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Interesting Information About the Egyptian Obelisk

Renuka Savant Mar 18, 2020
Egyptian obelisks are a common sight at ceremonial spaces all around the world. What is it about them that you'll find one standing at the most unlikely of places? Here is some interesting information on Egyptian obelisks.

This one has stood the test of time!

The earliest surviving obelisk dates back from the reign of Sesostris I (1918 - 1875 BCE). The structure is in Heliopolis, on the outskirts of Cairo, where there once stood a temple dedicated to Ra, the Sun God of the ancient Egyptians.
An obelisk is a pillar-like structure with a tapering, pyramid-shaped end at the top. These structures were originally built by the ancient Egyptians as early as the 4th Dynasty (c. 2575 - 2465 BCE), who called them Tekhenu. It was the Greeks who named them 'obeliskos' (pointed pillars), which is how the word found its way into Latin, and eventually English.
These Egyptian obelisks are on display in museums and public places in all major cities around the world. What is it about these structures from ancient Egypt that every country wishes to call their own?

Facts About the Egyptian Obelisk

► The ancient Egyptians used to build grand obelisks, usually in pairs at the entrance of their temples. In accordance with the overall grandeur of their architecture, these pillars were rather humongous.

► These structures were monolithic, that is, they were carved out of a single stone usually sourced from the red granite quarries at Aswan.
► They were designed to have a broader base in the shape of a square or a rectangle at the bottom, tapering towards the top in a pyramid. The pyramidal top used to be covered with an alloy of gold and silver.
► All four sides of the obelisk used to be carved with hieroglyphs depicting religious motifs and dedications to the current king.

► Most of the religious inscriptions were dedicated to their Sun God and Creator, Ra, considered to be the most powerful among all deities by the ancient Egyptians.
► The Romans were highly inspired by these lofty pillars and built a significant number in their capital city of Rome. Cut to the present, there are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks standing in Rome today.

8 Prominent Egyptian Obelisks

The obelisk at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, is one of the oldest in the world.
The Washington Monument in Washington D.C. is a modern version of the obelisk.
The obelisk at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France, was sourced from the Luxor Temple, Egypt, where its twin structure still stands.
Emperor Theodosius had an Egyptian obelisk transported to Constantinople in AD 390, which still stands in the Hippodrome square in modern-day Istanbul, Turkey.
Cleopatra's Needle obelisk, located in the City of Westminster, London, was presented by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Ali, to the United Kingdom in 1819.
Cleopatra's Needle in London and in New York City's Central Park are a pair sourced from the same site in Luxor, Egypt. Incidentally, the obelisk in Paris' Place de la Concorde was also taken from the same site, where its twin still stands.
The obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo in Rome was brought here by Augustus in 10 BC from Heliopolis, Egypt.
This obelisk was brought to Rome by Augustus from Alexandria, Egypt in 30 - 28 BC.

Egyptian Obelisks and Controversies

► The Egyptian obelisks are structures that have truly stood the test of time. With a long history of having endured hundreds of years of human evolution, it isn't surprising that there are several conspiracy theories surrounding these ancient monuments.
► The ancient Egyptians had made it pretty apparent that they built these obelisks as a tribute to their highest deity, the Sun God, Ra. They symbolized the absolute authority of the Pharaoh and his connection with divinity.
► Therefore, it does seem to strike as odd when we see these structures in places where you'd never imagined they would be, for instance, at various piazzas in Rome, central Paris, and Central Park in New York City. Let's not forget, there are also a large number of people who wonder why there is an Egyptian obelisk in the Vatican.
► The ancient Romans bowed down to the elements just like the ancient Egyptians did, and were naturally influenced by these lofty tributes created in reverence of the Sun. Therefore, they actually took great efforts to lift these grand monuments from Egypt and install them in central areas of their capital city, Rome.
► With the advent of Christianity, the Roman empire laid rest their pagan beliefs and began to unify under one religion, Roman Catholicism.
► The obelisk in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City is known to have been sourced from Alexandria, Egypt, on Emperor Augustus's command (30 - 28 BC). It was on Pope Sixtus V's orders that it was relocated to the Vatican in 1586.
Though Christianity had more or less taken over the Roman Empire by this time, the influence of ancient paganism clearly prevailed to a certain extent.
► Obelisks have also been (in)famously connected with the Freemasons, alluding to their influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
► The Washington Monument, built to commemorate George Washington (a Freemason himself), is a stellar example of a modern-day obelisk. Entirely made of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss, the monument is the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk, measuring 555 feet or 169.294 m tall.