Statue of Liberty in America: Was it Originally Meant to be Egyptian?

Was the Statue of Liberty, one of the most iconic landmarks of the United States, originally intended to stand at the entrance of the Suez Canal in Egypt?

This question lingered between myth and reality for years until a precise narrative from 1869 clarified the matter. It was then that the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi visited Egypt and embarked on a Nile journey from Cairo to Aswan.

Inspiration from Egypt

During this period, Bartholdi traveled with a group of French cultural ambassadors to document ancient Egyptian works. They were struck by the desert landscapes where ancient cities lay in ruins, yet the statues remained intact. According to the National Park Service website in the USA, these scenes inspired Bartholdi, who wrote, “These granite beings, in their serene majesty, still seem to listen to the distant ages of antiquity. Their gentle and calm gaze seems to ignore the present and focus on an indefinite future.”

As an emerging artist, Bartholdi actively sought commissions and inspiration, leading to a meeting with Khedive Ismail Pasha, the then Viceroy of Egypt and the ruler overseeing the financing of the Suez Canal.

Bartholdi proposed a colossal lighthouse statue depicting an Egyptian peasant woman carrying a torch on her head, titled “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia.” However, after initially agreeing, the Khedive later rejected the design.

According to historian Michael Oren in his book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy,” Bartholdi’s proposal involved carving an image of an Egyptian peasant woman holding a torch of liberty, intended to be twice the height of the Sphinx, at the entrance of the Suez Canal.

To America

After the rejection in Egypt, the disheartened Bartholdi sought solace on a sea voyage to America.

Sailing into New York Harbor, Bartholdi saw the egg-shaped Bedloe’s Island and began contemplating it as a new location for his grand work, now imbued with a new meaning.

Not long before, Bartholdi had a conversation with the French anti-slavery advocate and fervent supporter of the North in the Civil War, Édouard René de Laboulaye, who suggested that France give a gift to the United States in appreciation of the end of that conflict.

After years of negotiations, it was decided that America would fund the base of the statue “Liberty Enlightening the World,” and France would pay for the statue itself. The statue was assembled and arrived in New York on June 17, 1885, after being shipped across the Atlantic in 350 individual pieces.

Bartholdi returned to New York with a French delegation to see the completed Statue of Liberty and participate in its inauguration in 1886, saying, “My dream has come true. I can only say that I am enchanted. This thing will live on forever, when we die, and everything that lives with us fades away.”

Bartholdi died in 1904, but his statue, which transformed from an Egyptian peasant woman bringing light to Asia to a Western woman raising a torch of enlightenment with broken chains at her feet, remains alive as a beacon of liberty spanning generations.

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