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OBELISKS - A Short History

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Author Topic: OBELISKS - A Short History  (Read 5835 times)
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« on: October 16, 2007, 08:02:04 pm »



                                             Characteristics of an Obelisk.

OF all the monuments of Egypt the most striking and the most characteristic are the Obelisk and the Pyramid; both of them solar emblems: the one significant of the rising, and the other of the setting sun; and both alike dating from that pre-historic period of civilization which was in perfection ere the Father of the Faithful had descended from Ur of the Chaldees, or the Turanian races of India were oppressed by their Aryan brethren.

For so long a succession of centuries has the Obelisk been admired and copied in the various cities of Africa, Asia, and Europe; Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome, that the original peculiarities of the structure itself have been occasionally lost sight of: and any single vertical monument that could not be exactly described as a column, has been set down as in obelisk. Hence there is still in popular acceptance some inaccuracy as to the exact form that an obelisk should assume: and it becomes necessary at once to define what an obelisk is, and what it is not as to external form, before we proceed to examine the intention of its symbolism.

An obelisk, or tekhen, to give it its Egyptian name, then, is a monument composed of a single quadrangular upright stone, having its four faces inclined towards each other; and in section, all its angles, right angles, and all its sides parallel to each other; its height is not less than that of ten diameters, taken at the base; and its apex is abruptly terminated by a small pyramidion, whose faces are inclined at about an angle of sixty degrees. The obelisk is generally supported upon a quadrangular base, the height of which is approximately that of a cube and a half, and which is also, like the obelisk, composed of a single stone, this base is further supported by two broad and deep steps. It is not necessary that the four sides of either obelisk or base have in section the same width, provided that each opposite side is exactly equal; but it is necessary that all the lines of the monument be right lines; and that it should have no more than four sides. A polygonal, or a cylindrical monolith is not an obelisk; on the other hand, obelisks may be either inscribed or uninscribed; but the ornamentation is never in relief, other than the low sunken relief used in Egyptian artĄ and known as incavo relievo; and the inscription is always vertical with the lines of the monument, and not horizontal.    It must be added, also, that entasis, that slight curvature of all long lines, which is so marked a feature in classic architecture, is wholly foreign to the design of an obelisk in the best period of Pharaohnic art.*

* The faces of the Flaminian obelisk as drawn by Bonomi are not equal: see Tomlinson on "The Flaminian Obelisk," Tram. Roy. Soc. Lit., Vol. 1,1 p. 176. New Series.  The obelisks of Luxor, of which the one now at Paris is an example, have certainly a convexity or entasis on the inner faces only; that is an exception to the general rule.

The dimensions of obelisks vary greatly: those of the earlier period being generally the largest, and the simplest in execution. The loftiest now in existence is that which adorns the court of the church of St. John Lateran, at Rome,** where it stands a monu-ment, first of the majesty of Thothmes III., by whom it was designed; afterwards of the power of Constan-tine the Great, who removed it sixteen hundred years later from Heliopolis to Alexandria; and lastly of his successor Constantius who re-erected it in the Circus Maximus of Imperial Rome.

** In this I follow the measurements given by Bonomi, the best writer on the subject of obelisks. Pierret however cites the obelisk of Hatasu at Karnak as being the loftiest known: it being 33 metres high; while that of Sat. John Lateran is, according to the same authority, 32 only.

The smallest obelisks are the beautiful red granite couple which are now in the Egyptian saloon of the Florentine Museum, and which are respectively seven feet, and five feet ten inches in height: The mutilated and summitless  fragments in the British Museum, though now eight feet high, were indisputably loftier when terminated by their original apexes.

The material of which the obelisk was composed was generally a granite, or hard sandstone, capable of being well cut and of taking a high polish. For symbolical reasons which will be hereafter described, the red granite of Syene was chiefly employed: twenty seven out of the forty-two obelisks now known to exist being wrought in that imperishable material; the pyramidion at the summit was, when its faces were not sculptured with votive vignettes, covered with a cap of either bronze or gold: the obelisks of Hatasu at Karnak being completed in the hieroglyphic texts as thus completed in that costly metal, while the bronze cap of the obelisk at Heliopolis remained entire till the middle ages, having reached the notice of the eminent physician and historian Abd-el-lateef who flourished circa I300. No obelisks however nowremain thus completed, the avarice of poverty or the rapacity of war having stripped from these, as well as the other monuments of Egypt, every fragment of exposed metal either to furnish gold for the extortions of the Turkish governors, or swords or guns for the defence, more often the destruction, of the Fellaheen.
« Last Edit: October 17, 2007, 08:22:31 am by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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