Cleopatras Needle antique print. Original front page of ‘The Illustrated London News’ dated October, 1877, reporting the near loss of Cleopatra’s Needle, in the Bay of Biscay, on her journey from Egypt to London.
Cleopatra’s Needle is the popular name for each of three Ancient Egyptian obelisks re-erected in London, Paris, and New York City during the nineteenth century. The obelisks in London and New York are a pair; the one in Paris is also part of a pair originally from a different site in Luxor, where its twin remains. Although all three needles are genuine Ancient Egyptian obelisks, their shared nickname is a misnomer, as they have no connection with the Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and were already over a thousand years old in her lifetime. The London and New York needles were originally made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III. The Paris needle dates to the reign of the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses II, and was the first to be moved and re-erected. The New York needle was the first to acquire the French nickname, “L’aiguille de Cléopâtre”, when it stood in Alexandria.
The London needle is in the City of Westminster, on the Victoria Embankment near the Golden Jubilee Bridges. It was originally erected in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis on the orders of Thutmose III, around 1450 BC. In 1819, Muhammad Ali Pasha gave Britain the obelisk as a gift. However, Britain’s prime minister at the time, Robert Jenkinson, hesitated on having it brought to the country due to shipping expenses. It remained in Alexandria until October 1877 when its transport to London was funded by William James Erasmus Wilson.