Paris I: The Obelisk


The Obelisk, Place de la Concorde.

I love the way the thin layer of tarmac in the Place has been worn away by the traffic to reveal the cobblestones beneath. The Paris Obelisk seems more impressive than Cleopatra’s Needle, not least because of its dramatic setting and the way it’s aligned with the Tuileries promenades and the two Arcs de Triomphe (the famous, larger one at the end of the Champs Elysses and the smaller one before the Louvre).

The Obelisk, which rises in the centre of the Place, was presented to Louis Philippe by Mohammed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt. This is a monolith, or single block, of reddish granite or syenite, from the quarries of Syene (the modern Assuan) in Upper Egypt. It is 70 ft. in height, and weighs 240 tons. The pedestal of Breton granite is 13 ft. high, and also consists of a single block, while the steps by which it is approached raise the whole three and a half ft. above the ground. The representations on the pedestal refer to the embarkation of the obelisk in Egypt in 1831 and to its erection in 1836 at Paris, under the superintendence of the engineer J. B. Lebas. Cleopatra’s Needle in London is 70 ft. in height, and the Obelisk in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano at Rome is 104 ft. high.

Ramses II, King of Egypt, better known by his Greek title of Sesostris the Great, who reigned in the 14th cent. before Christ, erected a huge ‘pylon’ gate and a colonnade before a temple which his great ancestor Amenhetep III (Amenophis or Memnon of the Greeks) had built in the E. suburb of Thebes, the site now occupied by the poor village of Luxor. In front of this gate stood two beautiful obelisks, and it is one of these that now embellishes the Place de la Concorde. Each of the four sides of the obelisk is inscribed with three vertical rows of hieroglyphics, the middle row in each case referring to Ramses II, while the others were added by Ramses III, a monarch of the succeeding dynasty.

Baedeker’s Paris (1900).