Cleopatra’s Needle: The Story Behind the Obelisks

Cleopatra’s Needle: The Story Behind the Obelisks

(Read the article on one page)

Cleopatra’s Needle is the name shared by three ancient Egyptian obelisks – one in New York City, one in London, and one in Paris. However, each comes from a different Egyptian site and none may have been built in honor of Cleopatra. Although often overlooked, each monument has volumes to say about history, both ancient and modern.

Megalith Constructions

The obelisks were named in honor of Cleopatra because of her famed beauty and connections to well-known Romans. Plus, the name had a certain glamorous ring to it. The obelisks in New York and London are made of red granite from the quarries of Aswan with each stone weighing approximately 224 tons. The obelisks were constructed in 1450 BC in the city of Heliopolis for the Pharoah Thutmose III (1481-1425 BC). They are 68 feet (21m) tall. The obelisk in Paris is known as the Luxor Obelisk and is made of a yellow granite. Constructed about 3,000 years ago, it was originally situated outside the Luxor Temple in Egypt where its twin still remains. The Paris obelisk is 75 feet (23m) tall and weighs over 250 tons. All three obelisks are inscribed with hieroglyphs glorifying Ramses II.

The Needle of New York

The Cleopatra’s Needle of New York was erected in Central Park on February 22, 1881. It had been given to the US Consul General stationed in Cairo as a gift to the United States from the Egyptian Khedive (a title equivalent to a viceroy) as a gesture of gratitude for the US remaining neutral while Great Britain and France vied for control of the Egyptian government. The obelisk had been moved from its original home in Heliopolis to Alexandria in 12 BC where was set up in the temple built by Cleopatra in honor of Marc Anthony. Sometime later, the obelisk toppled into the sand; however, this had the positive effect of preserving the hieroglyphs for modern researchers.

The Central Park obelisk as it stood in Alexandria, published 1884.

The Central Park obelisk as it stood in Alexandria, published 1884. ( Public Domain )

For 3000 years, the dry desert air preserved the legacy of the pharaohs. Unfortunately, it has not been well maintained in the US. Since its arrival, numerous pockmarks have emerged and the hieroglyphs have faded, most likely due to the rain, snow, and acidity of the polluted New York City air. In 2011, the then minister of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, threatened to take back the obelisk if it was not better looked after: “If the Central Park Conservancy and the City of New York cannot properly care for this obelisk,” he wrote in an open letter to officials in New York, “I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.” In response, the city financed a $500,000 restoration of the obelisk.

New York's Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.

New York's Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Needle in London

The Cleopatra’s Needle in London is located on the Victoria Embankment of the Thames River near the Golden Jubilee Bridge. The monument was given to the government of the United Kingdom in 1819 by the then ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Ali, as a commemoration of the British victories at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and the Battle of Alexandria (1801). The British government, while appreciative of the gift, declined to pay for its very expensive transportation to England and so left the obelisk in Egypt. It was not until 1877 that Sir William James Erasmus Wilson, a distinguished anatomist, sponsored the transportation of the obelisk at the cost of about £10,000. It was re-erected by the Thames in 1878 with two sphinx statues guarding it.

Close up of London's Cleopatra's Needle

Close up of London's Cleopatra's Needle ( Public Domain )

The obelisk had survived intact for 3,500 years of strife and warfare, however, it probably came closest to destruction during World War I when a German bomb landed near the monument on September 4, 1917. The pedestal of the obelisk was damaged as were its sphinx companions but the obelisk itself was unharmed. The damage was not repaired and a plaque stands to commemorate the event.


Cleopatra was was one of the few famous queens who ruled ancient Egypt. She brought the Egyptian and Roman empires together through her relationship with Mark Antony.
Cleopatra was well educated and clever; she spoke various languages and served as the dominant ruler in all three of her co-regencies.
The end of Cleopatra started right after Actium Sea Battle in 31 B.C when she announced the war against Octavian, the Roman leader.
Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony commanded several hundred ships, many of them well-armored war galleys equipped with wooden towers for archers, massive rams and heavy grappling irons.
Mark Antony and Cleopatra lost the war so Cleopatra killed herself when she heard that Antony was killed in the battle.
Cleopatra had a son called Caesarion, after her death Octavian executed him, and used Cleopatra’s treasure to pay off his veterans. In 27 B.C., Octavian became Augustus, the first and arguably most successful of all Roman emperors. He ruled a peaceful, prosperous, and expanding Roman Empire until his death in 14 A.D. at the age of 75.

Actually Cleopatra brought Egypt and Rome together with the help of Caesar first than Mark anthony1

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Myths & Legends

The Mythology of Nut, Mother of Gods
One of the oldest goddesses in Egyptian mythology is Nut, the goddess of the sky (nut means ‘sky’ in the ancient Egyptian language). It was believed that that the sky is, in fact, a star-covered nude woman arched over the earth in a plank or perhaps down-dog position.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article