The story of the Luxor Obelisk begins in Egypt in 1392 BC, when the Pharoah Amenhotep III began building the Luxor Temple. It was completed during the reign of the Pharoah Tutankhamun or, as he is better known, King Tut. The Luxor Temple stands tall and proud in the city of Thebes on the East bank of the Nile River. As with most temples, it was dedicated to a deity or deities. In this case, the temple was built in the honor of three deities: Mut, who was seen as the Mother Goddess of Thebes, Khonsu, who was the God of the Moon, and Amun, who was the God of the Air and in Thebes was adopted as King of the Gods. These three deities formed a triad for the people of Thebes and so were deserving of their own temple.
In the modern-day world, obelisks are a monument symbolizing death, commonly found in cemeteries. However, in ancient Egypt, the use of obelisks arose during the time when the Pharaohs were believed to be the human prophets of Ra, the Sun God. Therefore, the obelisks were a representation of their connection to Ra and showed honor to the powerful deity. The design of the obelisk is like the pyramids, a trademark of ancient Egyptian innovation. The peculiar pictures on the obelisk are known as hieroglyphics, which is Egyptian picture writing. Each picture means a different word or phrase. The question now becomes how did the Luxor Obelisk find its way to Paris?
This feat of engineering was a gift to the French from Mohammed-Ali. No, not the boxer, but the Viceroy of Egypt under the watch of the Ottoman Empire in 1833. The gift was an attempt to signify an alliance between Egypt and France when he turned on the Ottoman Empire. From Egypt, it traveled on ship that was created specially just for this important task. Jean-Baptiste Lebas was the one who erected it 1836 in one of the most prominent locations in Paris, the Place de la Concorde.
After it was constructed, the excitement burned out which is par for the course. The Obelisk then became a natural part of the Parisian landscape until attention was called to it once during the 1848 revolution. After that, three writers chose to include the Luxor Obelisk in their work. Victor Hugo is the most famous of the three mentioning it in a poem where he looks back upon the years of the 1848 Republics. The translation is as follows: “Who therefore put you here, in a day of irony, Near the august stone where the genius Of vanished times and ancient peoples lives again. Who therefore leans you, oh fragile statue, Against the obelisk imprinted with the finger of Sesostris? What are you doing, at a time when the fall Specter of plaster at the foot of the granite giant?” Thus, the Luxor Obelisk has stayed in Paris since it arrived in 1833, attracting tourists from around the world and adding to the extensive history and cultural experiences of the city. So, if you are ever in Paris, grab a baguette, or cheese and wine, take in the view at Place de la Concorde, and visit the Luxor Obelisk.
All information is provided by the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, Nichola A. Haxell’s 19th Century French Studies vol. 1, Wellesley College, Britannica, and Ancient Egypt Online.