Unusual Attractions - Mystery of St Petersburg Sphinxes

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I have been living in St Petersburg about a quarter of a century and I can definitely say that Petersburg is the most Egyptian city in Russia. The city is located on the same meridian as great pyramids are.

Walking streets and embankments one can meet plenty of mysterious creatures: lions, griffins, Satyrs, water creatures such as Nymphs and the most mysterious ones: Sphinxes.

There are many other mysterious creatures personifying St Petersburg. But the most puzzled are sphinxes. The sphinx image was used in many historical buildings of St Petersburg.

Petersburg is called both North Venice and North Sphinx.

Where is a sphinx from?

The word sphinx comes from Greek. In Greek mythology, a sphinx is represented as a monster with a head of a woman, the body of lioness and the wings of an eagle. Alexander the Great conquered Ancient Egypt but didn’t destroy their ancient culture. Sphinx means “living image” or “living rock” in Egyptian.

The Riddle of the Sphinx

The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance of the Greek city of Thebes and to have asked a riddle of travelers to allow them passage.

“Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening? If passer by was not able to answer she strangled and devoured him.

But there was Oedipus who solved the riddle by answering: Man, who crawls as a baby, walks on two feet as an adult and walks with a stick in old age. Being defeated by Oedipus the Sphinx threw herself from the high rock and died.

Egyptian Sphinxes in St Petersburg

Sphinx is a mysterious creature with human head and lion body, a combination of intelligence and strength. According to a legend Sphinx is always alert guarding the peace of pyramids.

Its eyes are wise and deep. Sphinx is always a sort of mystery. Ancient Egyptians believed that sphinxes had a certain power to protect the tomb of dead Pharaohs from enemies.

Having conquered Egypt Greek gave the ancient capital of Egypt the same name Thebes as its own capital.

There are two sphinxes in St Petersburg which decorate the Embankment near the Academy of Art. These two mysterious creatures were brought from Egypt and its origin led deep into the history of ancient Egyptian city Thebes.

Thebes used to be the capital of Ancient Egypt. Sphinxes were placed in front of the entry to the tomb to guard the dead Pharaohs and their treasures. The last Pharaoh whose spirit they guarded had been Amenhotep III. 3 500 thousands years passed since that time.

Sphinxes, temples and Thebes were buried deep under the ground until 1820 when a Greek archeologist Yanis Atonasis excavated those sphinxes. One of the excavated sphinxes with the face of Amenhotep III was sent to Alexandria where a young Russian officer and a traveler Andrey Muravjev saw it and was greatly impressed. He was struck with the idea to buy sphinxes for Russia. First he had to receive Tsar’s permission and approval which he did. Statues were bought by Russian Empire Nicholas I  for 64 thousand rubles.

St Petersburg Sphinx

To carry sphinxes to Russia was a difficult step as well. Nobody agreed to make such a risky voyage (sphinxes weigh 46 tons). At last the merchant was found and the Italian Ship was affrighted. The preparation and the voyage itself cost a half of the sphinxes’ price and took a year.

In 1832 the sphinxes arrived in St Petersburg safe but the ship sank on its way back.

Those sphinxes did their best to resist their removal from their motherland. One can see traces of that struggle on the face of one sphinx decorated St Petersburg embankment. But all the people being involved into this venture paid back the price.

The old legend says: “One would be damned to eternal sufferings if sphinxes were torn from the motherland and were in hands of aliens”. The Greek archeologist, the ship itself and Muravjev’s family died.

Since that time the most ancient St. Petersburg sculptures have laid at the Neva River banks protecting St Petersburg city from flood and other disasters.

Here you can learn about the youngest sphinxes in St Petersburg.

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