Obelisk

The Obelisk, known by some as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” has several superlatives to its name—including the oldest man-made object in Central Park, and the oldest outdoor monument in New York City. More than 3,000 years old, this timeless beauty towers 69 feet high and weighs a staggering 220 tons.

The hieroglyphics on the Obelisk’s surface are but a glimpse into its ancient history. It was one of two obelisks commissioned circa 1450 BCE to commemorate Pharaoh Thutmose III's 30th year of reign; each was carved from a single slab of quarried rose granite. They stood for 1,500 years before being toppled by war and left to ruin. In 18 CE, both obelisks were discovered, moved to Alexandria, and erected in front of Cleopatra’s Caesarium—earning the nickname that endures today. Limestone pedestals and bronze crabs were added to each corner.

After gifting one of the obelisks to London in 1878—where it still stands on the banks of the Thames—Egypt sold the second to the United States the following year. Its journey would mark a tremendous feat of engineering. From the banks of the Hudson River, the Obelisk made a 112-day trek to Central Park via a makeshift railroad system built for the occasion. It was finally turned upright on January 22, 1881 to great fanfare.

A time capsule buried beneath contains a 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of William Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. A small box was also placed in the capsule by the man who orchestrated the Obelisk’s purchase and transportation; to this day, its contents are unknown.

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Location

East Side at 81st Street

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