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What is an Obelisk?

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An obelisk is a tall four-sided column, often made from a single block of stone. An obelisk narrows gradually to a pyramidal top. The earliest obelisks were short rectangular structures that were used as grave­stones and as garden monuments. Later examples were taller and tapered more sharply toward the peak.

Well-known examples are the obelisks in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France, in the Piazza, of St. Peter's in Rome, Italy, and Cleopatra's Needles, either of a pair of Egyptian obelisks, now in London and New York City. (See also cleopatra's needle.) Monu­ments in the United States that are in the form of obelisks include the Washington Monument in Wash­ington, D.C., and the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, Mass. Obelisks originated in Egypt during the Old Kingdom (about 2700-2200 B.C.).

Dedicated to the sun-god and symbolizing a single ray of the rising sun, they bore hieroglyphic inscriptions that recorded the titles and achievements of the pharaohs. The larger Egyptian obelisks were made from slabs of red granite and were placed at temple entrances. Of the many obelisks erected in Heliopolis, the ancient Egyptian city of sun worship, only that of Senusret I (1971-1928 B.C.) remains.

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