• Tastes Of History

Dispelling Some Myths: "Cleopatra's Needle"

Updated: Jul 29


Take a walk along the Victoria Embankment in the City of Westminster, London and near the Golden Jubilee Bridges you will find Cleopatra's Needle (pictured).  Unfortunately this ancient obelisk[1] has no connection with the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt.


In fact there are three obelisks bearing the popular misnomer of "Cleopatra's Needle"; one each in London, Paris in the Place de la Concorde., and New York City erected in Central Park, just west of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  All three needles are indeed genuine Ancient Egyptian obelisks but were already over a thousand years old in the famous Queen's lifetime.

The London and New York needles are a pair originally made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III.  The one in Paris is also part of a pair originally marking the entrance to a temple site in Luxor where its twin remains.  The Paris needle dates to the reign of the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses II, and was the first of the three to be moved and re-erected during the nineteenth century.  The New York needle was the first to acquire the French nickname, "L'aiguille de Cléopâtre" (Cleopatra's Needle), when it stood in Alexandria.


Notes:

1.  Originally called tekhenu by their ancient Egyptian builders, an obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion at the top.  Ancient obelisks are monolithic, i.e. they consist of a single stone.  The ancient Greeks who saw them used the Greek term obeliskos (ὀβελίσκος) to describe them (from obelos (ὀβελός) meaning "spit, nail, pointed pillar").

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