an extraordinary adventure
In ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs had two obelisks erected at the entrance of their temples, on which were engraved their exploits and their homage to the gods, chiefly Amon, god of the sun. A petrified sunbeam, the obelisk was the point of contact between the world of the gods and that of men.
The two obelisks built during the reign of Ramses II at the entrance to the temple of Luxor in the 13th century BC. AD, were offered to France by the viceroy of Egypt in 1830. the Western obelisk, which was chosen to be transported to Paris, measures 22,84m and weighs between 220 and 230 tons.
Carrying the obelisk was the occasion of a human adventure rich in twists that lasted nearly seven years to bring it down without breaking it, to go down the Nile, to cross the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean in tow, to go up the Seine and to erect this monolith in the center of Paris.
These operations, which many thought impossible at the time, were conducted essentially by men's arms and without modern machines.
Among the men who contributed to this challenge were the figures of Champollion, the origin of the obelisk gift, the lieutenant of Joannis' ship - whose drawings, realized during the stay in Egypt, are testimonies of the first and the engineer of the Navy, Apollinaire Lebas, who calculated and designed the machines. In Luxor, Brittany and Paris, he directed all the operations of displacement of the obelisk and its pedestal before being appointed to the post of curator of the Naval Museum in 1836 in thanks for his talents.
Erection of the Luxor Obelisk, 25 October 1836, details, watercolor. Cayrac, 1837
Museum of the Louvre © Musée national de la Marine / P. Dantec
The mysteries of the obelisk at the National Maritime Museum
All these adventures come to life through varied works, often unpublished and never combined - paintings, original plans, drawings, models, dioramas of the various operations, archaeological objects and documents - illustrating the highlights of this incredible epic which culminated in 1836 in the heart of one of the most beautiful squares in Paris.