After long wait, Egypt to open sphinx area to tourists again

'Once the courtyard is opened, tourists can walk around the Sphinx,' an official says

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Egypt will soon open to tourists the courtyard in front of the Sphinx, the colossal monument which has been under restoration for nearly four years, officials said on Sunday.

Carved from a single ridge of stone, the Sphinx is one of the most visited monuments in the world, and has been regularly restored following from air pollution and underground water damage.

The limestone half-man half-lion sits in a quarry below the level of the plateau where the pyramids of Giza stand on the outskirts of Cairo.

"The Sphinx courtyard will be opened for the first time since the restoration" of the monument, Antiquities Minister Mohammad al-Damati told reporters on a tour of the site.

However, a date for the opening has not yet been set, said Mohammad al-Saidi, who supervised the restoration.

This mainly involved replacing some slabs on the left side of the statue "where there were cracks", and refurbishing the chest and neck of the monument with a new coating to prevent further erosion, Saidi said.

"Once the courtyard is opened, tourists can walk around the Sphinx," he said.

The Sphinx was built in the 4th dynasty by the pharaoh Khafre, known as Chephren by the Greeks. Archaeologists are still puzzled over its exact purpose, with most believing it was constructed for religious and astronomical reasons.

Damati said a small temple built next to the Sphinx by pharaoh Amenhotep II of the 18th dynasty will also be opened to the public for the first time.

He added that the Menkaure pyramid - the smallest of the three Great Pyramids of Giza - will be reopened on Monday after three years of restoration work.