From Ancient Egypt to Central Park, Why We Are So Into Obelisks

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A new exhibit highlights the only monumental obelisk from ancient Egypt in the United States. And it sits right in Central Park.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a new show about “Cleopatra’s Needle,” the obelisk which has been in Central Park, close to 81st street, since 1881, when it was received as a gift from Egypt.

The exhibition, which features textiles, paintings and pictures, explores the construction and symbolism of obelisks from antiquity to today.

Diana Craig Patch, who curated the show, talks in this interview about why the placement of obelisks was so important to ancient Egyptians.

"Because they stood outside the temple, people were able to see them," she said. "They were not something inside the temple doors and closed. So they would be visible to everybody and they would stand as a symbol of a sun god."

The Pharaoh Thutmose III obelisk was built in front of the sun temple in Heliopolis around 1450 B.C.  Julius Caesar moved it to Alexandria in 18 A.D..

Once the obelisk reached the shores of the Hudson, it took 112 days to transfer the 69-foot, 220-ton granite monument to Central Park.


“Cleopatra’s Needle” in Alexandria, Egypt, ca. 1870. Attributed to Francis Frith. (Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)