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Cleopatra's Needle:

The Obelisk:
The oldest man-made object in Central Park is the Obelisk, located directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although it is familiarly known as Cleopatra's Needle, the dedication of the Obelisk in fact had nothing to do with Cleopatra, but was a self-commissioned tribute to Egypt's Thutmosis III (an accurate attribution, but clearly without the popular appeal of the Queen of the Nile). The Obelisk was erected in Heliopolis around 1500 BC, moved to Alexandria, and from there to the United States in 1881. The Khedive of Egypt (who governed as a viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey between 1879 and 1914) offered it to the United States in the hope of stimulating economic development in his country.
Moving the Obelisk from Alexandria, Egypt, to Central Park was a feat second only to its original construction. Imagine moving a 71-foot, 244-ton granite needle, first from vertical to horizontal, then into the hold of a ship, across the Mediterranean Sea, and over the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean without breakage. It took four months just to transport it from the banks of the Hudson River to the Park! The final leg of the journey was made across a specially built trestle bridge from Fifth Avenue to its new home on Greywacke Knoll.
You only realize the massive scale of the Obelisk when you stand right at its base, supported at each corner by bronze replicas of sea crabs crafted by the Romans (and on display in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum); one crab alone weighs approximately 900 pounds. The plaza around the Obelisk has benches for admiring its design, manufacture, and inscription. Surrounding the plaza are Japanese yews, magnolias, and crab apples.
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Central Park
The oldest man-made object in Central Park is this Obelisk, located directly behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle soon after its installation, the stone shaft has nothing to do with the legendary Queen of the Nile. Thutmosis III, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled from 1479-1425 B.C., had a pair of obelisks made to celebrate his third jubilee (30th year of reign). This is one of them, and the other stands on the bank of the Thames River in London. Made from the quarries at Aswan, the two pink granite monoliths once stood on either side of the portals to the Temple of the Sun in the sacred city of Heliopolis on the Nile River. The shafts themselves are sixty-nine feet high from base to tip, and weigh somewhere between 193 and 200 tons. The base and steps, which were added in Alexandria, are 27 feet high and weigh over 50 tons.
The obelisks remained in Heliopolis until the Romans, under Emperor Augustus, floated them down the Nile to Alexandria around 12 B.C. They were placed in front of the Caesarium, the temple dedicated to the deified Julius Caesar, where they remained until the late 19th century. The Khedive of Egypt, who governed as a viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey between 1879 and 1914, donated Egyptian antiquities to western industrialized nations in exchange for foreign aid to modernize his country. The London obelisk was raised in 1879, and this one arrived in New York two years later.
The Obelisk’s trip from Egypt to New York was a complicated engineering feat. The delicate moving process required laborers to inch the monument on parallel beams, aided by roll boxes and a pile-driver engine. It took nineteen days just to cross the 86th Street transverse road, and it took another twenty days to move it from Fifth Avenue to its resting place on Greywacke Knoll due to a winter blizzard. All together, it took one hundred and twelve days from the time the Obelisk touched upon the banks of the Hudson River until it reached this place. A huge crowd was on hand for the turning of the obelisk upright on January 22, 1881. A crowd of thousands stood in the snow to watch the event. As reported in the New York World, “Bonfires had been built on each side and the scene was most picturesque as the huge mass of 220 tons swung majestically from the horizontal to the vertical position.”
The base of the Obelisk is supported at each corner by replicas of bronze of sea crabs crafted by Roman artisans, each of them weighing approximately nine hundred pounds. Visitors can find the original crabs on display in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886), the designer behind many of Central Park’s most famous structures, created the decorative fence. The plaques that translate the hieroglyphics were donated by the famous filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959), who fondly remembered playing in the area as a boy. A recently restored plaza surrounding the Obelisk has benches positioned to invite a closer look at the monument’s hieroglyphic inscriptions.
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