Modern times

‘Good bye! If you go to Thebes, do send me a little obelisk’
     (Josephine to Napoleon leaving for Egypt)




During the Renaissance, obelisks discovered among the ruins of Rome once more gained attention. In 1586 Domenico Fontana with help of1000 people and 100 horses placed one of them in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican. This monument (fig.12), 25 metres high, was once erected in Alexandria by order of August, and then brought to Rome by Caligula. On popes’ initiative many obelisks were set in the squares of Rome, usually topped with Christian symbols. Discoveries made during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt (1798-99) and decoding of the hieroglyphs by J.-F. Champollion in 1822 enabled the development of scientific Egyptology, and started the vogue for ancient Egypt. 

Nineteenth century Egyptomania could not omit such admirable markers of the past as obelisks. The rulers of Egypt of that time offered the monoliths found in Alexandria (so-called needles of Cleopatra, fig.13) to the Great Britain and the United States, and one of the two standing before the Luxor temple was given to France. The obelisks were successively moved to Paris (in 1831-33), London (1877-78) and New York (188-81). Numerous contemporary imitations of ancient monuments include the obelisk in Washington D.C., which is 168 m high, although not monolithic, but constructed of blocks.

When the Egyptian government realised that the capital of Egypt does not possess any standing obelisk, two monuments of Ramesses II were moved from Tanis in the Delta and erected in Cairo (at Zamalek island and at the airport). The youngest standing object of this kind in Egypt is an obelisk set in the middle of the courtyard in the memorial monument of the German soldiers at El-Alamein, the site of the famous battle during the World War II (fig.14). An analogous role is played by one of the many Poznań monuments – an enormous obelisk in the Citadel, a memorial of the Soviet soldiers from 1945 (fig.15).