Heliopolis Obelisk

Heliopolis Obelisk is in the park of Cairo's residential area.

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Heliopolis Obelisk

Location:  Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt
Pharaoh:  Sesostris I (Kheperkare Senusret I, Senwosret I) (The 12th Dynasty, reigned ca.1972-1928 B.C.)
Height:  20.4 meters (Other sources say 20.5 meters, 20.75 meters, 64 feet, 67 feet)
Weight:  121 tones (Other source says 120 tons)
Stone:  Red granite

Story: This is the oldest surviving obelisk (built in 20 century B.C.), within all the existing 30+ standing obelisks worldwide.

Heliopolis was once the seat of worship of the sun god, Ra (Re), and The Great Temple of Re was built in this city. Therefore, although it was a capital city [of the 15th nome (province) of Lower Egypt], but it was important as a religious rather than a political center. The Great Temple of Ra in Heliopolis was the second in size only to the Karnak Great Temple of Amon, and its priesthood wielded great influence, particularly during the 5th dynasty [of the Old Kingdom, 24th Century B.C.], when the worship of Ra become the state cult.

Provenance: Pharaoh Sesostris I seems to have erected two obelisks in front of the Temple at Heliopolis which was built by Sehetepibre Amenemhat I, ex pharaoh. (Other source says the Temple was built by Sesostris I himself.) An inscription on it says, "The first occasion of Sed Festival, he made [it] to be given life forever." The Sed Festival (or Heb-Sed Festival, which renews the power of the kingship) was traditionally given in the 30th year of a pharaoh's reign, so scholars believe Sesostris I would have erected this obelisk in ca.1942 B.C., because he became the pharaoh in ca.1972 B.C.

The first mention of these obelisks in the historical literature may come from a chapter of Isaiah by St. Epheaim [4th century A.D.], who wrote that in Heliopolis "there are two great columns, which excite admiration... They are 60 cubits (Note) tall, and on the 10 cubit pedestal. On these columns are depicted figures of the men and animals which were shown by their priestly character to contain the mysteries of paganism."  (Note) One royal cubit = 1.72 feet / 46-56 cm

Abdel Rafty, an Arab physician, recorded his travels around in late 12 century. It says, "One is fallen in 2 pieces, and one is still standing, but it is stained by copper green from the pyramidian at its apex due to rain. It shows the elapsed time." The historian assumes that it have toppled sometime in the 12th century A.D., probably in 1158. The obelisk was probably toppled intentionally as the local people doubted if the treasure may be hidden at its apex, according to British historian E. A. Wallis Budge. (Source: "The Cleopatra's Needles and Other Egyptian Obelisks", 1926 The Religious Tract Society)

Present State: Neither the Temple nor the fallen obelisk exist at present. They were probably plundered and used for the parts of another architecture. One obelisk remained standing alone in the open area in the residential region of Cairo. A small park has recently been arranged around the obelisk, and is illuminated at night. Admission fee is necessary for seeing the obelisk.

How To Get There: But almost no ruins remain around there, and Heliopolis is currently a residential area which is a part of City of Cairo. It is about 15 km northeast from the downrown Cairo. The obelisk is at Midan El-Massala of Heliopolis(#1 in the map below). Take the Metro Line 1 Northern Branch (for El-Marg), and get off at El-Matareyya Station (#2 in the map below). Proceed the front street from the Station, then turn right at the broad street. Walk along the street, and then you can see the top of the Obelisk.

This "Heliopolis obelisk" is here at Midan El-Massala of Heliopolis.
El-Matareyya Station of Metro Line 1 Northern Branch.
Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square). [Sadat Station of Metro]
Midan Ramses (Ramses Square) and Mahattat Ramses (Ramses Station, Central Railway Station of Cairo). [Mubarak Station of Metro]
Cairo International Airport is around here. The 3rd Terminal (TB3) which was newly opened in 2009 is this point.
In the airport field, there is an another obelisk, "Cairo Airport Obelisk".
Here is an another obelisk, "Gezira Island Obelisk".

Inshort, there are three obelisks in the vicinity of Cairo.

Back to the list for all the obelisks.

The series of these pages were produced by

Shoji Okamoto (Mr.)
E-mail: shoji_okamoto31@yahoo.co.jp

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