Cleopatra's Needle by MKR

Though often referred to by its nickname, Cleopatra's Needle, this ancient artifact was in fact commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmosis III around 1450 BC in celebration of his 3rd jubilee (or the 30th year of his reign). Two of these obelisks were constructed, and, around 13 or 12BC, they were transported from Heliopolis to Alexandria. The pair was separated in the late 19th century; one was sent to London and another to New York City, both by the Khedive of Egypt in exchange for aid in modernizing his country.

The Obelisk's move to New York City was nothing short of arduous. Once in the City, it took laborers four months to simply move it from the Hudson River to Central Park where it now stands, located behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Obelisk is known as the oldest man-made construction in Central Park. Its shaft is 71 feet high and weighs about 200 tons. Each corner of the Obelisk's base is supported by huge, 900 pound bronze replicas of sea crabs originally created by the Romans while it was in Alexandria. Each year visitors come to marvel at this piece of history, officially designated a scenic landmark in 1974 by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

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The Obelisk was a gift from Egypt to Central Park in 1881.  Since then it has been the tallest structure and one of the most popular tourists sights in Central Park.  In 2011, the Egyptian government threated to take back the Obelisk due to neglect. It took three years of planning and $500,000, (an amount that was raised privately by the Central Park Conservancy), to remove 3500 years of grime. The deterioration of the obelisk had less to do with conditions in New York City than the fact that, at some point in its history, it had toppled over and lay in desert sands for 500 years.

After a year of renovation, which included using lasers to remove the dirt and grime, as well as glue, to fix sections that have become weak with age, the needle is open again for all to visit. The laser cleaning was not meant to bring the stone back to its pristine color, but to remove atmospheric deposition, along with damage that was done when it first arrived in Central Park.

The monument underwent a restoration that did as much harm as good back in the 1880's.  Workers coated the entire structure in paraffin, which did preserve the surface. But first they cleaned a little too aggressively, scraping off an estimated 700 pounds of granite. When the obelisk arrived in New York, it was exposed to cold for the first time, which did not help its condition.

Prior to this restoration, The Central Park Conservancy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, worked closely together.  The obelisk was extensively documented. Photographers from the Met created a detailed record of its condition, capturing every crack and crevice from the vantage of a boom lift.

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Aric Boyles

Aric Boyles is the President and Founder of CentralPark.com. He has worked in the Internet Communications field for over 15 years, ... read more ›