Cleopatra’s Needle is a granite monolith shipped from Egypt and erected opposite Victoria Embankment Gardens in 1878. It had been hewn around 1475 bc and carved with the names of gods and pharaohs, with Cleopatra’s name added later. At 68½ feet (21m) in height, it is Britain’s tallest obelisk cut from a single block of stone.
George Vulliamy bracketed the needle with bronze sphinxes in 1880. It is said that they were supposed to face inwards but the workmen mounted them the wrong way round; however, stories of a similar kind are told about other such installations.
“Ye giant shades of Ra and Tum,
Ye ghosts of gods Egyptian,
If murmurs of our planet come
To exiles in the precincts wan
Where, fetish or Olympian,
To help or harm no more ye list,
Look down, if look ye may, and scan
This monument in London mist!”
Andrew Lang: ‘Ballade of Cleopatra’s Needle’ (1880)