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The Statue of Liberty’s Muslim Origins

History By
USA, New York City, Statue of Liberty, close-up
The Statue of Liberty, New York City, USA. (Getty Images)

 

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic structures on the planet, yet most of us know very little about it. We probably don’t know that it wasn’t originally meant for America. We likely aren’t aware that the statue was intended to represent a Muslim Egyptian peasant. There’s a good chance we’ve even forgotten the designer of her internal structure, which is odd because he has a remarkably famous name: Gustave Eiffel. (Yes, he is responsible for the Parisian building below.)

Bust of Gustave Eiffel on the Eiffel Tower.
Bust of Gustave Eiffel on the Eiffel Tower. (Getty Images)

 

There’s also little chance we remember Frenchman Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. He designed the statue and had a specific nation in mind for it: Egypt. This proposed work was intended to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. (Which happened in 1869.) Statue of Liberty expert Barry Moreno writes: “Taking the form of a veiled peasant woman, the statue was to stand 86 feet high, and its pedestal was to rise to a height of 48 feet.” It was dubbed: “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.”

View of portions of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. Bartholdi stands at left. (Photo by Musee Bartholdi/Authenticated News/Getty Images)
View of portions of the Statue of Liberty during its construction in the workshop of French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Paris, France, circa 1880. Bartholdi stands at left. (Musee Bartholdi/Authenticated News/Getty Images)

 

Egypt was conquered by Muslims in 642. To this day, it remains overwhelmingly Muslim: an estimated 90 percent of its population were such in 2012. With this history considered, it seems almost certain that the Arab peasant woman would be Muslim.

circa 1884: The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction. Sixty men have worked for almost ten years on the various parts of the statue, not including its designer Frederic Bartholdi and his assistants. Original Publication: From The Strand Magazine. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The left hand of the Statue of Liberty under construction. Original Publication: From The Strand Magazine. Circa 1884. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

Egypt, however, did not select this project. Yet Bartholdi continued to envision a massive sculpture of a woman with her right arm raised and left at her side. She at last became a reality in 1886, when “Liberty Enlightening the World” was dedicated on Oct. 28.

The feet of the Statue of Liberty arrive on Liberty Island 1885. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the United States, It represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The feet of the Statue of Liberty arrive on Liberty Island 1885. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

 

RealClearLife Staff