Famous Ancient Egyptian Obelisks

An obelisk, meaning a pointed pillar, is a narrow, tall, and four-sided structure originally constructed by Ancient Egyptians who called it tekhenu. The term obelisk comes from the Greek word obeliskos. 1700 years ago the Romans shipped out most of these ancient obelisks from Egypt and dismantled them for sending out to different locations. Here are some of the famous ancient Egyptian obelisks that still stand.

Obelisk of Axum in Ethiopia

Built during the 4th century, the Obelisk of Axum had stood in its original place for over 1000 years until the Italian troops took it to Rome as a booty of war. In 2008, the obelisk was returned to Ethiopia.

Famous Obelisks- Obelisk of Axum

Vatican Obelisk

Dating from the 13th century BC, the Vatican Obelisk is the only one that has been standing in Rome since the Roman period. In 37 AD, Gaius Caligula brought the red granite obelisk to Rome, and it was the biggest non-inscribed obelisk to ever leave Egypt. Its first location was the spina of the Circus of Nero. Then the engineer-architect Domenico Fontana relocated the obelisk to its current place in 1586.

Vatican Obelisk

Luxor Obelisk in Paris

Luxor Obelisk, constructed around 1250 BC by Ramses II, was one of the two obelisks on each side of the Luxor Temple entrance. While the eastern obelisk is still in its original place, the Luxor Obelisk has been at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, since the 1830s.

Luxor Obelisk
Famous Obelisks- Luxor Obelisk

Flaminio Obelisk in Rome

Measuring 24 meters high, Flaminio Obelisk dates from around the 14th century BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II. It was transported to Rome in 1589 and erected in Piazza Montecitorio. The red granite structure was once a part of the Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis, Egypt.

Famous Obelisks- Flaminio Obelisk in Rome
Flaminio Obelisk in Rome
Flaminio Obelisk in Rome

Heliopolis Obelisk in Cairo, Egypt

Estimated to date from around 1950 BC, the Heliopolis Obelisk was constructed at Heliopolis near the Temple of Ra.

Heliopolis Obelisk

Lateran Obelisk in Rome

The Lateran Obelisk was the highest in Egypt at the time of its construction in Karnak during the 15th century BC. It is also the largest-standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world. In the early 4th century AD, Emperor Constantinus II brought the structure to Alexandria and then shipped it to Rome to be erected next to the Flaminio Obelisk in the Circus Maximus. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, both obelisks were buried under mud over time and remained so until the 1580s. Today, it stands near the Lateran Palace.


Cleopatra’s Needle in New York

Cleopatra’s Needle, transferred from the Caesareum of Alexandria in the 19th century, is one of two obelisks in NYC. Ramses II added inscriptions on its surface 200 years after its construction around 1475 BC.

Cleopatra’s Needle

Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, Egypt

Unfinished Obelisk

Obelisk of Theodosius in Istanbul, Turkey

Pharaoh Thutmose III had the Obelisk of Theodosius built at the Temple of Karnak during the 15th century BC. Later, the Roman emperor Constantius II had it transported to Alexandria in the 4th century. In 390, Emperor Theodosius I  moved it to Constantinople and erected it on the spina of the Hippodrome (present-day Sultanahmet Meydanı).

Famous Obelisks- Obelisk of Theodosius
Famous Obelisks- Obelisk of Theodosius