Washington's Monument: And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk
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Conceived soon after the American Revolution ended, the great monument to George Washington was not finally completed until almost a century later; the great obelisk was finished in 1884, and remains the tallest stone structure in the world at 555 feet. The story behind its construction is a largely untold and intriguing piece of American history, which acclaimed historian John Steele Gordon relates with verve, connecting it to the colorful saga of the ancient obelisks of Egypt.
Nobody knows how many obelisks were crafted in ancient Egypt, or even exactly how they were created and erected since they are made out of hard granite and few known tools of the time were strong enough to work granite. Generally placed in pairs at the entrances to temples, they have in modern times been ingeniously transported around the world to Istanbul, Paris, London, New York, and many other locations. Their stories illuminate that of the Washington Monument, once again open to the public following earthquake damage, and offer a new appreciation for perhaps the most iconic memorial in the country.
and New York. 4 It has been on display at Giza since 1983. 5 Much of what we know about Roman construction techniques, and the machinery used in construction, comes to us thanks to a Roman architect remembered as Vitruvius, who lived in the first century B.C. His book De Architectura, dedicated to Augustus, miraculously survives complete, except for the illustrations, the only ancient text on architecture to do so. It deeply influenced the architecture of the Renaissance. Brunelleschi used it
renters and the pleasure of landlords) and that in the future three leap days be dropped from every 400 years. The Gregorian calendar is so accurate, off by only twenty-six seconds a year, that it won’t be a full day off until the year 4909. 9 The Circus Maximus was a colossal structure (whence the name, which means “largest circus”). Some 2,037 feet long and 387 feet wide, it could hold 150,000 people. The chariot races were one of the major sporting events of ancient Rome and were often
vessel is generally made to meet the requirements of the service on which she will be employed at sea. In this particular case, however, the builders had the novel experience of constructing a seaworthy craft in which everything had to be subordinated to the one prime feature that would enable her to be launched by rolling down the beach.” But if the center of gravity of the obelisk were to coincide with the center of gravity of the vessel, once the vessel started to roll, it would, thanks to
the hard clay beneath the muck at the bottom of the Thames, was provided. The Cleopatra was brought up to the site and grounded at high tide on a wooden cradle. Her superstructure was removed and she was given a quarter turn so that the best face of the obelisk was toward the roadway. The Cleopatra was then dismantled, her one and only voyage—an adventurous one, to be sure—at an end. Dixon used hydraulic jacks to lift the obelisk up to the embankment and screw jacks pushed her to where the
erected on the Thames Embankment in 1878, it caused a sudden and intense outbreak of obelisk fever in New York. In 1881, the New York Herald, more than a little tongue in cheek, observed that “it would be absurd for the people of any great city to hope to be happy without an Egyptian obelisk. Rome has had them this great while and so has Constantinople. Paris has one. London has one. If New York was without one, all those great sites might point the finger of scorn at us and intimate that we