Paris Monuments: Paris Obelisk, Place de la Concorde


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Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2000

Paris tour guides might ask you this trick question. What is the oldest monument in Paris? The answer is deceptive in some ways because the 3,300 year old Luxor Obelisk only arrived in France in 1833. Nevertheless, it is the ‘oldest monument’ in Paris in terms of antiquity.

For years I was under the false impression that this was just another example of antiquity being ‘ripped off’ by Napoleon during his expeditions in Egypt, but in fact, at least technically speaking, the Luxor Obelisk (whose mate remains in Luxor) celebrating the reign of Ramses II, was given to Charles X of France by the Viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali. By the time the obelisk reached Paris, Charles X had abdicated. On October 25, 1836, Louis Philippe (the gentleman king) inaugurated the Obelisk at Place de la Concorde (where once the guillotine had stood).

If you’re interested in learning more about the Luxor obelisk, be sure to check out
Sokamoto’s site . He writes a nice summary of the obelisk’s history both before and after it arrived in Paris.

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I like the fact that Sokamoto mentions that Empress Josephine had actually requested Napoleon to bring back an obelisk for her. Did he get confused and end up with Odalisque instead? Who knows?
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We can thank Napoleon for firing European imagination when it came to Eyptology and one wonders if French soldiers had not uncovered the Rosetta Stone, if Champollion had not broken the code of the hieroglyphics, how much of Egyptian early history would be available to us in 21st century? When we think of our roots, Westerners will continue to turn to eastward.

You’ll note on this photo the gold tipped embellishment which cost President Chirac and the French people app 250,000 Euros to bring the obelisk back to its original sheen. It doesn’t cost anything to visit the obelisk, but you should be EXTREMELY CAREFUL crossing the street at the Place de la Concorde traffic circle.

At the base of the monument, you can look at the pictorial details of the obelisk’s transfer from Egypt to France.
London and New York also have obelisks.