The obelisk is one of those objects almost exclusively identified with Egypt. Over time, the Egyptian obelisk developed into a tall, four-sided tapering shaft surmounted by a pyrimidion.


By the New Kingdom, obelisks were often erected in pairs before temple pylons and as important "gifts" to the gods they were often inscribed with tales of victory in warfare, important events and builder's piety. In order to maximise the importance and grandeur of an obelisk, the donor would often cover the pyrimidion (or  even some of the shaft) in electrum (an alloy of gold and silver). Standing high above the rest of the temple, the obelisks would be the first and lasts parts of the structure to catch the sun's rays.

The inscription on the Obelisk of Hatshepsut at Karnak reads:

O you people who see this monument down the years and speak of that which I have caused to be made, beware for fear that you say “I do not know why it was done”. I did this because I wished to make my gifts for my father Amun, and to gild them with electrum.  

Created from single blocks of granite, obelisks could weigh hundreds of tons and the largest obelisk attempted (the so-called Unfinished Obelisk) would have weighed 1,162 tons and reached 126 feet. Most obelisks were quarried from Aswan and then transported by boat to their final destination. However, there continues to be much debate as to how they were raised to their standing position.

Obelisks were considered legitimate prizes for invaders and allies alike, and of the many hundreds that must have stood at one time, only four standing obelisks remain in Egypt (21 have been transported and erected outside Egypt).