Largest Sphinx in the Western Hemisphere Heads to a New Home
PHILADELPHIA – The Penn Museum is moving its colossal 25,000-pound Sphinx of Ramses II—history’s most well-known pharaoh—who reigned in ancient Egypt for nearly 67 years and fathered more than 100 children.
It will be the first time the more than 3,000-year-old Sphinx, which is the largest in the Western Hemisphere, has seen daylight in nearly a century: in 1926, it moved into the Egypt (Sphinx) Gallery.
On June 13*, the Sphinx will move once more. This time, he’s moving into the limelight. Later this year, the Penn Museum will unveil its redesigned and reimagined Main Entrance Hall—and the Sphinx will take his rightful place center-stage.
“The Sphinx will serve as the centerpiece to the grand Main Entrance Hall, welcoming visitors to explore our outstanding collections that do much more than illustrate the past; they unlock the wonder of the human story to foster empathy, build connections, and create understanding in a complex world,” says Julian Siggers, the Williams Director at the Penn Museum. “The Sphinx has long been our unofficial mascot; this move puts it front and center, as the anchor of our new visitor experience.”
How Does a 12.5 Ton Monument Get Moved?
Burning questions like “How long will it take to move a sphinx 250 feet?” will remain unsolved mysteries until the big day, says Project Manager Bob Thurlow. “There are a lot of factors contributing to the timing, including Philadelphia’s unpredictable weather, the historic nature of the building, and the inherent fragility of historic objects,” he says. “We won’t know until we actually do it.”
Before transporting the historic icon, the Sphinx had to be 3-D scanned to determine its weight and density to make sure the appropriate rigging equipment could be used. Structural engineers from Keast and Hood, based in Philadelphia, collaborated with Penn Museum staff to determine what needed to be accomplished in order to safely accommodate the Sphinx’s weight elsewhere in the building. They also had to design a feasible travel route that will take the Sphinx through the doorways and windows that will be removed, the interior courtyard, and into what will be the new Main Entrance Hall.
Similar to hoverboards, technological marvels known as “air dollies,” fueled by high-powered air compressors, will help transport the massive monument to its new spot—where it will provide a warm welcome to every visitor who comes through the spectacular new Main Entrance, which opens to the public on November 16. The Penn Museum will also unveil its completely reimagined Mexico and Central America Gallery, Africa Galleries, and a 614-seat auditorium that day, the next milestone in the Building Transformation project.
Additional major partners for the Building Transformation project include Haley Sharpe Design (of Leicester, England), Gluckman Tang Architects (from New York City), HSC Builders & Construction Managers (based in Exton, Pa.), Superior Scaffold Services (headquartered in Philadelphia), Harry Gordon Studios (in Lambertville, N.J.), and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a national engineering firm.
This summer, the Penn Museum will remain open to visitors.
Although the Main Entrance will be closed due to construction as of July 31, visitors will be able to use the Courtyard (Trescher) Entrance on South St. and the Group (Kress) Entrance, located on the east side of the building, to continue to enjoy the Museum and its programs.
*Editor’s Note: The move is scheduled to take place between 8:00 am-noon on Thursday, June 13, but it may be delayed for various reasons. Confirmation of timing will be provided by noon on Wednesday, June 12. Significant downtime is expected and the move may take up to four hours. Penn Museum personnel will update you regularly regarding the details of the Sphinx’s move that day. Anyone interested in following the project can subscribe to e-mail updates at this link or follow the Penn Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
About the Sphinx
Excavated by the famous archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie and his team, the red granite Sphinx of Ramses II (19th Dynasty, circa 1293-1185 BCE) was a part of the division of finds between the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the Egypt Exploration Fund, and the British School of Archaeology. The School sent the monument to the Penn Museum as a result of the museum’s financial support of their excavation work in Egypt.
The sphinx, a lion with a human head, represents the power of the Egyptian king, both to protect his people and to conquer the enemies of Egypt. Buried up to its shoulders, only its exposed head was subject to erosion from the elements. The inscriptions on the chest and around the base give the five names of Ramses II. His son and successor, Merenptah, added his own cartouches to the shoulders after his father's death.
After traveling more than 6,000 miles from the Temple of the God Ptah at Memphis, Egypt, this Sphinx, the largest in the Western hemisphere, first docked in South Philadelphia on October 7, 1913, during the World Series. At almost 13 tons, the monument was so heavy that the German freighter on which it sailed had to move up the Delaware River to Port Richmond, in order to unload the statue onto a rail car using a huge crane at the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company cargo terminal.
Wrapped in burlap, it rode on a horse-drawn cart through the city. On October 19, 1913, the Sphinx finally reached the Penn Museum and caused quite a stir, distracting sports fans from the Penn-Brown football game underway across the street at Franklin Field.
For three years, the Sphinx was on view in the Museum’s courtyard. Due to concerns regarding the long-term effects of harsh weather conditions, the Sphinx was moved inside in 1916. In 1926, it made its move into the Egypt (Sphinx) Gallery, which is currently being renovated through the Penn Museum’s Building Transformation project, part of the Power of Penn campaign.
About the Penn Museum
Since 1887, the Museum has transformed understanding of the human experience. Dedicated to ongoing cross-cultural discovery, the Museum’s exhibitions and events welcome everyone to uncover the mystery of the ancient past and find one’s own place in the arc of human history. For more information, visit penn.museum or call 215.898.4000.