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Unlike most of monuments that became famous due factors such as foundation date, beauty, size, and many other reasons, the Unfinished Obelisk became famous exactly because it remained unfinished. Abandoned in the past by the ancient Egyptians and currently considered a true masterpiece in contemporary era, it is an attraction that no one should miss while travelling in Egypt.
It is a big pillar carved out of rocks. It is located in an old quarry in Aswan, from where the Ancient Egyptians used to extract raw material for many of their pharaonic constructions.
Why is the Unfinished Obelisk considered an attraction?
The Ancient Egyptians abandoned the obelisk's works in loco. This represented a valuable addition to understanding how the carvation and polishing processes worked in those days. Studies confirmed that, if finished, the obelisk would have been the biggest ever built (around 120 meters height and 1200 tons weight).
Why was the obelisk built in the first place?
Possibly to be placed at Karnak Temple to pay homage to a god or pharaoh.
Why did the obelisk's works stop?
The obelisk was being cut directly from the granite stone. Unfortunately at some point during the works a number of cracks were noticed on the surface and were becoming deeper. This was a problem and a great risk because it means that the obelisk could break at any moment or, worse, once placed at its final destination.
Most probably the workers thought it was a problem on the quality of the rock, when in fact it was the extraction process itself.
In Ancient Egypt, the triangular shape was associated with many mystic theories, from the world's creation to the pharaohs' ascension to heavens. See the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Step Pyramid of King Djoser and even tracing back to the mastabas. Once this type of construction was totally exploited during the Old Kingdom, kings were then buried in tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the New Kingdom. The location though was chosen following the same principle, and the Theban Hills were selected due its pyramid shape.
The shape was exploited in many ways throughout the pharaonic era, including being represented at obelisks. If we pay attention to the top of these monuments, we will see the pyramidal shape again. Besides the religious and aesthetic preference, the shape was beneficial and important to reflecting the sunrays and therefore allowing them to illuminate the temples' interior.
As time passed, obelisks also gained political importance, representing permanence and stability.
Who ordered the Unfinished Obelisk?
Researchers believe that the Unfinished Obelisk's construction was ordered by queen Hatshepsut. There are two explanations that sustain this theory. The first one relies on the fact that the obelisk ordered by her located in Karnak is as impressive regarding size as the one that did not work out. Second, some hieroglyphs found in her temple show scenes of the transportation of a big obelisk.
Hatshepsut was a very influential pharaoh but she was Tutmoses III's regent, even though she ruled Egypt for over 20 years. Maybe because she wanted to reassure her position, maybe because she knew she had limited time, the fact is she had ambitious projects and could not concrete all of them.
How can I visit the Unfinished Obelisk?
Most of the Nile cruises packages include visiting the Unfinished Obelisk but if you are not joining a cruise you can arrive there by cab or group tour vans.