Cleopatra’s Needle has stood on the north bank of the Thames for over one hundred years. It matches another one that can be found in New York. However, all is not what it might seem. For a start, the edifice has little to do with Cleopatra. It is believed that it dates back to the reign of King Thutmose III around 1450 BCE. This means that it was in existence for over one thousand years before Queen Cleopatra VII was born.
The obelisk is made of red granite and weighs about two hundred tons. It was uncovered by an Italian ex-circus strongman, Giovanni Battista Belzoni. Howard Carter of Tutankhamen fame named him the “Father of Modern Egyptology” even though he had no qualifications in archaeology.
After making his find, Belzoni went to the then ruler, Pasha Mohammed Ali and persuaded him to make it a gift to Great Britain. He agreed but Britain was not too happy to pay the transport costs and so it stayed in Alexandria for sixty years. However, in 1877, Sir William Erasmus Wilson put up £10,000 to bring it over to London. It was transported in a metal cylinder ninety-two feet in length.
When it arrived in London, more problems arose. Parliament could not decide where it should be erected. Kensington Gardens and the front of the British Museum were suggested. It was then decided that it should be Parliament Square. However, as the underground railway ran underneath the square, there was concern that the weight would cause the ground to cave in. So finally, it was erected at its present site, on the Thames Embankment.
But that is not the end of the matter. There are some other interesting tales about the obelisk. It is reported that several objects were interred underneath it. This could be the first example we have of a time capsule which are so popular today. The objects included children’s toys, a ruler, a bible, newspapers, coins, a picture of Queen Victoria, Whitaker’s Almanac, a map of London and pictures of women. It is believed they are still there.
There are hieroglyphics on the obelisk which report the battle honours of Ramesses II around 1250 BCE. On either side of the base are two sphinxes. If you look carefully at them, you will see that they and the base are pockmarked. This was caused by a bomb exploding nearby during an air raid in World War II. They therefore could perhaps be looked upon as Cleopatra’s own personal battle honours.