Oddities from the world of stones: obelisks have always been challenges for stone sculptors, engineers, and storytellers

Obelisks from Lapicida’s “Ornamenti“ collection.

The British company Lapicida has now included scaled-down versions in its collections

Obelisks are a part of the “Ornamenti“ collection of the British company Lapicida. Other objects from the series include fountains, garden benches, planters, sundials or things entirely according to the customer’s wishes. The obelisks are available in Vicenza limestone with a height of 2 m and a width of 39.5 cm for placement in the garden or with a height of 2.5 m and a width of 49.5 cm as objects for the landscape. Lapicida writes about it: “The clean lines of the obelisk make it a highly versatile structure that works equally well as a centrepiece in a garden, boldly flanking either side of an entryway, placed amongst foliage as a subtle point of interest or as a grand focal point in larger garden landscapes.“

Elephant Obelisk from Lapicida.

In the offer the company also has a copy of the famous Elephant Obelisk in the Piazza Della Minerva in Rome as a limestone copy with 3 m height and 48 cm width. It was designed by none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini and erected in 1667 next to the Pantheon and the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In the original, it is made of rose granite and, at 5.47 m high, is the smallest of the obelisks in Rome. Since there were warnings that the elephant would not be able to support the mass of the stone pillar above, the sculptor who made it, Ercola Ferrata, left a pedestal under the belly of the animal and hid it under a blanket.

Lapicida Ornamenti

The novelty at Lapicida was the reason for us to have a worldwide look for such objects.

Rome is probably the city with the most specimens. Famous is the obelisk on St. Peter’s Square, one of the most beautiful is the one on Piazza del Popolo. Some webpages have compilations, we recommend Wikipedia.

Mussolini Obelisk in fascist style at the Piazza Lauro De Bosis in Rome. Source: Nicholas Gemini / <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/"target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>, <a href=" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license"target="_blank">Creative Commons License</a> There in the German edition at the end of the long enumeration also the Mussolini obelisk in fascist monumental style from about 300 t Carrara marble is shown.

Throughout the ages, the huge needles weighing hundreds of tons posed special challenges.

Presumably, they were hewn out of the rock with chunks of dolerite. Numerous hand-sized pieces of this extremely hard material have been found in quarries in Egypt.

Unfinished obelisk, Aswan. Source: Glenn Ashton (20029) / <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/"target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>, <a href=" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license"target="_blank">Creative Commons License</a> How the extraction proceeded is known because some failed pieces have been preserved. For example, that famous Unfinished obelisk of Aswan: it was detached from the rock by the workers driving two parallel trenches vertically into the subsoil. To separate it from the subsoil, they drove wooden wedges into prepared crevices. These were soaked with water and left to freeze at night. Then the engineers lifted the stone pillar centimeter by centimeter.

Transporting the pieces was always a special challenge for the pioneers of the military.

It was considered the same in the 19th century, when the French Navy had to get two obelisks from Luxor in Egypt to Paris. Each of the pillars is 25 m high, made of one piece of granite and weighs 230 tons. Muhammad Ali Pasha, the representative of the Ottoman Empire on the Nile, had given them to the French king.
The erection of the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde 1836, painting by François Dubois. Source: Musée Carnavalet / <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/"target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>, <a href=" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license"target="_blank">Creative Commons License</a>
The story is worth reading, here are just a few key words:
* from Toulon an overlong three-master set out for Luxor. There, one of the huge piers was stabilized with beams and boards and moved. The transport over the only 400 m to the Nile took one and a half month;
* this was followed by a month-long waiting period because the river had too little water;
* after one year the departure to France began. From Alexandria, a paddle steamer pulled the convoy to Le Havre, from where the ship was towed up the Seine. There were endless debates in Paris about the location until the king decided on the Place de la Concorde;
* then a disaster: at the foot of the obelisk there were depictions of monkeys copulating. A pedestal 8 m high had to solve the problem;
* on October 25, 1836, the king and some 200,000 onlookers watched as the obelisk returned to its upright position.

Post column in Germany, informing about the rulers and the distances to the next cities.The pointed pillars were always popular in smaller formats as well, for example as a standard shape for post columns.

Washington Monument, the highest stone building in the world, and the reflecting pool. Photo: MIAA famous variant in monumental format is the Washington Monument on the Mall in the capital of the USA. However: it is not solid but consists of slabs of white marble on a steel structure.

Oh, and the second obelisk from Luxor? It was never shipped. In 1981, French President Mitterrand returned the gift to Egypt without France ever having received it.

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