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Heliopolis obelisk Cairo
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Location: Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt
Pharaoh: Sesostris I (reigned 1972-1928 B.C.)
Height: 67 feet
Weight: 120 tons
Story: Dating to the Middle Kingdom (2050-1786 B.C.), this is the oldest surviving giant obelisk. An inscription on it says, "The first occasion of the Jubilee, he made [it] to be given life forever." A Jubilee was traditionally given in the 30th year of a pharaoh's reign, so scholars believe Sesostris I erected the obelisk in 1942 B.C. Once part of a pair, its companion was thought to have toppled sometime in the 12th century A.D.

The first mention of these obelisks in the historical literature may come from a chapter of Isaiah by St. Epheaim (fourth century A.D.), who wrote that in Heliopolis "there are two great columns which excite admiration...On these columns are depicted figures of the men and animals which were shown by their priestly character to contain the mysteries of paganism." Yakut, an Arab historian of the 13th century, wrote that locals called them Messalat Far'un, or "Pharaoh's Packing Needles."

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Photo: (1) Corbis/Sean Sexton Collection.

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