What Ancient Obelisks Represent

An obelisk is a tall and narrow monument made of one block of stone with a small pyramid at the top, originally carved over 3,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt.

This kind of monument can be seen in cities such as Rome, Paris, London, and New York. Here is the one that stands in London, which was given by Egypt to the United Kingdom in 1819:


“Cleopatra’s Needle,” carved in the 15th century BC, from Heliopolis, Egypt


And its twin in New York’s Central Park, which was given by Egypt to New York in 1877:



Several interpretations exist as to the symbolism of ancient Egyptian obelisks, but they agree that the symbolism is religious, as all obelisks come from Egyptian temples. The most common interpretation is that the symbolism relates to the sun god Ra, who is said to have appeared as a ray of sunlight coming from the sky.

An obelisk is thought to be the representation of that ray of sunlight shining down from a point in the sky.

While one would think that the best place to see obelisks is Egypt, so many of them have been taken or given away that there are now more ancient obelisks in the rest of the world than in Egypt itself. In fact, the city of Rome alone has more obelisks than the entire country of Egypt.

Rome also has the largest ancient obelisk in the world, which was modified by the addition of a Christian cross at the top:


The Lateran Obelisk, carved in the 15th century BC for the Amun-Ra Temple in Karnak, Egypt


Another obelisk was similarly topped with a cross and now stands in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, right at the center of Saint Peter’s Square, even though it originally had nothing to do with Christianity:



And here is the Luxor Obelisk, on the Place de la Concorde in Paris since 1836, originally carved in the 13th century BC for the main temple in Luxor, Egypt:



So next time you see one of these wonders of the ancient world, carved from a single block of stone over 3,000 years ago, remember that they come from Egypt and probably represent Ra, the sun god, as a ray of sunlight shining down from a point in the sky.



3 responses

  1. Pingback: Cultural Evolution in the Garden « the westologist

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