, (30 B.C. to the second century A.D.), the Sphinx served as a backdrop for performances and plays.

In 1818, four fragments of the Sphinx's beard were found. Archaeologists believe the beard broke off naturally; the remnants are housed in museums in Cairo and Britain.

Archaeologist Emil Baraize arrived at the Sphinx in 1925. He spent 11 years clearing sand from the statue. He took a series of photographs -- 226 in all -- and documented its deteriorated condition. A crevice big enough for workmen to stand in had opened in the head, according to a 1990 report on restoration efforts.

Baraize's work crews poured cement into that gash, only to have restorers that followed undo it to preserve the impressiveness of the Sphinx head, according to Hawas.

A half-century later, Egyptian restorers came up with a unique idea to stop the continued flaking of the Sphinx's limestone chest. They injected a chemical substance into the stone. It was a flop -- the stone began to crumble two years later.

In 1979, work crews applied mortar and gypsum to the stressed Sphinx, even though the materials were known to be harmful to monuments. Two years later, workers slapped new stone onto the original "mother rock," in the process changing the Sphinx's proportions, according to the 1990 restoration report.

Ancient stones that were removed were neither recorded nor saved. A wall was built on the north side of the monument even though it wasn't archaeologically required.

When a piece of the Sphinx's shoulder came tumbling down in 1988, a public outcry ensued. The Sphinx's deteriorating condition led to the dismissal of the director of the Egyptian Antiquities Department.

In 1990, solar-powered equipment was used to determine the extent of environmental damage to the Sphinx, which stands 66 feet tall and stretches 190 feet from its paws to its tail. No longer a lone sentry in the desert, the Sphinx overlooks a Pizza Hut and the urban sprawl of Cairo.

A rising water table, vibrations from air and vehicle traffic, leaking waste water, pollution from local factories and explosions at the local limestone quarry exacerbated its decline. Even the cable tunnels dug to electrify the sound and light show at the Sphinx contributed to the damage.

Hawas characterizes previous restoration projects as "stopgap solutions" with no long-term strategy. "Some of these temporary measures even damaged the Sphinx more than benefited it," Hawas has written. "The consequence is that the Sphinx is suffering even more and our work is now all the more difficult."

A team of 90 scholars, historians, chemists, geologists, environmentalists and artists assembled in 1992 to map out the next restoration phase. The project concentrated on the lower portion of the Sphinx. A team of stone cutters has refitted the paws, legs and haunches with about 10,000 hand-shaped, limestone blocks. A mixture of limestone and mortar was used to anchor the stones.

"The Sphinx is not only important for Egypt but for the whole world," said Nasser Ramadan, an inspector on the Sphinx project.

He and others hope the project's completion at year's end will help rebuild Egypt's tourist trade. Tourism suffered a devastating blow last month when Islamic militants gunned down 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor, the site of hundreds of ancient tombs and temples about 340 miles south of Cairo. Tour companies canceled thousands of trips. Egypt announced recently a new tourism-promotion plan.

"Egypt faced many dark periods," Hawas says, "but it always rises again. The Sphinx opening is like a message to the world: Come to Egypt."

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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