History fact, it happened on October 25 in Paris: the Luxor Obelisk is re-erected at the Place de la Concorde

Published by Manon C. · Updated on 28 October 2021 at 15h10 · Published on 7 October 2021 at 15h09
On October 25, 1836, the Luxor Obelisk is re-erected at the center of the Place de la Concorde as ordered by King Louis-Philippe. Gifted to France by the vice-king of Egypt as a token of their good relationship, the monolith makes it to Paris in 1833 after an incredible journey on the sea.

On Tuesday October 25, 1836, the Luxor Obelisk is re-erected at the center of the place de la Concorde as initiated by King Louis-Philippe, in front of over 200,000 Parisians crowded on the square, the neighboring terraces and down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Gifted to France in 1830 by Muhammad Ali Pasha – vice-king of Egypt – as a token of their friendship, this 23-meter tall and 230-ton Egyptian gem is made of pink granite from Aswan and is 3,300-year-old and comes from the Luxor Temple. It somehow makes it to Paris in 1833 after a two-year journey on the sea.

Arrived in Egypt in August 1828, leading a French-Tuscan mission, French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion – to whom we owe the translation of the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta stone – is in awe with the pair of obelisks at the entrance of the Luxor Temple. On November 24, 1828, he writes: “A huge palace predated by two eighty-feet obelisks, made of one block of pink granite from Aswan, an exquisite piece of work accompanied by four colossuses of the same material and measuring about thirty feet high, because they are buried up to the chest. This is by Ramesses the Great”.

Eloquent, the Egyptologist manages to convince Muhammad Ali Pasha of donating to France these jewels erected during the reign of Ramesses II (circa 1250 BC). The vice king of Egypt – who was considering of gifting one of the two Alexandrian obelisks to France, the other being to the English – agrees. But now, the issue is to carry the two monoliths, each weighing over 200 tons.

Entrée Temple d'Amon à Louxor avec ses deux obélisques  (RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzeville)Entrée Temple d'Amon à Louxor avec ses deux obélisques  (RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzeville)Entrée Temple d'Amon à Louxor avec ses deux obélisques  (RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzeville)Entrée Temple d'Amon à Louxor avec ses deux obélisques  (RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzeville)

In 1829, Charles X – then King of France – tasks the Ministry of the Navy to come up with a way to make the obelisks arrive safe and sound. A ship – specifically built for this delicate mission and called the Luxor – is built and launched on July 26, 1830 in the port of Toulon. Forty-three-meter long and nine-meter wide, the Luxor must be able to sail the Nile, cross the Mediterranean Sea, coast the Atlantic Ocean before traveling to the Seine and under the bridges.

The 1830 Revolution – that sees Charles X be replaced by his cousin Louis-Philippe of Orleans – does not jeopardize the project and a few months later, on November 29, 1830, Egypt officially gifts France the two obelisks of Luxor as a token of their good relationship, and as a thank for Champollion’s work about the deciphering of hieroglyphs. The Luxor leaves the Port of Toulon on April 15, 1831 under the orders of Raymond de Verninac Saint-Maur, to bring first only one of the two obelisks.

Champollion is the one who decides which obelisk to take first, “the most western-like, the one on the right when entering the palace. […] The pyramidion has suffered a bit, it is true, but the whole body of this obelisk is intact, and of an admirable state, while the left obelisks, as I have convinced myself with scavenging, has a big break down the base”, the Egyptologist writes to justify his choice.

Vue de l'abattage de l'obélisque, dans Campagne du Luxor, Leon de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineVue de l'abattage de l'obélisque, dans Campagne du Luxor, Leon de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineVue de l'abattage de l'obélisque, dans Campagne du Luxor, Leon de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineVue de l'abattage de l'obélisque, dans Campagne du Luxor, Leon de Joannis, Musée national de la Marine

Then starts a journey beyond the sea that will last almost three years. Towed by the Sphinx, the Luxor makes it to Luxor on August 14, 1831 and gets as close to the temple as possible thanks to the digging of a 400-meter canal enabling to board the monolith on December 19, 1831. But the crew must wait for eight months on site and the rise of the Nile to be able to resume their journey on August 18th of the following year.

In October 1832, another sailing issue: stopped by sandbanks at the mouth of the Nile, the Luxor must wait util January 1, 1833 before being able to go off. Reaching Alexandria, the barge must wait until April 1, 1833 and the end of winter storms to resume the journey. Made it to Toulon in the night of May 10 to 11, 1833, the obelisk finally reaches Paris on December 23 of the same year, after being towed on the Mediterranean, traveling around Spain and sailing back the Seine from Rouen.

But once it made it to France, there is another problem coming up: the obelisk is covered in hieroglyphs telling the victories of Ramesses II, the original pedestal is adorned with sixteen baboons standing on their rear legs, showing their genitals. It is then judged indecent for the period of time and then decided to replace it with a more conventional pedestal, while the original base is added to the collections of the Louvre.

La corvette Sphinx remorquant la barge Louqsor au retour vers la France, L. de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineLa corvette Sphinx remorquant la barge Louqsor au retour vers la France, L. de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineLa corvette Sphinx remorquant la barge Louqsor au retour vers la France, L. de Joannis, Musée national de la MarineLa corvette Sphinx remorquant la barge Louqsor au retour vers la France, L. de Joannis, Musée national de la Marine

On Tuesday October 25, 1836, after years of waiting, the Luxor Obelisk is finally re-erected at the center of the place de la Concorde, between the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and the Tuileries Garden. Therefore, the erection of the obelisk at this very location puts an end to political polemics: at first, the royal square was built in tribute to Louis XV, the square then becomes a high place of insurrection during the French Revolution where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette have been guillotined, so have Charlotte Corday, Danton, Robespierre and many more.

In the early hours of October 25, 1836, about 200,000 Parisians are crowded on the square and the terraces around, all the way down to the Champs-Elysées. Engineer Apollinaire Lebas leads the perilous process of hoisting requiring machines, cables as well as a clever counterweight system. All along the operation, the engineer decides to stay under the obelisk to make sure he does not survive in the event of an accident and avoid disgrace. Fortunately for him, the process is a success and the obelisk is erected and stands still a few hours later.

Discreetly observing the erection of the obelisk from the hôtel de la Marine to easily escape in the event of a collapse and destruction of the monolith, king Louis-Philippe eventually makes an appearance at the balcony alongside the royal family and welcomes the ovation of the crowds for a while. Champollion – who dies in 1832 – never saw the achievement of his work.

Érection de l’Obélisque de Louxor le 25 octobre 1836 - Musée national de la MarineÉrection de l’Obélisque de Louxor le 25 octobre 1836 - Musée national de la MarineÉrection de l’Obélisque de Louxor le 25 octobre 1836 - Musée national de la MarineÉrection de l’Obélisque de Louxor le 25 octobre 1836 - Musée national de la Marine

Listed as historic monument in 1936, the oldest monument in Paris is capped since 1998 with a pyramidion made of bronze and gold leaves. The second obelisk has never been brought to Paris and finally given back to Egypt in 1981 by François Mitterrand who announced to definitively renounced to take it. For your information, in 1845, Louis-Philippe gifted a copper clock to Egypt as a thank. It now adorns the citadel of Cairo, but according to Cairo inhabitants, it has never properly worked as it might have been damaged during delivery.

Practical information

Location

Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris 8

More informations
Iconographies:
En-tête : Érection de l'obélisque de Louqsor sur la place de la Concorde, François Dubois, Musée Carnavalet
Entrée Temple d'Amon à Louxor avec ses deux obélisques, RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzeville
Vue de l'abattage de l'obélisque, dans Campagne du Luxor, Leon de Joannis, Musée national de la Marine
La corvette Sphinx remorquant la barge Louqsor au retour vers la France, L. de Joannis, Musée national de la Marine
Érection de l’Obélisque de Louxor le 25 octobre 1836, Musée national de la Marine

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