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The Unsolved Mystery Behind Paris's Oldest Monument
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The Unsolved Mystery Behind Paris's Oldest Monument

Picture of Jade Cuttle
Updated: 19 February 2018
It’s not just the tiny cobbled backstreets of Montmartre that are bursting with mystery in Paris. The Luxor Obelisk is a 3000 year old Egyptian monument that towers over the Place de la Concorde, an epic architectural masterpiece that escapes all logical explanations. The Luxor Obelisk is unmissable, towering 23 metres (75 ft) above the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The gorgeous gold-topped granite column is decorated with hieroglyphs exalting the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. It first arrived in Paris on 21 December 1833. The masterpiece has been classified as a historical monument since 1936, but its legacy actually goes back over an epic 3000 years.
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The Luxor Obelisk in Paris | © Dennis Jarvis / Wikicommons

Not everyone may realise this, but the Luxor Obelisk in Paris is one of a twin. While this tower has spent nearly two whole centuries in the French capital, it originally stood outside the famous Luxor Temple. The other half of the pair remains in Luxor to this day.

The ancient Egyptians used to place obelisks at the entrances of their temples, but the decision to split up this particular pair was undertaken as a symbol of political friendship. It was handed to France by Muhammad Ali Pasha, Ruler of Ottoman Egypt and it’s been shrouded in mystery ever since.

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The greatest mystery of Paris | © David Stanley / Flickr

The overruling mystery pertains to how it was made in the first place. Legend says it was made from a single piece of stone, which seems improbable given its huge size of over 250 metric tons. But nobody knows exactly how these mammoth obelisks could be built, mainly because the tools available at the time don’t seem to correspond with the result. Granite is a very hard material (ranking 6.5 on the Mohs scale – diamonds rank at 10), which means that to shape granite, you need something much harder in order to cut through.

However, the metals available at the time were either too soft, such as gold, copper, or bronze, or were too difficult to employ as tools. For example, iron’s melting point is 1538 °C, but the Egyptians wouldn’t use iron smelting until 600 B.C., and so it could not have been made with iron. While there are many hypotheses, nobody knows precisely how they did it. In any case, the city of Paris is very pleased they did.