For the first time since 1885, the Obelisk in Central Park will undergo a comprehensive conservation treatment. The 132 years the Obelisk has stood in the Park represent a small fraction of its 3,500-year history, and this treatment will preserve it for many more years. The project is overseen by the Conservancy's Department of Planning, Design, and Construction and has involved experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions. The project will include cleaning and stabilizing the surface of the Obelisk. Preparation began this fall by testing conservation and cleaning methods, some of which are currently visible on the monument. Experts have also scanned and photographed the monument to provide a detailed record of its surface and condition. The conservation project is expected to begin this spring. Though it's called "Cleopatra's Needle," Cleopatra VII had nothing to do with the Obelisk's creation. In fact, it predates her by more than a millennium. Approximately 3,500 years ago, stonecutters carved two obelisks out of syene granite. An obelisk is a monolith, formed from a single piece of quarried stone. The enormous feat of extracting and erecting such a large piece of stone from a quarry was a symbol of the power of the pharaoh. The exact means to do this are still not completely understood, but there is archeological evidence that balls of dolerite, a stone even harder than granite, were used to essentially scoop out the stone and separate it. The monolith that eventually became the Central Park Obelisk and its companion were inscribed with hieroglyphs praising Pharaoh Thutmose III, who reigned from 1479 to 1425 BCE. The two obelisks were erected outside of a temple in Heliopolis, near modern-day Cairo. Additional inscriptions were added in praise of subsequent rulers. In 525 BCE, the obelisks were toppled and possibly burned. They remained partially buried there for over 500 years, until the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had them transported to a temple built by Cleopatra to honor Julius Caesar in Alexandria. This may explain how the each obelisk came to be known as "Cleopatra's Needle." In 1877, Egypt offered one of the obelisks to England and it was transported to London and erected along the Thames. Soon after, arrangements were made for the other to come to the United States. The Obelisk was a gift of the Egyptian government to the United States to further diplomatic relations. Its arrival in 1881 was seen as a coming-of-age moment for New York as a world class city on the level of Paris and London. "It would be absurd," a reporter wrote at the time "for the people of any great city to hope to be happy without the Egyptian Obelisk." William Vanderbilt, philanthropist and son of railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, paid for the Obelisk's journey across the Atlantic, which was orchestrated by a United States naval officer named Henry Honeychurch Gorringe. It took nearly six months to move the Obelisk from a dock in Staten Island, up the Hudson River, to its current location in Central Park. From the river, the Obelisk was transported slowly on a specially-built railroad, constructed just for this task. Thousands of New Yorkers gathered to watch as Cleopatra's Needle was erected on January 22, 1881. Learn more about the Obelisk, and the long history of obelisks in general, at "Cleopatra's Needle," an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, open December 3 until June 8. Follow the latest updates about our conservation work on Facebook and Twitter, or through ourmonthly e-newsletter.
East Side at 81st Street.