I’ve read that it was shot down in the 19th century by a misguided Turkish cannonball fired during some troup maneuvre nearby. The text where I read this says the legend that it was hit during the Battle of the Pyramids in Napoleon’s Egyptian War is baloney.
It seems there are as many rumors surrounding what happened to the Sphinx’s nose and beard than there are theories about who built it and why. One popular theory is that Napoleon’s French solders shot it off because he considered it a threat to his power. Another version of this tale has Turkish soldiers joining in for target practice. A theory that rose in the early 1990’s held that European conquerors who came to Egypt removed the nose to conceal that black Egyptians built the monument in their image. However, this theory has only gained acceptance in limited circles of power usually surrounding racists with a political agenda. It is further diminished by early records of the Sphinx’s crumbling state that existed hundreds of years before Europeans trod on the sands of Giza. One of these older theories has a Muslim Fatmid personally taking an axe to the Sphinx between 969 and 1071 because he thought it was a symbol of a pagan religion. Another puts the loss of the nose at about 1300ad. There is one fact, however – part of the Sphinx’s beard was recovered from the sand during excavation and is now in the British Museum in London.
I myself had heard that one of Napoleon’s soldiers blew it off with a cannon, but, according to this site, that is probably not true. This site gives a little more information. The most likely culprits would either be time and the elements or the Turks. (See the Encyclopedia Americana entry for details.)
In re the nose, per some odd convos with Egyptian Egyptologists while hanging out in bars (hah, how many will get the ref?), there are clear indications that Mamlouk soldiers used the face for target practice (mustket ball scars.) It’s not at all clear about the nose having been broken off then, and there is some reference to the Fatimid era Muslim 'reformer" --read religioius extremist-- breaking idols faces. You know, no depictions of man thing. The Napoleon story is right out.
Of course the Egyptians when first converting to Xtianity also defaced a lot of monuments along the same line of thinking as the Muslims. Rejection of paganism.
The Sphinx is at the feet of the Gizan pyramids. My apartment in Cairo used to have a fine view of the later(*). The three Gizan pyramids (there are many Egyptian pyramids, bloody lumps of dusty stone if you ask me) are the largest and represented the pinacle of Pyramid stupidity. They sit on the left side (flow wise) of the Nile on the escarpement overlooking the valley, above the old flood level. A canal used to run up to them, evidently the mode of transport for the stones.
The city of Giza, suburb of Cairo, now goes right up to their feet. The pyramids thus now overlook some of the worst slums imaginable (although the immediate area is of course properly touristy and controlled so that the fine white people are not bothered in their enjoyment of antiquities.)
Beyond the Pyramids are the new ‘Desert Cities’ like Sita Oktober which the government got it in its dim head are a good idea (not bad really but rather poorly planned).
And so there you are.
(*: However now the pollution is so terrible it’s rare that one can make out the pyramids through the constant brown haze that is Cairo’s air.)
Obviously no one here reads Gary Larson’s The Far Side. He had the answer in one of his cartoons.
Two workers are sitting atop the head of the Sphinx with a hammer and chisel in their hands. The nose of the Sphinx is lying on the ground having just fallen off the face. Worker 1 says to Worker 2: “Fine I said! But ‘no’ you said. Just one more chip you said!”
[sub]Side Note: I tried to find a copy of this cartoon on the web but Gary Larson’s attorney’s must be working overtime protecting their property. I came across one broken link after another while searching so sorry…no link.[/sub]