The University Embankment stretches along the south bank of Vasilievsky Island between Birzhevaya Ploshchad (Exchange Square) and Blagoveshchensky (Annunciation) Bridge. There are mane interesting sights on the embankment such as Rostral Columns, Menshikov Palace, the Kunstkamera Museum and the Academy of Sciences. However the interesting part of the embankment is in front of the Academy of Arts building where a quay with sphinxes is located.
These are original sphinxes from Egypt, which are over 3,5 thousand years old. They were made of syenite and adorned the alley from the Nile to the temple of Pharaoh Amenhotep III who ruled Egypt in about 1388-1353 B.C.
In the first half of 19 century it was decided to improve the embankment of Vasilievsky Island and the task was commissioned to the architect Konstantin Thon. In those years the Neva quays were actively used to carry people across the river. So, in addition to the quay near the Kunstkamera Museum, it was decided to build another quay in front of the Academy of Arts. There were submitted many projects but the architect Thon thought the quay had to correspond to the magnificent Academy of Arts building.
Originally, it was planned to build the quay in the «best Greek style». In addition to the bronze statues in the center of the quay they wanted to place there the horses of Klodt. But the Academy of Arts had not enough money to buy them, so the horses were placed at the Anichkov Bridge, and the quay in front of the Academy of Arts was decorated by sphinxes bought on occasion in Egypt.
An English archaeological expedition discovered these sphinxes in Thebes and one of them was brought in Alexandria for sale. The Russian writer А. N. Muravyev traveled in Egypt about that time. He wrote a letter to the ambassador with an offer to buy the sphinxes. The letter very quickly reached Nicholas I, and he turned to the Academy of Arts. Considering that the cost of sphinxes met the budget and money was public, the academy council immediately responded positively but the emperor already went to Prussia. When the letter with the answer of the academy reached Prussia, the sphinxes were already bought by France. However there happened a revolution in France, and the French had other troubles but the sphinxes. As a result, the sphinxes were sold to Russia for 64 thousand roubles.
After the sphinxes were brought in St. Petersburg in 1832, it was decided to rebuild the quay in the «best Egyptian style» while keeping the bronze columns. There is a following inscription on the pedestals of the sphinxes: «Sphinxes from ancient Thebes in Egypt. Moved to the city of St. Peter in 1832».
Granite benches and four bronze gryphons cast in 1834 were the finishing touch to the decoration of the quay. So the quay on the University Embankment became one of the very famous places in St. Petersburg.