Question: What celebrated American icon began its life as a poor Muslim woman in Egypt?
Answer: The Statue of Liberty
In 19th-century France, Industrial Age architecture was booming, liberty was a buzzword, and the artists of the day were the toast of Paris. Enter Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, who was casting about for a project that would cement his legacy. A world traveler, he was visiting Egypt when inspiration came. Seeing the towering stone deities at Abu Simbel, he began to ponder the decrease in monumental public artwork, and determined to correct this.
He approached the government of Egypt to build a statue-cum-lighthouse called “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.” To be erected at the port of Said, the entrance of the still-in-progress Suez Canal, his statue would depict a veiled peasant woman wearing Arab garb, and lofting a torch that would double as a working lighthouse. The 86-foot statue would be bolstered by a 50-foot base, together the equivalent of a 12-story building. But Egypt’s Khedive (the ruling Pasha) was unimpressed. For the cost of what he saw as a giant decoration, he could build an even taller true lighthouse—which is just what he did.
Bartholdi didn’t give up; he just cast his eyes west instead of east. In the near century since their successive revolutions, the United States and Bartholdi’s native France had formed a deep connection. After visiting New York Harbor, the artist set about retooling his vision, and came up with “Liberty Enlightening the World,” better known as The Statue of Liberty. Drawing up inspirations from past and present, Bartholdi yielded a monument truly fitting for America: its elements, like the nation’s citizens, come from all over the world:
- The standing figure was inspired by the towering gods and goddesses at the Nefertari Temple at Abu Simbel in Egypt.
- Helios, the Colossus of the Seven Wonders of Ancient World, wore a nimbus on her head and stood guard over the harbor entrance at Rhodes, Greece.
- The robes worn are those of Libertas, the Roman goddess of Freedom, and come accessorized with a tablet (tabula ansata) which was used to bear inscriptions in Ancient Rome.
- Liberty was styled after Marianne, the French icon who replaced the King on the great seal of France.
- The coating of ethereally thin hammered copper was borrowed from the only monuments clad this way at that time: the San Carlone statue in Italy and the Hermannsdenkmal in Germany, both of which were half the height of the Statue of Liberty.
- The pedestal is based on the Aztec empire model of a truncated pyramid structure, wider than it is tall, for the kind of stability that would allow its mighty occupant to lift her lamp across the centuries.
See where Lady Liberty’s journey began and discover for yourself just how inspiring Egypt can be as you enjoy our NEW Suez Canal Crossing: Israel, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea Small Ship Adventure.