Sunday, May 4, 2014

News: New York, Central Park: Cleopatra’s Needle NYC's 3,500-Year-Old Monument Is Being Cleaned With Lasers

Conservationists will use lasers to clean more than a century's worth of New York City grime from Cleopatra's Needle.


The project to restore the ancient Egyptian monument, which towers above the east side of Central Park, will also fix sections that have become weak with age.  The hieroglyph-inscribed granite pillar, also known as the Obelisk, has stood in the city for more than 130 years. It hasn't been cleaned since its arrival from Egypt.

The plan to restore the 3,500-year-old Cleopatra's Needle was announced yesterday by the Central Park Conservancy.

The non-profit, which manages Central Park, said tests showed that cleaning with lasers proved to be the most environmentally friendly method, and also the most sensitive to the fragile stone. It is understood that the heat from the lasers will vaporise the filth that has accumulated on the Obelisk over the decades it has stood in the heart of the busy, polluted city.

With 2,112 square-feet of surface area to clean, it is a considerable job. The project began this month and is expected to take several months to finish. Alongside the cleaning job, conservationists will also work to stabilise sections of the Obelisk that have become weakened over the ages.

Brought to New York in 1881, Cleopatra's Needle is without a doubt the city's most-ancient structure. Despite its name, the Cleopatra of renown had nothing to do with its creation and, in fact, it predates that legendary Egyptian queen by more than a thousand years.


It is one of two obelisks carved by stonemasons out of single lumps of red granite about 3,500 years ago in the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis. Both New York's Obelisk, and its twin, which sits by the River Thames on London's Victoria Embankment, are inscribed with hieroglyphics praising the Pharoah Thutmose, who reigned from 1479 to 1425BC.

It is believed that the pair were originally erected outside a temple, but were then toppled and burned by invading Persians rampaging through Egypt in 525BC. They lay buried in the sands of the Sahara for more than five centuries before Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus discovered them and transported them to Alexandria, where they were re-erected in a temple built in his honour by Cleopatra.


There they stood until the late-19th Century when, during a surge in interest in Egyptian antiquities, the country's government offered one to Britain and the second to the U.S.

In a massive undertaking, a cargo vessel, the SS Denton, was built in an English shipyard especially for the job of transporting America's needle across the Atlantic, a journey of a month. Then, once it arrived at Staten Island's docks, a railway was built especially for the task of transporting it to its new position at the heart of the city. It was finally erected in Central Park on January 22, 1881, with a full Masonic ceremony that was watched by thousands of New Yorkers.

The Conservancy has called the restoration of Cleopatra's Needle 'the most comprehensive conservation of the monument in nearly 130 years'. In a release, it said: 'The conservation project was developed by the Conservancy with assistance from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

 'Planning the project began in 2011 and included photographing and scanning the Obelisk to document its condition, as well as a comprehensive survey of the monument’s surface, the first in its history. Planning also included testing various methods of cleaning the Obelisk; cleaning with lasers proved to be the method most sensitive to the stone and most environmentally friendly.

'Egyptologists from the Metropolitan Museum of Art believe that fragile areas discovered on the monument’s surface are the likely result of environmental stresses that occurred more than one thousand years ago, as well as natural weathering. 'After they are cleaned, these areas will be treated with adhesive products typically used to conserve granite.' The conservation work is expected to be complete by autumn.

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