The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 24 The Thames Embankment, Westminster to St Paul's

Cleopatra's Needle

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On the landward side of the gardens are the Adelphi Terrace, the Hotel Cecil, the Savoy Hotel, and the office of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, a building in an Italian style, of red brick with limestone facings. On the river side of the Embankment, opposite the middle of the gardens, rises Cleopatra's Needle, a monolith of pink granite (now almost black through exposure), 68+ feet in height and 180 tons in weight, erected here in 1878. The obelisk, which has no connection with Cleopatra, was one of two erected at Heliopolis by Thothmes or Thutmosis III., a sovereign of the 18th Dynasty (circa 1500 B.C.), and dedicated to Tum of Heliopolis. About two centuries later they were usurped by Rameses the Great, who added his own inscriptions, and in 12 B.C. they were taken to Alexandria. This one was presented to the British nation by Mohammed Ali in 1819, but no steps were taken for many years to remove it. Eventually Sir Erasmus Wilson had it encased in an iron cylinder and transported at his own expense in the obelisk-ship 'Cleopatra.' After being abandoned during a storm in the Bay of Biscay, it was finally recovered and brought to London. The inscriptions on the grey granite pedestal (18 feet 8 inches high) relate its history. The bronze sphinxes at its base, scarred by a bomb on September 4th, 1917, were designed by G. Vulliamy. The companion obelisk is now in Central Park, New York.