The Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan
An obelisk is generally defined as a tall and slender monument, with four sides converging to a mini pyramidal shape at the topmost point. Though it is basically a Greek architecture, there are few obelisks in Egypt as well and the unfinished obelisk of Aswan is known to be one of the largest among them. It was constructed by Hatshepsut, the queen of Thutmose II, who also ruled Egypt as a Pharaoh from 1478 to 1458 B.C., jointly with Thutmose III, who was then only a child. This obelisk was perhaps built following the example of the Lateran Obelisk that was initially built at Karnak Temple Complex in Egypt and was shifted to the Lateran square of Rome at a much later era of Roman Empire.
The Unfinished Obelisk lies, in its original location, in a granite quarry in Aswan. It is 42m in length and was most probably abandoned when some cracks appeared in the rock, during its construction. Had this obelisk been completed, it would have been the heaviest obelisk ever cut in Ancient Egypt, weighing nearly 1100 tons! It is believed that it was constructed and abandoned during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty).
During the earliest ages, the Ancient Egyptians knew the so-called " Pn-pn", which was a pyramidal stone with a pointed top and according to their beliefs the "Pn-pn" symbolized the primeval hill from which the world first appeared. Then, in the course of time, this Pn-pn evolved to be an obelisk usually made of granite with a pyramidal shape on top.
During the 5th Dynasty, the obelisk began to play an important role inside the temples of Ra; the obelisk being a sacred symbol of the cult of the sun. They were erected on a great base in an open court, and then as the suns rays fell on its pyramidal top, the bright light filled the Temple, giving the people a symbol of the power of the sun. One of the most important obelisks, which still stand in pride in the district of El Mataraya, was erected in front of the entrance of the vanished temple of Re at Heliopolis. King Senwosret I, to commemorate the ceremony of the "Heb-sed", dedicated it to the temple.
In the New Kingdom, especially at the time of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, the Kings used to erect obelisks in front of the different temples for religious and political reasons.
The detailed description of the unfinished obelisk in Aswan
This huge obelisk was intended to make at least one third bigger in length than all other ordinary obelisks of Egypt. It was supposed to be 42 m in total height and this rock-cut structure should have weighed approximately 1200 tons. Initially, this obelisk was attempted to be carved out of the bedrock of granite, but the whole project had to be left incomplete, when few cracks were noticed in the granite. The base of the obelisk is still attached to the bedrock of this granite quarry of Aswan or Assuan, as this place is called in the local Egyptian language. Now no one is sure about the exact reason of the formation of these cracks, but probably the digging out procedure of the granite might have caused these fissures; though earlier it was assumed that the granite might be of inferior quality.
The technology used in building obelisk
This obelisk provides much information about the stone-carving procedures of ancient Egyptians, as the scratches of their instruments can still be seen clearly on its rock surface. Also, some ochre colored lines are found on this surface, which were probably drawn to mark the places where the workers were supposed to carve out the granite. Now it is discovered that the ancient Egyptians used small balls of a harder mineral than granite, which is called Dolerite, as ball-bearings to cut through the rocks. They used a special technique to separate the granite from the bedrock, where they made very small cavities in the body of the rock, all along the line of desired detachment and those cavities were filled with wood chips and then these chips were wetted thoroughly with water. This soaking made the wood to expand in volume, causing the rock to crack along the drawn lines and finally got detached from its base. But nothing could be found out till now, about their other technological instruments, which were used in architecture or sculpting out from the hard granites.
Another mini obelisk is also found on the same site, which was probably just started to be carved from the quarry of Aswan, along with few other rock-carvings there. Now the modern Egyptian government has announced the whole place as an open museum and arranged to preserve these structures as archaeological treasures of the country. This quarry of Aswan probably also provided granites for other obelisks of Egypt, as many residues of similar sizes are found here.