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Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park

For this week's Thutmose Tuesday, we're taking a look at Central Park's oldest attraction: Cleopatra's Needle. It probably won't surprise you to learn that this 70-foot-tall ancient obelisk has nothing to do with Cleopatra VII. It was built for another Egyptian ruler more than 1,000 years before the Ptolemaic queen's birth, one whose name should be quite familiar at this point: Thutmose III.

To mark his 30th year on the throne, Thutmose commissioned the construction of two twin obelisks, which would be erected at the temple of Ra in Heliopolis. Over the years, two additional kings (Ramesses II and Osorkon I, respectively) added their own names and titles to these monuments. When the Persians conquered Egypt in 525 B.C.E., the invading army razed Heliopolis and tore down the obelisks. They remained buried under the sand for centuries, until their discovery by the Romans in 12 B.C.E. (decades after Cleopatra's death). The monuments were then re-erected in Alexandria, where they remained until the late 19th Century.

In 1878, one of the obelisks was erected in London, a belated gift from the Egyptian government for Britain's involvement in driving Napoleon from Egypt (which occurred in 1801). The second obelisk was gifted to the United States in 1879, arriving in New York City in 1880. It was finally erected in Central Park on January 21, 1881.

Interestingly, there's a third "Cleopatra's Needle" on display in Paris, in the center of the Place de la Concorde. This obelisk, however, was not constructed by Thutmose III, but by Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 19th Dynasty. It was also constructed as part of a set, intended to flank the entrance to the temple complex in Luxor. The Paris Needle's twin remains there to this day.

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