An obelisk was a tall square column with a sharp pyramid on top, called a pyramidion. They were constructed from one piece of stone and weighed as much as 1,000 tons. It's amazing that the Egyptians not only managed to cut them but transported them from the quarry on huge barges and then raised them outside temples.


Obelisks were placed in pairs in front of temple pylons (enormous gateways). No pair exists now, however - they are all single obelisks. One stands outside Luxor Temple, the other having been given to the French in 1819 (it is now in La Pace de la Concorde in Paris).


Obelisks were dedicated to a god. Those in Karnak and Luxor Temples are for Amun. They also bear the names of the pharaoh who dedicated them. The one outside Luxor Temple belongs to Ramses II. In Karnak there are obelisks of Thutmose I and Hatshepsut (see right).


Originally obelisks were built for the sun god Re, and the pyramidion was covered in gold to reflect the sun's rays.


Cleopatra's Needle is a famous obelisk standing on the banks of the Thames in London. It is nothing to do with Cleopatra, however - it is one of Thutmose III's, and his name can clearly be seen inscribed on it. There are two similar Cleopatra's Needles in Paris and New York.


When the Romans conquered Egypt they took many of the obelisks to Rome, so that now there are actually more obelisks in Rome than in all of Egypt.


For more on Hatshepsut's obelisk click here.


Thutmose I and Hatshepsut's obelisks in Karnak Temple.