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Saturday, December 27, 1997 Published at 17:51 GMT


Sphinx loses support
image: [ A survivor for thousands of years ]
A survivor for thousands of years

The Sphinx is free of the scaffolding that caged one of the world's most famous ancient monuments for seven years of painstaking restoration work.

"It started in 1990 and just two days ago, the scaffolding came down," said Ahmad al-Haggar, director of antiquities for the Pyramids region on the outskirts of Cairo.

[ image: Mystery of its eroding features]
Mystery of its eroding features
"100,000 stones were used between 1990 and 1997 to restore the Sphinx," said Mr al-Haggar.

But the famous damaged face of the half-lion, half-man statue was left untouched.

Restoration was carried out by Egyptian experts in line with recommendations by the California-based Paul Getty institute.

The Sphinx had already started to erode and was in danger of being damaged by underground water and acid rain.

Mystery of the Sphinx

Two legends have grown up around the gradual disappearance of its features.

[ image: Guarding the pyramids]
Guarding the pyramids
According to one, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his army to bombard the imposing statue which he regarded as a challenge to his might during a French expedition to Egypt from 1798 to 1801.

Although Bonaparte succeeded in destroying the nose and beard, legend has it that his subsequent downfall was due to the curse of the Sphinx.

Another story claims that a Muslim in the Fatimid era of 969-1071 believed that the Sphinx represented a pagan cult denounced by Islam and attacked the nose and beard with an axe.

In the 19th century, Europeans stole a part of the beard that had fallen into the sand and took it to a London museum.

Celebrations planned

A star-studded ceremony to celebrate the end of the restoration work is planned for next year.

Festivities on an even grander scale are planned for the statue's 4,600th birthday in March.

Known in Arabic as Abu al-Hol, the Father of Terror, Egypt's most famous monument stands guard over the three Pyramids of Giza.

The Sphinx, erected from limestone slabs during the Fourth Dynasty BC, stands 20m tall and 57m long.

Its exact age is still being hotly debated. As yet there appears to be no evidence conclusive enough to settle the question.

It represents King Khephren and originally wore a royal headdress bearing a cobra and a false beard, a sign of virility among the pharaohs and gods.

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