Thursday, November 03, 2011

Obelisk Extra Credit

Obelisk Extra Credit

My posting on Obelisks and Empire was already running long and wandering a bit, so here are a few bits of obelisk trivia that did not fit in well.

Burial Legends The obelisk at Vienne served the typical purpose, marking the finishing line at the Circus, or Hippodrome. Somehow in the superstitious middle ages the rumor got around that Pontius Pilate was buried there! A search was undertaken, but it is not clear from the records if this involved digging underneath it or actually disassembling the multiple stones that make up this non-monolithic structure!

A little more…

On the subject of possible burials and obelisks, there was a longstanding rumor that the ashes of Julius Caesar were housed in a metal ball atop the Vaticano obelisk. This had been brought to Rome by Caligula in AD 37 and placed in the Vatican Circus. The obelisk was moved in 1586 and the ball examined. It held nothing but dust. This is the only obelisk in Rome that has never fallen. Did the legend of Julius Caesar being buried atop an obelisk influence the design of the Washington Monument? Two Fathers of their respective Countries…..

Moving the Darned Things The Romans transported the obelisks from Egypt using specially built “obelisk ships”. Two large cargo ships held the obelisk tied between them and submerged. A third ship was secured in the lead position as guide ship and for additional rowing power. Must have been hard rowing…Obelisk Ships A
somewhat similar method was used to bring the so-called “Cleopatra’s Needle” to London. A special iron cylinder some 92 feet long and 16 feet in diameter was constructed. Dubbed “Cleopatra” this was a sort of floating dock that would be towed all the way to England. While under tow in October of 1877 a storm came up. Despite the efforts of the crew, five of whom drowned in attempts to save the “Cleopatra”, the floating dock broke loose and was feared lost. Remarkably it stayed afloat and was salvaged four days later.

When Cleopatra’s Needle was erected in London a time capsule was placed under it. Among other things it holds photographs of what were felt to be the 12 most beautiful women in England.

The obelisks in New York, London and sometimes Paris are all referred to as Cleopatra’s Needle. Even though the best evidence is that they are at least a thousand years older than Cleopatra.

The biggest Egyptian obelisk of all is still lying in its quarry at Aswan. The Unfinished Obelisk was half way done when it was found to have cracks that would doom any attempt to raise it. I saw this on a trip three years ago. It does not appear to be going anywhere.

Egyptian stone workers by the way did not have the benefit of any useful metal tools. They tediously pounded away at the hard rock with even harder rock, round balls of volcanic basalt. I am guessing that the unimaginable man-hours that went to waste when the above obelisk was written off caused howled curses that slightly disturbed even the pickled sleep of the pharoahs.

A snoozing dog near the foot of the unfinished obelisk. An interesting contrast in priorities.