The Voyage of the Obelisk : Luxor / Paris (1829-1836)

The Obelisk – Place de la Concorde
Photo by Patrick GIRAUD

I am sure you all know the Obelisk on the beautiful Place de La Concorde. It is a must see in Paris. There is currently a great exhibition telling you its story and how it arrived in Paris. It sounds like it was quite an epic journey !

In ancient Egypt, at the entrance of their temples, the pharaohs erected two obelisks on which were engraved their exploits and tributes to the gods, mainly Amon, the god of the sun. Radius of the petrified sun, the obelisk was the point of contact between the world of gods and men.

Two obelisks were erected during the reign of Ramses II at the entrance to Luxor Temple in the thirteenth century BC. They were offered to France by the Viceroy of Egypt in 1830. The western Obelisk, which was chosen to be transported to Paris, measuring 22.84 m and weighs between 220 and 230 tonnes.

Erection of the Obelisk of Luxor, October 25, 1836, details, watercolor. Cayrac 1837

Transporting the obelisk was a rich human adventure full of twists. It took nearly seven years to bring it down without breaking, down the Nile, in tow through the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean, up the Seine and erect monolith in the center of Paris.

These operations, many thought impossible at the time, were conducted without modern machinery.

Among the men who contributed to this challenge, stand the figures of Champollion, the lieutenant of Joannis and the engineer of the Navy, Apollinaire Lebas who calculated and designed the machines.

Portrait of Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) by Leon Cogniet

All these adventures come to life through a variety of works, often unpublished – paintings, original plans, drawings, models, dioramas of different operations, archaeological objects and documents – showing the highlights of this incredible epic that found its culmination in 1836 in the heart of one of the most beautiful squares in Paris.

A free app for iOS and Android is also available to accompany your visit.


The Maritime Museum, located on Trocadero square (you can’t miss it!)
Exhibition until 6th July 2014
Open every day except Tuesdays from 11am – 6pm (7pm on weekends).