This 180-tonne monolith is by far and away the oldest structure in London: Nearly 3500 years old. How did it end up here on the banks of the Thames? The journey’s of Cleopatra’s Needle is an epic and bloody one…. proceed with caution gentle readers as we reveal the Pharaoh’s curse!
In ancient Egypt 1480 BC, this monolith was carved by order of the Pharaoh Thotmes III. It was one of two matching obelisks, created to guard the entrance to The Temple of the Sun in Heliopolis: A city mentioned in the bible as the City of On, at the outskirts of Cairo. This monolith has been inscribed with Hieroglyphics of prayers to Ra the sun God. In 12BC this monolith was moved to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast by the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar as a memorial to Cleopatra, who had died 18 years earlier. Cleopatra’s needle stood at Alexandria for hundreds of years where it finally toppled over into the sand. And that’s where it stayed for over a thousand years….
Until “The Battle of the Nile” in 1798 when Lord Nelson’s Fleet of warships ambushed and defeated Napoleon’s fleet anchored off the coast of Alexandria. The grateful Viceroy of Egypt offered Cleopatra’s Needle as a gift to the victorious British, but the army lacked the necessary equipment to transport it back to England. It remained lying in the sand for another 70 years until a solution was found: They would turn it into a boat! They encased the entire monolith in a cylinder-shaped Iron Hull, gave it rudders and a deck, named it “The Cleopatra” and towed it back home by a steam ship. All went well until a massive storm broke is if from nowhere and the Cleopatra began to sink in the tempest tossed waters and her crew had to abandon ship. Six of the tugboat’s crew lost their lives rescuing the Cleopatra’s crew, but to no avail: eventually the Cleopatra had to be cut loose and abandoned in the storm….
The Cleopatra was found drifting about in the ocean by another British Steamer and it was towed to a Spanish port. Finally in 1878 a tugboat was built especially to head to Spain and pick it up, where it was towed up the Thames and erected in it’s current location by the Savoy, along with rather lovely bronze sphinxes: The statues are actually facing the wrong way and should be guarding the needle rather than looking at it. The base of the needle is also made of bronze – they put a time-capsule in there containing a bus timetable, a disposable razor and pictures of the 10 best looking women in London.
Many people believed that the monument was cursed after all this bad luck: And it seemed to be true when Cleopatra’s Needle became the first monument in London to be hit by an air-raid in WW1 (clearly visible in the form of shrapnel holes and gouges on the right-hand sphinx). Occultists believe this curse may have been placed on the monolith by the Pharaoh Rameses II who modified the original hieroglyphics on the needle in 1300 BC, to change it from prayers to Ra the sun-god, to prayers about himself! So perhaps the spirit of the Egyptian Pharaoh may be watching us still… and the Sphinxes are in fact facing the needle in order to protect LONDON!