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The Unfinished Obelisk

Aswan in Egypt is known for its granite. The pyramids and numerous temples in Aswan (like Abu Simbel Temple, Kom Ombo Temple) and other parts of the country were built by the granite supplied from Aswan. The Unfinished Obelisk lying in the rock mountain of red granite offers insight into the procurement of these rocks and a very brief idea of their construction method. The Obelisk as it lies today is a 42m long monolith whose three sides can be seen. The structure is without any inscriptions and weighs 1,168 tons. It is the single heaviest obelisk in Egypt. The Northern Quarries are just 1.5 km (0.9 mi) from the main town.

The History

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The Unfinished Obelisk
The Obelisk is unfinished as, in the later stage of construction, the structure cited a flaw when breaking it free from its parent body. The creators in all their disappointment abandoned the structure which was not detached from the parent rock. As you enter the pit of the obelisk and watch the grand mammoth structure, your eyes stretch on the ancient pictographs of dolphins, flamingoes and ostriches that may have found a place in the structure.

Who Built It?

In those days’ craftsman carved monuments directly from the mother rock. Masons used round stone boulders to smoothen the jutting edges. These round boulders are seen lying scattered in the site of the Obelisk. It is believed that Hatshepsut, queen of king Tuthmosis II ordered the building of this monument almost 3,500 years ago. She wanted the obelisk to be placed in front of the Karnak Temple in Luxor. King Thutmose III tried to restore the obelisk without success.

The Engineering

The technique that astounds us today is how in ancient Egypt these huge rock pieces were parted from the bedrock. Large perforations were made in the rock and they were filled with wet wood that fitted inside the holes. The sundried wood was repeatedly soaked with water. The wet wood expanded and caused the carved rock to detach itself from the parent rock. This approach was borrowed from the Romans. Another way of carving furrow was by using traditional abrasives which were heated with charcoal and then cooled in water. This difference in temperature made the stones crack.

The Obelisk also throws light of the soft metal tools that were used in stone cutting and polishing. The tools were found from the deserted structure. The impressive technologies and the great feats in architecture are truly awe-inspiring. Egypt has more than 20 obelisks all over the country and this unfinished and the most ambitious venture could not be erected due to a last-minute flaw.

There are a vast number of obelisks found in many European countries like Istanbul, London, Paris and Rome where the obelisks may have been carried from Egypt when their armies conquered the Nile Valley.

Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan
Unfinished Obelisk Made in Rock

Why were Obelisks Important?

Obelisks were usually positioned in front of temples. This was distinctive in Egyptian temples. Temples were considered important structures since the Middle Ages in most of Rome and Egypt. The first obelisk was found in the city of Ain Shams. The stone of Bib-Bin on the summit of the rising sun had a pointed stone triangle top. In the fifth dynasty, the obelisk was included as a temple part appearing at the entrance. The name of the king was inscribed on the base. The structure narrowed as it reached the summit, forming a pointed top much like the pyramids. The top was touched with gold to reflect the sun’s rays and create a pious feeling for worshippers.

Tourists Interest

Tourists are now welcome to walk on large wooden ramps and stairs that lead to the Unfinished Obelisk. Several levels have been created in the quarry for tourists as viewing platforms. It is like an open museum that re-lives the trajectory of the ancient past. The rock used in the Obelisk was taken from the southern part of Aswan. This huge obelisk is called the ‘Lateran Obelisk’ by historians today.

The trench where the grand yet fallen obelisk lies is 2.5 m (8 ft.) deep and was discovered by the Supreme Council of Antiquities. They found that the canal linked the quarry with the Nile River. Even the base of the obelisk was not freed from the bedrock.

The Unfinished Obelisk is evidence of the great work that bore possibilities of being another monumental structure. Though there is little to see, the rock lying in unglorified dejection is worth a visit. Take care in the peak summer season. Carry your water and wear sunscreen. Don’t forget your hats.

Details on the Unfinished Obelisk

• Entry fee: 80 EGP; 50 EGP for foreign students
• Time: 7:00 AM-4:00 PM
• Recommended Sightseeing Time: 1 hour

How to Reach

6 Min (1.7 km - 1 mile) by taxi from Aswan Governate;
You can walk via Dr Abd Al Rady Hanafe', which takes 19 min and 21 min (1.7 km) via El-Shaheed Abd El-Fattah Hassanein;
Microbus: LE20-LE25
Service Taxis do not come to this site.

Hotels near the Unfinished Obelisk:

• Marhaba Palace Hotel
• Sofitel Old Cataract Aswan Hotel
• Helnan Aswan Hotel