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What is Cleopatra's Needle?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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There are actually three Cleopatra's Needles, although their host nations sometimes forget this in the literature they publish about these interesting and famous obelisks. One Cleopatra's Needle is located in London, another in New York's Central Park, and another in Paris. The Needles share a very interesting and lengthy collective history, and they are very popular destinations for tourists.

The title “Cleopatra's Needle” is a bit of a misnomer, as these hieroglyphic-covered monuments actually having nothing to do with Cleopatra. They were constructed around 1450 BCE on the orders of Thutmose III, using red granite quarried from the Aswan region. When finished, the Needles measured around 68 feet (21 meters) in height, and they weighed 180 tons. They were first erected at Heliopolis, and later moved to Alexandria by the Romans, where they later collapsed and were buried in sand.

In 1819, the Viceroy of Egypt presented the nation of Britain with one of the obelisks. The British government, however, declined to deal with the hassle of transporting it, and it wasn't until the 1870s that a private citizen stepped forward with a scheme to bring Cleopatra's Needle to London. The needle was encased in a large hollow container designed for towing, and nearly lost along the way, but it made it, and in 1878, Cleopatra's Needle was installed in London, along with some faux-sphinxes.

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In 1833, another obelisk was presented, this time to the city of Paris, where it was installed in the Place de la Concorde. The transportation of the obelisk proved to be an immense challenge, and numerous interesting diagrams of the procedure are on display at the site where the obelisk is installed. The French also fabricated a new cap for their Cleopatra's Needle, as the original cap had been damaged around the six century BCE.

New York's Cleopatra's Needle is located on the sprawling grounds of Central Park. It was installed in 1881, given to the United States after the success of the Suez Canal, in the hopes of establishing positive trade relations between the United States and Egypt. You can find Cleopatra's Needle in New York directly opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which also happens to have a number of fine Egyptian artifacts on display.

The technical difficulties involved in transporting these incredibly large and heavy monuments were quite extensive, and these obelisks stand as monuments to the lengths to which people are willing to go to achieve a goal.

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