Comparing and Contrasting The Obelisks of Hatshepsut and The Harburg Monument Against War and Fascism and for Peace

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The Obelisks of Hatshepsut Contrasted with the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace

The four obelisks of Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt were erected at Karnak, temple of Amen-Ra under the reign of Queen Hatshepsut during the New Kingdom era between 1473 and 1458 B.C (“Fragment”). They were built to celebrate her accession and later her jubilee (“Fragment”). Over 3000 years later in 1986, the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace was erected in Hamburg Germany during the rise of Neo-Fascism (Shalev-Gerz). Though separated by space and time, these two monuments are strikingly similar. Though they tell two different narratives of two different eras, understanding what they have in common can help us to more deeply understand what makes them different.

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Though there were originally four obelisks of Hatshepsut, only one is left standing today. They were made of solid pink granite, and inscribed with the purpose of their creation on each side as well as on the base (“Egyptian Obelisk”). Upon their creation, the tops were adorned with gold, bronze or silver alloys, allowing the sun to reflect off of them (“Egyptian Obelisk”). It is not known exactly how the obelisks were created, but there are two prevailing theories. One posits that the obelisks were created in a quarry where granite was extracted by using dolerite balls, small balls of volcanic rock, to remove the granite blow by blow (“Egyptian Obelisk”). Another possible alternative is that sycamore wood wedges were inserted into cracks in the granite while wet. These wedges wood expand and crack the granite making extraction easy, and may have been used in tandem with the dolerite method (“Egyptian Obelisk”).

The inscriptions on Hatshepsut’s obelisks give us insight into why they were constructed. Hatshepsut, though not the first female ruler of Egypt, was one of the most successful and known for a kingdom that flourished under her reign (“The Temple”). She declared herself in the reliefs on the obelisks, not a queen but a king, and was shown dressed in the clothing of a pharaoh (“The Temple”). In these reliefs, she interacts with the Gods and declares her desire to craft the obelisks for them and for her father before her (“The Temple”). These stories were meant not simply to be commemorative, but to reinforce Hatshepsut’s right to rule. It was a public declaration of her divine right from the Gods and one that was meant to preserve her memory for eternity. One small fragment of the Hatshepsut's obelisks is available for viewing in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Even this small fragment gives a sense of the sheer scope and solidity of the obelisks. The reliefs on the side give a sense of scale. A rather large depiction of a pharaoh with a large headdress can be seen on the front and right hand side of the fragment. Hieroglyphics accompany the illustration. At this size, it becomes clear that they were meant to be read by those who came to the site of the obelisks, so that all could understand Hatshepsut’s right to rule.

By contrast, the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace was built simply. The structure was hollow and aluminum and coated with sheets of soft lead (Rosen). It measured twelve-by-one-by-one meters (Shalev-Gerz). During the aforementioned rise of Neo-Fascism, the city of Hamburg was looking to have someone create a monument to publicly stand against this troubling trend. Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochen Gerz created the proposal for the monument, and were chosen in an international competition (Shalev-Gerz). This emboldened message of anti-fascism seemed counterintuitive to the structure of typical monuments in the eyes of the artists. They worried that the message would be lost in an otherwise authoritarian looking structure (Lupu). Ultimately, keeping the column simple and void of decor allowed them to more effectively communicate the message behind the monument, which is even more exemplified in the way they hoped people would interact with the monument.

The most notable feature of the Harburg Monument the way visitors interacted with it. Visitors were encouraged to carve their names into the obelisk to signify that they agreed to stand against facism. The monument was then lowered into the ground over the years as sections of the obelisk were filled with signatures, until it was completely submerged in 1993 (Rosen). The lowering into the ground was meant to signify that, as the statement accompanying the monument says, “In the long run, it is only we ourselves who can stand against injustice” (Shalev-Gerz).

The disappearance of the monument over time is in stark contrast to the permanence and stability of the last standing obelisk of Hatshepsut, surrounded by ruins but still upright through the eras. This is undoubtedly what was imagined when the monument was erected and likely has cultural ties. We are only alive for a moment in history, and though the Egyptians believed they could carry things from their current life into the afterlife, you only have your time on Earth to prepare for it. This monument, and nearly all the relics we have left of this period, reflect the desire to live on after death. Arguably, that is what most monuments are intended to do. To capture an era, a place, or a person, and allow that memory to withstand time. By electing to allow their monument to disappear, Gerz and Shalev-Gerz were sending an important message about how memory was up to the people, not a monument. These contrasting stances on the building of monuments are reflected in the use of materials. Hatshepsut’s obelisk was, quite literally, flashy. It was decorated with gold, inscribed, and made of solid granite. The materials show both a desire to withstand the test of time and to make a bold and visible statement. Gerz and Shalev-Gerz’s aluminum and lead obelisk is almost flimsy in comparison.

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Strikingly, both Hatshepsut’s obelisk and the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace were surrounded by walls (“Egyptian Obelisk”). This was a clear indication that Hatshepsut wanted to preserve her memory for as long as possible and protect her creation. In a way, the walls now encompassing the Harburg Monument serve the same purpose. They are meant to help preserve the memory of what the obelisk stood against. Hapshetsut accomplishes this in the obelisk itself, still standing years later. The Harburg Monument, on the other hand, hopes that by removing the obelisk, the memory will live on in the minds of those who signed.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Comparing and Contrasting the Obelisks of Hatshepsut and the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
“Comparing and Contrasting the Obelisks of Hatshepsut and the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2019,
Comparing and Contrasting the Obelisks of Hatshepsut and the Harburg Monument against War and Fascism and for Peace. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Oct. 2023].
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