Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cleopatra's Needle, London

When in London in 2011 we were surprised to encounter two large sphinx on the Thames embankment.
The sphinx are either side of an Egyptian obelisk, part of which is shown in the photo below. The models of the sphinx, designed by George Vulliamy and modelled by C. H. Mabey, were added to the site in 1882. Unfortunately they are facing the wrong way - they should be guarding the obelisk, facing away from it.
The obelisk dates back to around 1450 BC and was originally erected at Heliopolis in Egypt on the orders of Thutmose III. It was one of three known structures erected at this time. It is known under the name of Cleopatra's Needle but has no connection with that Queen of Egypt. One of the plaques on base of the monument reads:
The obelisk was presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 by Muhammad Ali, ruler of Egypt and Sudan, in commemoration of Lord Nelson's victory against the French Navy at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798 and the victory of Sir Ralph Abercromby's troops against the French at the Battle of Alexandria in  March 1801.

It was not until 1877 that attempts were made to transport the obelisk to London. It was encased in an iron capsule named the Cleopatra and towed to England. All went well until a storm in the Bay of Biscay when it was thought that the capsule had been lost. However it survived and was towed to England by a second ship. The obelisk was erected on the bank of the Thames on 12 September 1878.

During the First World War on the night of the 4th of November German bombers dropped bombs on London. One of the bombs landed near the obelisk. Shrapnel from the bomb damaged the plinth of the obelisk and also one of the sphinx. The damage on these monuments remains as a memory of that raid. The blog, Great War London, provides information about the German raid and damage that occurred.
The Imperial War Museum has a photo of the sphinx after the air raid showing the damage not only to the monument but also more serious damage close by.

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