I've been watching a documentary series about Ancient Egypt recently and naturally obelisks have come into the discussion. When we think of obelisks we tend to think of them as the hugely tall tapered pairs of monolithic pillars like the so-called Cleopatra's Needle which stands on the Thames Embankment in London and its mate which stands in Central Park in New York. Both of these were gifts from the Egyptian Government during the nineteenth century unlike the many others looted over history. Apparently the ancient Romans were one of the major offenders in this. Nothing like a stolen obelisk to show how important you are, it seems.
Anyhow these giant pillars which stood at the entrance to temples began at around 3.3 metres tall for the earliest ones still existing and continued to grow bigger and higher. The Pharaoh Hapshepsut (the famous female pharaoh) had one put up at the temple of Karnac which measured 30 metres in height and has an inscription saying it took seven months to cut out of the red granite of the quarry. It was then ferried down the Nile by barge to be erected in Karnac. This wasn't the tallest of them either with one erected by Thutmose III, which reached 32 metres from a 2.7 metre square base that tapers as it goes up, the tallest surviving obelisk. It is estimated to weight over 230 tonnes.
When you consider the primitive tools the ancient Egyptian had to work with carving these pillars is an extraordinary achievement. They were then embellished with inscriptions of prayers invoking the gods and commemorating the Pharaoh and the top was decorated with gold and silver. While they are still imposing they must have looked truly spectacular when they were first erected.