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Tuesday, May 26, 1998 Published at 00:20 GMT 01:20 UK

World: Middle East

Sphinx unveiled after facelift

A spectacular laser show marked the unveiling of the restored Sphinx

Egypt has officially unveiled the restoration of one of its most celebrated monuments - the Sphinx.

The 4,500-year-old statue is back on show again after an eight-year restoration programme to deal with cracks and erosion in its limestone fabric.

The restored Sphinx was unveiled by President Hosni Mubarak in a ceremony that included a laser show and a classical music concert.

[ image: The Sphinx before ...]
The Sphinx before ...
Huge white sheets embroidered with gold stars were ceremonially drawn aside to reveal the Sphinx, looking much as it did before restoration, but with the gradual decay now halted, according to experts.

The ceremony was also attended by Federico Mayor, the Secretary General of the United Nations cultural organisation Unesco, who said the Sphinx was both a witness to humanity's common past and a symbol of its common future.

[ image: ... and after, but the facelift doesn't include a new nose and beard]
... and after, but the facelift doesn't include a new nose and beard
Minor damage to the impassive face of the Sphinx, said to represent the Egyptian pharaoh Khephren who commissioned the monument, has been left untouched by the restorers.

The Sphinx stands at the approach to the pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo.

Bits of the Sphinx's left side had begun to fall off due to a variety of atmospheric problems, rising damp, and erosion from the wind which has scoured the site ever since the statue was built.

Previous decades have seen various unsuccessful repair efforts, archaeologists now believe they have found a lasting solution. The $3m repair project combines modern technology with ancient techniques and materials.

But the Egyptian Antiquities official in charge of the Giza Plateau, Zahi Hawas, said that constant vigilance would be needed to ensure the monument didn't come under threat again.

For the Egyptians, the celebration was an occasion to remind the world of its attractions six months after the massacre of nearly 60 foreign tourists in Luxor. Security has been greatly tightened since then and visitors have started to come back, but industry experts believe the numbers will not start to recover seriously until later in the year.

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

Mr Hawas 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'

"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."

But the Sphinx 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.

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