Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Obelisk of Luxor
This is the one of a pair of red granite obelisks that were erected in front of the Temple of Luxor (Egypt) in the 13th century BC, depicting scenes of Ramses the Great making offerings to the gods. It was transported to Paris in the early 19th century and erected in the center of the Place de la Concorde (its mate still remains at the original site in Luxor). This obelisk forms part of the grand axis historique that connects three monumental arches spanning a route from the Louvre to La Defense.
The obelisk stands 107 feet tall, including the base and the new pyramidion cap added in 1998. This 12-ft. tall cap, made of bronze and 23-carat gold leaf, replaces an original cap that was stolen from the obelisk in the 6th century BC. When the obelisk was re-erected in Paris in 1836, experts urged the French authorities to restore the column to its original splendor by putting a pyramidion back on the pinnacle. But it was not until French President Jacques Chirac agreed in 1997 to back the 1.5 million franc (US $252,000) project as part of celebrations to mark Franco-Egyptian relations, that the restoration of the cap became a reality. By comparison, the rather meager aluminum pyramidion cap atop the Washington Monument is only 9 inches tall, costing $225 at the time it was installed in 1884.
Many people erroneously believe that the obelisk was stolen by Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign, but Napoleon was long dead when the Ottoman Sultan’s Viceroy, Mohammud Ali (Egypt’s governor from 1805-1848), decided to give it to King Charles X of France. By the time it was erected in its current location in 1836, Louis-Philippe was King of France (King Charles X had abdicated during the July Revolution of 1830). In exchange, a grateful Louis-Philippe presented a large iron clock (which has never been operational) to Mohammed Ali. This clock still adorns a tower in the Mohammed Ali Mosque at the summit of the Citadel of Cairo.
The stunning photo is by Olivier Ffrench (not a typo), whose image of the sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower adorns my title page. I have added a link to his photos of Paris at the top right of the home page of this blog.