How did Egyptian Obelisks wind up in NYC and London?

by William Scott

In the 19th century, the Egyptian government gifted two ancient obelisks to the United States and the United Kingdom as a symbol of friendship and international cooperation. These obelisks, which are tall, narrow pillars with pointed tops, had been standing in Egypt for thousands of years and were considered to be important cultural artifacts. Transporting these massive objects from Egypt to their new homes in New York and London was no small feat, and required a great deal of planning and coordination.

The first obelisk, known as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” was given to the United States in 1879. It was originally erected in the ancient city of Heliopolis around 1450 BC, and had been moved several times throughout its long history. In order to transport the obelisk to New York, it was first wrapped in layers of protective material and placed on a specially designed barge. The barge was then towed across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean by a steamship, a journey that took several months to complete.

Once the obelisk arrived in New York Harbor, it was lifted off the barge using a specially designed crane and placed on a pedestal in Central Park. The process of moving the obelisk from the harbor to the park was a massive undertaking, and required the temporary removal of several street lamps and the widening of several streets. The entire process took several months to complete, but the obelisk was finally unveiled in its new home in January 1881.

The second obelisk, known as “Cleopatra’s Needle London,” was given to the United Kingdom in 1877. It was also originally erected in Heliopolis around 1450 BC and had been moved several times over the centuries. The transport of this obelisk was similar to the first, with the obelisk being wrapped in protective material and placed on a barge for transport across the Mediterranean Sea and the English Channel.

Once the obelisk arrived in London, it was again lifted off the barge using a specially designed crane and placed on a pedestal on the banks of the River Thames. The process of moving the obelisk from the river to its final location on Victoria Embankment was again a massive undertaking, requiring the temporary removal of several lamp posts and the widening of several roads. The entire process took several months to complete, but the obelisk was finally unveiled in its new home in September 1878.

Transporting these ancient obelisks from Egypt to their new homes in New York and London was a remarkable feat of engineering and logistics. The process required careful planning, innovative design, and the coordinated efforts of a large number of people. Today, these obelisks stand as a symbol of the enduring cultural ties between Egypt, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and remind us of the importance of international cooperation and friendship.

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