When it comes to analyzing Africa’s past and present, ancient Egypt has been a popular starting point. It is noted for numerous things, including its obelisks, which are tall stone-cut structures. These vertical structures, which were effectively tombstones created to identify graves and underground burial chambers in the kingdom of Axum, were carved out of a single stone.
Obelisks were named tekhenu by the ancient Egyptians, and they were also employed to tell the time in the past. Their pinnacles were essentially gold-plated to reflect sunlight. Obelisks are said to have symbolized immortality and eternity, and their long structure helped connect the heavens and the earth, according to historians.
Cleopatra’s Needle is the name given to three ancient Egyptian obelisks that are currently located in New York City, London, and Paris. They do not, however, all come from the same Egyptian location. The obelisks in New York and London are made of red granite quarried in Aswan, which is a key supplier of stone for Egyptian antiquities. The two obelisks, each weighing around 224 tons and standing 68 feet tall, were commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III for the Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis, near modern-day Cairo.
The two obelisks had toppled and were partially buried in the sand when the Romans discovered them in 12 BCE. The obelisks were then brought to Alexandria and placed at the entryway to a temple dedicated to Julius Caesar by the Romans. Cleopatra was the one who built the temple, which is possibly why the obelisks are known as “Cleopatra’s Needles.”
The obelisk in Paris, on the other hand, is composed of yellow granite and originally stood outside Egypt’s Luxor Temple. Its twin, weighing over 250 tons and standing 75 feet tall, can still be found at the Luxor Temple. The three obelisks are all etched with hieroglyphs commemorating Ramesses II’s military achievements.
What brought the three to New York City, London, and Paris?
According to the Central Park Conservancy, the Khedive Ismail Pasha gave Cleopatra’s Needle to the United States in honor of the Suez Canal’s opening. According to Ancient Origins, Khedive handed the obelisk to the US Consul General stationed in Cairo as a token of gratitude for the US’s neutrality during the French and British attempts to take control of Egypt’s government. The obelisk was transported from Alexandria to New York. The vertical structure was moved over a one-year period. It was finally erected in Central Park in January 1881. After the then-minister of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, warned that the obelisk would be removed if it was not properly cared for, New York City initiated a three-year project to protect it in 2011.
The obelisk in London is placed near the Golden Jubilee Bridge on the Thames River’s Victoria Embankment. The piece of antiquity was given to the United Kingdom by Egypt’s king Muhammad Ali in 1819 to commemorate British triumphs at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and the Battle of Alexandria in 1804. (1801). Even though the gift was appreciated, the British government was unwilling to pay so much money to have it delivered to England. The obelisk remained in Alexandria, Egypt, for more than five decades until 1877, when anatomist Sir William James Erasmus Wilson funded for its transportation to England. It was a terrifying maritime adventure.
“The obelisk left Alexandria on September 21, 1877, enclosed in an iron cylinder – nicknamed The Cleopatra – that included a stern and rudders and was towed along by the Olga ship,” according to one story. A storm in the Bay of Biscay put the crew of The Cleopatra in jeopardy when they were halfway to their destination. Six crew members from The Olga drowned during the initial rescue attempt, but Captain Carter and his five crew were finally rescued. The Cleopatra miraculously did not sink and was spotted adrift in the Bay a few days later, eventually being rescued by the Fitzmaurice and brought to Ferrol Harbour in northwestern Spain.”
The obelisk was subsequently towed to Gravesend, Kent, by another steamer, the Anglia. The obelisk was finally re-erected beside the Thames on September 12, 1878, with two sphinx statues guarding it. During World War I, a German bomb nearly destroyed the obelisk, injuring the structure’s pedestal as well as the pedestals of its sphinxes. The damage was not repaired, but a plaque was erected to commemorate the incident.
The Cleopatra’s Needle in Paris, also known as the Luxor Obelisk, is located in the heart of Paris’ Place de la Concorde. The obelisk was built some 3,000 years ago and given to the French by Muhammad Ali in 1833. It was transported to Paris at the expense of the French. On October 25, 1836, King Louis-Phillipe constructed it near the Place de la Concorde. The obelisk was put on a pedestal that was initially built to accommodate a statue of King Louis XVI on horseback, according to Ancient Origins. However, during the Revolution of 1830, that statue was demolished. The French government additionally affixed a gold-leafed capstone to the obelisk in 1998, after the structure’s original golden capstone was taken in the 6th century BC.