When the Sphinx of Ramses II was first brought to the Penn Museum in 1913, Penn students cheered as the 12.5-ton monument was pulled on a horse-drawn cart through the streets of Philadelphia.
Now the monument, which is the largest sphinx in the western hemisphere, will be moving again from the Museum’s Egypt Gallery to its main entrance hall, the first move since it entered the Egypt Gallery in 1926. The 12.5-ton sphinx poses significant challenges to the relocation team, who will be tasked with moving the massive statue.
Penn Museum Director Julian Siggers said the move is part of the Museum’s three-phase Building Transformation project, which aims to modernize the museum’s appearance to attract visitors from the greater Philadelphia area. The Penn Museum website lists June 13 as the scheduled moving date.
Siggers said that when planning the renovation of the Museum’s main entrance, directors looked for something dramatic to greet visitors.
“The Sphinx is the unofficial mascot of the Museum,” Siggers said. "Everybody will be able to see him as they come in."
Moving the 12.5-ton monument is not an easy task. Penn Museum Special Projects Manager Bob Thurlow said the Museum has been working since the fall with engineers from several teams around the country to plan the move. Museum officials and engineers have conducted 3D scans of the Sphinx to measure its height, volume, and density and to get an accurate estimate of its weight.
Chief Building Engineer Brian Houghton added that the move itself will take about four hours as the Sphinx is transported on a ramp from the Egyptian Hall to the renovated Main Entrance Hall.
Thurlow said when the Sphinx was originally brought to the Egypt Gallery, it entered through a side of the building that has now been blocked. Because of this, Houghton said, the team now has to remove windows and doors to create a space for the Sphinx to travel through. Houghton said the team has already removed one window and a doorway from the Egypt Gallery and is beginning to remove the window and brickwork of the main entrance hall.
Houghton added that the team faced challenges when it discovered the historic Penn Museum building does not match its blueprints.
"It's an old building and things just don't match up to the old drawings,” he said. “That has been an Achilles heel."
Thurlow added that unpredictable weather such as rain could potentially delay the move.
Siggers said the Sphinx’s historical significance makes it a good choice for the entrance of the renovated museum. The Sphinx of Ramses II was excavated by W.M. Flinders Petrie, an archaeologist at the British School of Archaeology, according to the Penn Museum website. The British School gave the Sphinx to the Penn Museum to thank the University for its financial support, and the monument traveled 6,000 miles from Memphis, Egypt to Philadelphia.
“We’ve always had this big commitment to the public," Siggers said. "I think when you come into this new space, it’s going to be more evident that we are going to be a welcoming, public-facing museum.”