A History of the Obelisk


There’s just something about the perfect geometry and striking form of an obelisk that has made the pyramid-topped column a popular focal point for thousands of years. Whether standing tall in the center of a park or ceremonial space — the Washington Monument comes to mind — or scaled down to create a modern object for your coffee table, the obelisk lends a sense of elegance and gravitas.

So where does this iconic shape come from, anyway? The first obelisks were built by ancient Egyptians. They were carved from stone and placed in pairs at the entrance of temples as sacred objects that symbolized the sun god, Ra. It’s believed that the shape symbolized a single sun ray. During the Roman Empire, the Romans became so transfixed by the Egyptian obelisk that they transported many of them to Rome. In fact, there are more Egyptian obelisks in Rome today than there are in Egypt. Over the centuries, as the fascination with Egypt became more widespread, dozens of obelisks were moved to cities around the globe, including Constantinople, Florence, Paris, London and even New York.

Fast forward to today, and we are pretty much as obsessed with obelisks as the Romans were. So how do you work the look at home? Here are a few of our favorite ways:


David Hicks, renowned British designer of the 60s and 70s, loved all things Egyptian and famously used obelisks in his tablescapes. (His grave is even marked by an obelisk-shaped tomb.) Hicks’ style continues to influence us today. Here, we used a pair of Wooden Obelisks to create height and add dimensionality to the arrangement on the mantel.


The obelisk became a popular element in French gardens after landscape architect and principal gardener of King Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre, used them in the gardens of Versailles. Even unadorned, our Avril Metal Garden Obelisk adds architectural beauty to a porch or garden.


Classically inspired obelisks, like our Groves Garden Obelisk, create a focal point in an outdoor landscape while showcasing your climbing vines.

For more design inspiration, visit our Pinterest Boards, or find more gorgeous rooms in our Photo Gallery.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.