Cleopatra's Crabs

By the time Augustus went to erect the obelisk we know as Cleopatra’s Needle in Alexandria in 13 BC, he already faced a challenge: the base of the nearly 1500 year old monument had worn or chipped away, making it impossible to erect the 240 ton, 68 foot, 10 inch behemoth. His solution? Giant bronze crabs, each weighing in at 922 pounds. The crabs were chosen for their role in Roman mythology, associated with Apollo and the sun, thereby inkeeping with the Egyptian tradition.

Cleopatra Needle - Central Park Phallic Obelisk - Atlas Obscura Blog

When the Americans arrived on the scene to salvage the obelisk nearly two centuries later in 1880, two of the crabs had gone missing. By a lucky turn of chance, they were discovered by divers during the process of clearing the harbor of debris in order to make way for the ship carrying the obelisk.

The epic story of the transport of the obelisk out of Assuan, Egypt and across the Atlantic Ocean to be erected in New York City is nothing less than stupendous.

Cleopatra's Needle - Central Park Obelisk Statue with Crabs - Atlas Obscura

In New York, bronze casts of the original crabs were created and placed under the obelisk in its new home in Central Park. The originals are on display not far away, in the Sackler Wing of the Met.


Further Reading:

An Obelisk for Central Park
Central Park Concervancy: Obelisk
Nice crab close-up on Flickr
The Lost Temple of Augustus in Alexandria