obelisk (ŏbˈəlĭsk) [key], slender four-sided tapering monument, usually hewn of a single great piece of stone, terminating in a pointed or pyramidal top. Among the ancient Egyptians these monoliths were commonly of red granite from Syene and were dedicated to the sun god. They were placed in pairs before the temples, one on either side of the portal. The greatest number erected in any one place was in Heliopolis, but eventually almost every temple entrance was flanked by a pair of them. Down each of the four faces, in most cases, ran a line of deeply incised hieroglyphs and representations, setting forth the names and titles of the Pharaoh. The cap, or pyramidion, was sometimes sheathed with copper or other metal. Obelisks of colossal size were first raised in the XII dynasty. Of those still standing in Egypt, one remains at Heliopolis and two at Al Karnak, one from the time of Thutmose I and one of Queen Hatshepsut which is estimated to be 97.5 ft (29.7 m) high. Many of the historic shafts have been carried from Egypt, notably one of the reign of Ramses II from Luxor, now in the Place de la Concorde, Paris, and Cleopatra's Needles in London and New York. Others are in Rome and Florence. In the United States two familiar structures of obelisk form (though not monoliths) are the Washington and the Bunker Hill monuments.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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