The Obelisk was built 3,500 years ago in Egypt, in honor of Pharaoh Thutmose III. Located on the east side of Central Park near 81st Street, it is the oldest outdoor monument in New York City.
For information on the Conservancy’s conservation of the Obelisk and its history, please see below.
The Central Park Conservancy is undertaking the most comprehensive conservation of the monument in nearly 130 years, cleaning much of its 2,112 square-foot surface with lasers and stabilizing sections of its surface with adhesives. The project will promote the long-term preservation and enhance the public’s understanding of the monument, in conjunction with related tours and programs.
The conservation project was developed by the Conservancy with assistance from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Planning the project began in 2011 and included photographing and scanning the Obelisk to document its condition, as well as a comprehensive survey of the monument’s surface, the first in its history.
Planning also included testing various methods of cleaning the Obelisk; cleaning with lasers proved to be the method most sensitive to the stone and most environmentally friendly. Egyptologists from the Metropolitan Museum of Art believe that fragile areas discovered on the monument’s surface are the likely result of environmental stresses that occurred more than one thousand years ago, as well as natural weathering. After they are cleaned, these areas will be treated with adhesive products typically used to conserve granite.
The conservation project will begin in April 2014 and is expected to be complete in fall 2014.
Though the Obelisk is often called "Cleopatra's Needle," Cleopatra VII had nothing to do with its creation. In fact, the Obelisk predates her by more than a millennium. Approximately 3,500 years ago in the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis, stonecutters carved two obelisks out of granite. Each one was formed from a single piece of quarried stone, and the enormous feat of extracting and erecting the monolith was symbolic of the reigning pharaoh’s power.
Both obelisks were inscribed with hieroglyphs praising Pharaoh Thutmose III, who reigned from 1479 to 1425 BCE, and were erected outside of a temple. The obelisks were toppled and possibly burned during an invasion by Persians in 525 BCE; for more than 500 years, they remained buried in sand until Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus discovered and transported them to Alexandria. They were erected in a temple built by Cleopatra to honor Julius Caesar, which may explain how they individually came to be known as "Cleopatra's Needle."
In the late 19th century, during a surge of renewed international interest in Egyptian antiquities, the Egyptian government offered one obelisk to England and the other to the United States to further diplomatic relations. Transporting the Central Park Obelisk from Alexandria to New York City was an extraordinary undertaking – it was shipped aboard a cargo vessel called the SS Denton, built especially for the task in England. The Obelisk was rolled on cannonballs through a 360-square-foot hole cut in the starboard hull of the ship; impressively, it took only eight hours to load the 220-ton monument! After a month at sea, the Obelisk arrived in Staten Island.
Its journey was far from over, however. It took six months to move the Obelisk from a Staten Island dock to its current location in Central Park, and a specially built railroad was built just for the task. Thousands of New Yorkers gathered to watch as the Obelisk was erected on January 22, 1881.
East Side at 81st Street.