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Monday, 25 May, 1998, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Sphinx gets $3m face-lift
Sphinx restoration
A star-spangled cloak covers the newly-renovated Sphinx soon to be unveiled
Egypt is to celebrate the completion of a 10-year project to restore one of the country's greatest ancient monuments, the Sphinx.

Archaeologists and architects have spent many years repairing the ancient statue, half man, half lion, which guards Egypt's pyramids at Giza, south-east of Cairo.

Almost $3m has been spent on the 4,500-year-old sculpture which has suffered damage from air pollution and rising damp.

A survivor for thousands of years
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is hosting a star-studded ceremony in Giza during which guests will be entertained by a spectacular show.

Shrouded in a star-spangled white cloth, the Sphinx will be formally reopened by Federico Mayor, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, which supervised the restoration of the ancient limestone monument.

Mythical mystery

Archaeologists have puzzled for decades about the exact purpose of the structure, which stands 20m tall and 57m long.

Zahi Hawas, the chief government archaeologist for the Sphinx and the great pyramids, believes the Sphinx may have had religious and astronomical purposes.

Mr Hawas said that the renovation project had placed 12,244 white limestone blocks along the animal's paws, legs and stomach to shore up the crumbling national icon.

"The Sphinx is smiling again because he is a healthy man," Mr Hawas said. "It is in the heart of every Egyptian, and everyone in the world."

Missing parts

But the Sphinx - believed to show the face of its builder, Pharaoh Chephren - does not look like new. It is still missing its beard, parts of which are in the British and Egyptian museums, and the nose which was lost in the 14th century.

The latest renovation was one of many. The earliest was undertaken almost 3,400 years ago by a prince later crowned Pharaoh Tutmosis IV. Other attempts were made in Roman times and in the 1920s.

Mr Hawas said that while this latest renovation of the Sphinx has been successful, the sculpture would have to be monitored constantly to make sure it does not suffer more damage.

The government is hoping the restoration will lure more tourists to the Giza plateau and recoup some of the losses Egypt's vital tourism industry suffered after Muslim militants killed 58 holidaymakers in Luxor last year.

See also:

08 Nov 97 | World
Egypt to open ancient tombs
27 Dec 97 | World
Sphinx loses support
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