Ancient Egyptian Obelisks Around the World

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Ancient Egypt is one of the most remarkable civilizations that has ever existed on the planet, and it is well-known for monumental achievements—including obelisks. These huge granite monolithic structures are made of one stone and have four sides, each side telling stories about the corresponding king’s latest achievements and victories. The obelisk is typically very heavy, weighing up to several hundreds of tons and of thirty meters height. 

If you haven’t been to Egypt, you can still see these masterpieces as many obelisks can be found outside of their birthplace. Currently, there are obelisks in France, England, the United States, Italy, and Turkey. 


One of the four obelisks transferred to France is very significant as it belongs to Ramses II. Written on the obelisk in hieroglyphic is “Ramses II is conqueror of all the foreign peoples, the master over all crowned masters, the warrior who came over millions of enemies, the king who subjugated the whole world to his suzerainty and the world acknowledged his invincible power.”

According to a story that circulates in Egypt, this obelisk was part of an exchange deal that Muhammad Ali Pasha—the Ottoman ruler of Egypt—made with the French. The deal was to give them one of the obelisks in exchange for a mechanical clock that arrived in Egypt faulty due to shipping issues. Regardless of the credibility of the story, it was, in fact, given to France by Muhammad Ali Pasha.

The obelisk has been in the Concorde square in Paris since 1836. 

England and USA:

King Thutmose III had two obelisks in his name that date back to more than 3500 years ago. They were moved from their original place to Caesar Temple around the year 10 B.C. by the Empire Augustus. The obelisks remained in Egypt until the Ottoman Empire took over Egypt; at this point, their representatives decided to give these obelisks as gifts. One was given by the daughter of Khedive Ismail to the United States after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1879. The other one was given again by Muhammad Ali to England 1831; however, it remained in Alexandria, Egypt until 1878, when it was moved to London at a cost of 10,000 sterling pounds—a significant amount of money at the time. 

A story about the Curse of the Pharaohs and the Obelisk in London is commonly told. As it was very heavy to transfer after it was gifted, the obelisk stayed on the ground for years until it was moved on a ship and sailed. While at sea, the ship hit another ship that resulted in the drowning of some men. When the obelisk finally arrived in London, it fell on some of the workers and killed them, but the obelisk itself survived the fall.

Some of the obelisks are mistakenly called Cleopatera’s obelisks even though they were made thousands of years before Cleopatra was born.


The Egyptian obelisk erected in one of the most famous districts in Istanbul belongs to King Thutmose III as well. It used to be in the great Temple of Karnak. It was brought to Turkey by the Emperor Theodosius.


Italy has the biggest number of Egyptian Obelisks outside of Egypt with over five obelisks scattered around the country. One stands tall in one of the most famous squares in Rome, St. Peter’s Square in Vatican city. It was built by Amenhotep the Second and was originally in Heliopolis in Egypt before it was moved. Other obelisks are decorating different places in Italy, such as the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano and Piazza del Popolo.

Most of these obelisks were given by the colonization authority ruling Egypt at the time, without the consent of the Egyptian people. Many have argued that any and all monuments should be returned to Egypt while others have argued that, given the political and social instability of the country, they are perhaps safer abroad. Given the complexities of the circumstance, should these important artifacts be returned to their birthplace regardless? 


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