An obelisk is traditionally defined as a tall and slender monument, with four sides converging to a mini pyramidal shape at the top. Though it's technically a Greek type of architecture, there are few obelisks in Egypt, 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 later shifted to the Lateran square of Rome, near the end of the Roman Empire.
The Unfinished Obelisk is still in its original location, a granite quarry in Aswan. It is 42m in length and is thought to have been abandoned during its construction when some cracks appeared in the rock. 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 started and then later abandoned during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, during the 18th dynasty.
During the earliest ages, the Ancient Egyptians knew the so-called "Pn-pn" (which was a pyramidal stone with a pointed to), 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, obelisks began to play an important role inside the temples of Ra, known as a sacred symbol of the cult of the sun. They were erected on a great base in an open court, and then as the sun's rays fell on its pyramidal top, the bright light filled the Temple, giving the people proof of the sun's mighty power. One of the most important obelisks, which still stands pridefully in the district of El Mataraya, was erected in front of the entrance to 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 once erected obelisks in front of different temples for religious and political reasons.
The Detailed Description of the Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan
This huge obelisk was intended to be at least a third larger in length than all other obelisks of Egypt. It was to be 42 m high and approximately 1200 tons. Initially, they attempted to carve the obelisk out of a bedrock of granite, but the project was never finished because of numerous cracks within the granite. The base of the obelisk is still attached to the bedrock of this granite quarry in Aswan )or Assuan, as this place is called in the local Egyptian language). Now no one is sure about the exact reason for the formation of these cracks, but now it is assumed that probably the excavating procedure of the granite may have caused these fissures; though earlier it was assumed that the granite was, simply put, inferior quality.
The Technology Used in Building This Obelisk
This obelisk provides much information about the stone-carving procedures of ancient Egyptians, as the scratches of their instruments can still be clearly seen on the rock surface. Also, some ochre-colored lines were probably drawn to mark the places where the workers were supposed to carve out the granite. Now it is known that the ancient Egyptians utilized small balls of a mineral, harder than granite, known as 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. Those cavities were then filled with wood chips and the chips were soaked thoroughly with water. This soaking made the wood expand in volume, causing the rock to crack along the drawn lines and finally get detached from its base. But until recently, nothing could be found out about their other technological instruments, which were used in architecture or sculpting out hard granite.
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 a 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 granite for other obelisks of Egypt, as many residues of similar size are found here.