Incredible 3,500 year old monument on the banks of the River Thames named London’s oldest standing structure


London is a city steeped in history, with ruins, buildings, monuments and artefacts dating from different periods.

The city was founded by the Romans in AD 43 and has since been ruled by many royal houses, including the Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Tudors, and Stuarts. The parts of Essex which were later incorporated into London were also ruled by the Danes.

But what many Londoners don’t realize is that there is a monument on the banks of the Thames that is older than London itself. Try about 1,500 more years.

Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment of the Thames

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In fact, it’s so old that it even predates the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, meaning it was built long before England even became English.

Plus, London’s oldest monument wasn’t even built in Britain. Rather, he was transported to London from Egypt.

Of course, we are talking about none other than Cleopatra’s Needle.

Located on the Victoria Embankment near the Golden Jubilee Bridges in the City of Westminster, the 68-foot obelisk was built in ancient Egypt around 1450 BC.

History buffs and ancient Egypt enthusiasts will tell you that it was during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, of the 18th Dynasty.

Some 200 years after the obelisk was made, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II decorated it with hieroglyphics marking his successful military campaigns.

Despite its name, the obelisk was built over a thousand years before the time of the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII.

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However, Cleopatra is said to have moved the obelisk to her city of Alexandria from where it was originally erected in Heliopolis.

The obelisk was believed to have been included in the design of a new temple that Cleopatra was building in Alexandria, but it didn’t actually arrive in the city until 15 years after her death.

Instead, the obelisk was scrapped and remained buried in the sands of the Egyptian desert until 1819, when the then Egyptian ruler, Muhammad Ali Pasha, gifted it to Britain. as a gift.

The gift was meant to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and Sir Ralph Abercromby’s victory at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.

But it took Britain almost 60 years to organize the collection and delivery of the gift to the UK.

As transporting the obelisk proved too costly and logistically impossible, Britain initially had to decline the offer.

Britain thought twice about bringing the obelisk to London in 1851, to mark the Great Exhibition, and then again in 1867, after a Greek merchant who had brought the land on which the obelisk stood threatened to destroy it.

In either case, Great Britain was unable to pay the delivery charges.

The benches around the Aiguille de Cleopatra have been specially designed with sphinxes

But by 1877, the public was finally tired of waiting for the government to pay the costs, so they raised a total of £ 15,000 to transport the 200-ton wonder. Surgeon and dermatologist Sir William Erasmus Wilson alone covered £ 10,000 of the expenses.

Due to the size and weight of the obelisk, transporting it to London was not going to be an easy task.

The obelisk was to be enclosed in an iron cylinder 93 feet long and 15 feet wide, resembling a giant cigar, then rolled out of the land using levers and chains into the Mediterranean Sea.

The cylinder was then equipped with a deckhouse, a mast, a rudder and a steering gear, transforming it into a makeshift machine called “Cleopatra”.

The Cleopatra was piloted by a crew of Maltese sailors commanded by Henry Carter and attached to a steamboat called Olga, which would tow the obelisk to Britain under the command of Captain Booth.

Departing from Egypt on September 21, 1877, it took three full months for the obelisk to arrive in Gravesend on January 21, 1878.

The obelisk was donated to Great Britain by the Ottoman ruler of Egypt in 1819

However, it was far from simple for the historic monument. On October 14, 1877, the Olga and the Cleopatra were caught in a storm off the Bay of Biscay, off the west coast of France.

With the Cleopatra in danger of sinking, six of the Olga’s crew attempted to save the sailors aboard the Cleopatra from drowning.

Sadly, the potential heroes themselves perished in their rescue attempt when their lifeboat filled with water. Their names were William Askin, Michael Burns, James Gardiner, William Donald, Joseph Benton, and William Patan.

The entire crew aboard the Cleopatra were eventually rescued, but the rope towing the Cleopatra had to be cut, leaving the ship and obelisk adrift at sea.

This was a dreadful result for those who had paid so much money for the obelisk to be brought to London, but luckily the Cleopatra did not sink.

The ship was spotted five days later floating off the Spanish port of Ferrol.

The Cleopatra was recovered and eventually brought to Britain, but even after arriving, the obelisk waited in the ship for another six months while planners debated what to do with it.

A possible site in Parliament Square has been rejected, while District Railway officials have warned that erecting the obelisk in Embankment Gardens would pose a risk to trains running below.

The public also laughed at it, with a headline claiming that it “inevitably evoked a factory chimney”.

Finally, the site where it is currently located has been identified. The obelisk was removed from Cleopatra and the ship was then scrapped for its metal.

Two bronze sphinxes decorated with hieroglyphics that read ‘netjer nefer men-kheper-re di ankh ‘, which translates to’ the good god Thutmose III gave life ‘, were later designed by George John Vulliamy and placed next to the obelisk in 1881.

The sphinxes were originally turned outward, as if they seemed to guard the obelisk, but due to a mistake by a contractor, they were later turned inward to face it.

The sphinxes are actually in the wrong way because of a mistake by a contractor

A plaque on the pedestal of the obelisk reads: “This obelisk prostrated for centuries on the sands of Alexandria was presented to the British nation in 1819 by Mahommed Ali Viceroy of Egypt.

A worthy memorial to our distinguished compatriots Nelson and Abercromby ”.

Another plaque displays the names of the crew members who died transporting the obelisk to London, commemorating them for their efforts to save their fellow sailors.

Buried under the obelisk is a time capsule which contains items considered to be symbolic of British culture and heritage, including a men’s salon suit, a selection of illustrated newspapers including today’s issue of The Times, The Bradshaw’s Railway Guidebook, Queen Victoria’s portrait, a set of ladies’ clothing and toiletries, bibles, children’s toys, a set of coins, a razor and ‘pictures of the most beautiful women in the kingdom’.

Fortunately, Cleopatr’as Needle survived the bombardments of the World Wars, despite the sphinxes, their bases, and the obelisk pedestal marked in a German air raid in September 1917.

143 years and older, this 3,500-year-old monument continues to stand proud and strong amidst London’s ever-changing landscape.

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