Public Art Around The World

More Than Just The Plaque

Luxor Obelisk

Luxor Obelisk
Luxor Obelisk

Public Art: Luxor Obelisk (or if you want to say it in French, Obélisque de Louxor)

Architect: Unknown (probably some poor slaves!)

Description: A 3,300-year-old, yellow granite, 250 metric ton, 23 metres (75 ft) high Egyptian obelisk. The tall structure is decorated with hieroglyphics from the time of the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II & Ramses III. On either side of the obelisk are fountains constructed during the time the structure was placed at the Place de la Concorde in 1836.

Unveiled: The obelisk arrived in Paris on December 21, 1833, then three years later, on October 25, 1836, King Louis-Philippe of France had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde.

Location: The Luxor Obelisk is one of two obelisks which once stood proudly outside the entrance to the Luxor Temple, in Egypt. Today one of them can be found standing in the centre of the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, France.

History of the Egyptian Obelisks: There were originally 2 obelisks outside the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. One of the obelisks found its way to Paris thanks to the efforts of Jean Baptiste Apollinaire Lebas who brokered a deal that saw the structure presented as a gift to King Charles X by the Egyptian viceroy Méhémet Ali. In return, Egypt was given a large clock which still resides in the clock tower of the mosque of the Citadel of Cairo. The remaining obelisk still guards the Luxor Temple.

Citadel of Cairo
The clock

It took five years from July 1831 to October 1836 to remove and re-erect the Luxor obelisk. The French Government arranged a flat bottom ship to be built to transfer the obelisk. The three-mast ship was called Louqsor. The process to load the obelisk was quite extraordinary. Prior to the Louqsor sailing up the Nile to Luxor, a canal was dug to allow the ship to get as close as possible to it. The obelisk was then lowered onto the Louqsor using all sorts of blocks and tackles and ropes and pulleys.

The obelisk once had a pyramidion on the top but historians believed it was stolen sometime in the 6th century. Despite a promise by the French to restore this when it was placed in the square, it was only in 1997 that the then French President Jacques Chirac followed through with it. The pyramidion is made of bronze and gold leaf and was added in the May of 1998 as part of the celebrations to mark Franco-Egyptian relations and adds another 3metres to the structure.

Controversial Past: The Obelisk was plonked in the centre of what was once one of the bloodiest places in Paris. Place de la Concorde, the location of mass beheadings. Originally there was a statue of Louis XV on horseback adorning the square but this was destroyed during the Revolution and replaced with a guillotine. The guillotine is the tool of choice for public executions. Among the famous heads to roll during this time were Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Danton and Robespierre. All in all, over 1,300 people were beheaded between 1793 and 1795.

Trivia :

One legend claims Josephine told Napoleon before he left to conquest  Egypt  in 1798 ” If you go to Thebes, do send me a small obelisk “

One inscription on the obelisk reads in translation  “The Lord of the world, Sun, guardian of truth, approved by Phra, has caused this edifice to be built in honour of his father, Amun-Ra; and has also erected these two great Obelisks of granite before the Ramseseion of the city of Amun.”

The original Egyptian pedestal was not erected. Apparently, the statues of sixteen standing baboons with exposed genitalia was a little too much for the general public to handle. In today’s standard, they are probably considered quite tame. You can view the pedestal at Musée du Louvre and judge for yourself.

In 1993 the obelisk was covered with a giant pink condom in support of World AIDS Day.

Twice the obelisk has been climbed by Frenchman Alain “Spiderman” Robert.

Egyptian Obelisks: An obelisk is a tall four-sided pointed pillar which ends with a pyramid-like shape on top (which is said to resemble a “petrified ray” of the sun disk). Obelisks were very popular in ancient Egyptian architecture. Built in pairs they were placed at the entrance to their temples. The obelisk symbolized the sun god Ra and many thought that the god existed within the structure. It is believed that there are 29 ancient Egyptian obelisks still standing, more than half of which are scattered around the world.

So where are these obelisks?

Egypt

Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, Karnak Temple, Luxor
Pharaoh Ramses II, Luxor Temple
Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Karnak Temple, Luxor
Pharaoh Senusret I, Al-Masalla area of Al-Matariyyah district in Heliopolis, Cairo
Pharaoh Ramses III, Luxor Museum
Pharaoh Ramses II, Gezira Island, Cairo
Pharaoh Ramses II, Cairo International Airport
Pharaoh Seti II, Karnak Temple, Luxor
Pharaoh Senusret I, Faiyum (ancient site of Crocodilopolis)

France

Pharaoh Ramses II, Luxor Obelisk, in Place de la Concorde, Paris

Israel

Caesarea obelisk

Italy

Pharaoh Tuthmosis III / Tuthmosis IV,” Lateranense”, Piazza di San Giovanni , Laterano, Rome
Pharaoh unknown, “vaticano”, Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City
Pharaoh Seti I / Ramses II, “Flaminio”, Piazza del Popolo, Rome
Pharaoh Psammetichus II, “Solare”, Piazza di Montecitorio, Rome
Pharaoh Ramses II, “Macuteo”, Piazza della Rotonda, Rome
Pharaoh Apries, “Minerveo”, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Pharaoh Ramses II, “Gogali”, Baths of Diocletian, Rome
Pharaoh Ramses II, “Matteiano”, Villa Celimontana, Rome
Pharaoh unknown, Piazza del Duomo, Catania (Sicily)
Pharaoh unknown, Boboli Gardens (Florence)
Pharaoh unknown, Urbino Obelisco di Benevento

Poland

Pharaoh Ramses II, Poznan Archaeological Museum, Poznan (on loan from Agyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin)

Turkey

Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, in Square of Horses, Istanbul

UK

Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, “Cleopatra’s Needle“, on Victoria Embankment, London
Pharaoh Amenhotep II, in the Oriental Museum, University of Durham
Pharaoh Ptolemy IX, Philae obelisk, at Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne Minster, Dorset
Pharaoh Nectanebo II, British Museum, London (pair of obelisks)

USA

Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, “Cleopatra’s Needle”, in Central Park, New York

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