A Towering Monument Of Ancient Distinction: The Obelisk

The Obelisk
The Obelisk

An obelisk is described as a tall, four-sided, narrow and gradually tapered monument which ends in a pyramidal shape at the top. Historically a four sided shaft of stone, this distinctive monument has left its ancient legacy, for certain. Prevalent in table-top displays, these distinguishable objects, often formed out of stone, marble or crystal, are certainly elements of significance in decoration. Oh, the unique distinction of these obelisks in decorative form, creating striking visuals within the interior…

To appreciate this monument of style, however, a look back to understanding its history and meaning is necessary. Although its form was fabricated in Egypt, the word “Obelisk” comes from the Greek word “Obeliskos”, which references the Greek word of “Obelos” (meaning “Spit, nail, pointed pillar”). The obelisk, called TEJEN in the sacred language of the Egyptians, was a term that was synonymous with “Protection” of “Defense”. Referred to as a Monolithic “pyramidal apex”, the towering ancient obelisks historically stood in pairs in front of a structure, such as pyramids and temples. Dating back to the architecture of the Ancient Egyptians, these monuments involve not only a history of engineering but of inscriptions and religious connotations. These monuments of towering height, with the top in the shape of a pyramid, known as the “pyramidion” was believed to perforate the clouds and disperse negative forces that threaten to accumulate in the form of “visible” or “invisible” “storms”. Who knew? A symbol that was to magically protect the temple. These large towering symbols “Pyramidal Summits” were often covered with gold, copper and alloy of gold and silver (electrum) as the Egyptians affirmed was the “Flesh of the Gods”. In fact, the Egyptians believed that the solar rays brought great power into the grave and provided resurrection. Ancient mythology, indeed.

Magnitude Of Design:  The Ancient Obelisk
Magnitude Of Design: The Ancient Obelisk

Of importance, in 1450 BC a pair of obelisks were commissioned on the banks of the Nile by an Egyptian Pharoah, Thutmosis III, for one of the oldest cities in Ancient Egypt, Heliopolis. The erection of these towering stone monuments was to commemorate the Pharoah’s 30 year reign, his 3rd jubilee. Between 12 BC or 13 BC, these monuments that are considered the oldest man-made construction, were completed and were relocated to the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The pair remained in Alexandria until 1878 when one obelisk was moved in London and the other obelisk was moved to New York City, both presented by the Egyptian Khedive in exchange for funds to modernize Egypt. New York City erected this towering monument, referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle”, in Central Park (located behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art). What a journey this pair of obelisks have endured! The obelisk’s relocation surely was difficult. Regarding the obelisk that stands with distinction in NYC, it is said that it took laborers four months relocate it from the Hudson River to Central Park. Imagine! On the day that this great magnitude of stone was raised to point to the sky (January 22, 1881), thousands are said to have ventured to the park to marvel at the 71 foot shaft, with a weight of 244 tons of granite. These obelisks are towering monuments of ancient distinction that have stood the test of time…

"Cleopatra's Needle", NYC
“Wandering Obelisks”: Celebrations Marking The Occasion: “Cleopatra’s Needle”, NYC, 1878
Renderings Of Ancient Style:  The Obelisk
Renderings Of Ancient Style: The Obelisk

The magnitude of these structures is certainly remarkable. Rome is actually referred to as the “obelisk capital of the world” and contains one of the most well known obelisks (83.6 feet high) located in St. Peter’s Square. Stunning height with history. Certainly important survivals from Antiquity. A legacy of the past, indeed. Commonly cut from a single block of stone (commonly red granite) or built of many stones, in time these monuments would take on a political association of power as well as religious links. In fact, these impressive creations of the glories of Ancient Egypt were often moved as political power shifted. Augustus Ceasar, with his affinity for the antiquity of Egypt (as well as other Roman Emperors) relocated many obelisks to Rome, treating them as single monuments and adding new inscriptions. Perhaps a demonstration of his power paired with his affinity for the past. Of interest, the inscriptions of the hieroglyphs inscribed on these stones of meaning would eventually cease to be understood as time marched forward. It was the scholars of the French Expeditions (near the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century) that would decipher the original inscribed messages from a past ancient civilization. The association of religion to these ancient obelisks occurred after relocation to Rome. They became “Christianised” by acquiring crosses at their highest points and given new meanings as appropriated by the Church. Alas, if the Egyptians only knew the future of these towers and the meanings that would be bestowed upon them and that they would be referred to as “Wandering Obelisks”, standing far from their original sites of erection!

The Ancient Obelisk:  Worldwide Appeal
The Ancient Obelisk: Worldwide Appeal

The depth of the Egyptian mythology and subsequent history of the associations with these remarkable structures of Antiquity is more than the summation I have chosen to present here. However, understanding the link to the past certainly helps in appreciating and marveling at these structures of stature and meaning. Especially when found as iconic representations of prominence as table-top style within the interior…

Height & Interest:  The Obelisk In The Interior
Height & Interest: The Obelisk In The Interior
The Obelisk:  Towering Objects Of Interior Distinction
The Obelisk: Towering Objects Of Interior Distinction
Glories Of Ancient Egypt:  The Obelisk Within The Interior
Glories Of Ancient Egypt: The Obelisk Within The Interior
Legacy Of Ancient History As Decoration:  Obelisk Style
Legacy Of Ancient History As Decoration: Obelisk Style
 Modern Appeal Of Ancient Design:  The  Distinctive Obelisk
Modern Appeal Of Ancient Design: The Distinctive Obelisk

And let’s not forget of the exterior adornment of the obelisk…

Garden Inspirations: The Classic Obelisk
Garden Inspirations: The Classic Obelisk

The obelisk, whether an ornament found within the world of our own exterior gardens and landscape or perhaps more commonly, within the interior as table-top decoration of towering height, provides a distinctive ornamentation of height and visual interest. Perhaps understanding the history behind them brings us further appreciation to the unparalleled design of ancient form. Stature that extends upward. Rectangular monuments of ancient distinction, indeed.

Kristin

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4 thoughts on “A Towering Monument Of Ancient Distinction: The Obelisk

    1. Thanks for your compliment, Jeni! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, as well!
      I understand your hesitations with the garden adornment, as it is a strong and distinctive statement that is probably not adored by all. Either way, it certainly piques my interest. And of the crystal groupings of table-top style? I, too, am smitten!
      Kristin

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