The Obelisks of Rome
Rome is home to the greatest number of obelisks in the world. There are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks in the city, alongside several modern examples.
Ancient Egyptian obelisks:
Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano (15th/14th century BCE, 32 metres/105 feet, 460 tons).
The 'Lateranense' obelisk is the tallest obelisk, not only in Rome, but also in the world. It was also the last obelisk to be brought to Rome from Egypt. Both the emperors Augustus and Constantine considered bringing it to Rome from Karnak, where it stood outside the temple of Amun.
In 357 Emperor Constantius II was able to arrange its transportation by using a specially built ship rowed by 300 oarsmen. It was erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus, where it was later found (1587), at a depth of 24 feet, broken into three pieces.
In the following year it was moved to Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano by Pope Sixtus V. It is one of the most well-preserved obelisks in the city, with very fine hieroglyphs.
Piazza di Termini (13th century BCE, 6 metres/20 feet).
The 'Dogali' obelisk was originally erected, as one of a pair, in Heliopolis by Rameses II. It was later moved to the Temple of Isis in Rome. The obelisk was discovered in 1882 near the church of Sant’Ignazio.
In 1887 it became a monument to the 420 Italian soldiers who had fallen that year at the Battle of Dogali (in the war between Italy and Ethiopia) and was placed in front of the Termini Railway Station.
In 1924 it was moved to its present location, a small garden between the station and the Piazza della Repubblica. The star on the top of the obelisk is a symbol of Italy.
Piazza della Rotonda (13th century BCE, 6.3 metres/21 feet).
The ''Macuteo' obelisk was originally erected by Rameses II at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis. It was moved to Rome where it stood outside the Temple of Isis. In 1373 it was unearthed near the church of San Macuto.
In 1711 Pope Clement XI (r. 1700-21) placed the obelisk at the centre of the fountain in front of the Pantheon. The apex is decorated with the heraldic mountains and star of Pope Clement XI.
Villa Celimontana (13th century BCE, 2.7 metres/9 feet).
The 'Matteiano' obelisk was originally erected, as one of a pair, at Heliopolis. In Rome it stood outside the Temple of Isis. It was unearthed in the 14th century and erected on the Capitoline hill, near the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
In 1582, the obelisk was presented by the Senate of Rome to Ciriaco Mattei, who placed it in the garden of his villa on the Celio.
Piazza del Popolo (13th/12th century BCE, 24 metres/79 feet, 235 tons).
The 'Flaminio' obelisk was the first obelisk to be seen in ancient Rome. The obelisk had initially been erected by Rameses II in Heliopolis. Augustus, after his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE, decided to transport it to Rome, where it was placed in the centre of the Circus Maximus..
Unearthed in two pieces in 1587 it was repaired and moved, in 1589, to the Piazza del Popolo.
Piazza di Montecitorio (7th century BCE, 21.7 metres/71 feet, 230 tons).
The 'Solare' obelisk was originally erected In Heliopolis. In 10 BCE it was brought to Rome where it became the gnomon of a huge sundial (Horologium Divi Augusti) in the Campus Martius.
In 1748 the obelisk was unearthed, broken into several pieces. It was repaired and erected in front of the Palazzo di Montecitorio, in 1792. Pope Pius VI (r. 1775-79) duly placed his coat of arms on top of the obelisk, but added a pointer as a reminder of its use as sundial.
Piazza della Minerva (Early 6th century BCE, 5.5 metres/18 feet).
The 'Minerveo' obelisk was originally erected, as one of a pair, in Sais, Egypt It was brought back to Rome by the emperor Diocletian and placed outside the Temple of Isis. The obelisk was found in 1665 in the cloister of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In 1667, Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed the small obelisk on top of an elephant (a work by Ercole Ferrata).
Piazza di San Pietro (1st century BCE, 25.5 metres/84 feet, 331 tons)
The 'Vaticano' obelisk, which hasn't any hieroglyphs, was erected in Alexandria by the Romans in the Ist century BCE and dedicated to Augustus. In 40 it was moved to Rome by Caligula (in a ship specially built for the purpose), who placed it in the circus he had built on the Mons Vaticanus (the circus was later named after Nero).
The 'Vaticano' is the only obelisk that didn't topple over. For centuries it stood next to the old Basilica di San Pietro before it was moved, in 1586, to its present position.
Ancient Roman obelisks:
Piazza dell' Esquilino (1st century BCE, 14.75 metres/48 feet).
The 'Esquiline' obelisk once graced the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus. It was later unearthed in 1519 following the opening of Via di Ripetta. Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) had the obelisk repaired and placed in 1587 at the end of the Strada Felice, a new street he had opened to reach the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The top of the obelisk is decorated with the heraldic mountains and star of Sixtus V.
Piazza del Quirinale (1st century BCE, 14.6 metres/48 feet).
The 'Quirinale' obelisk was originally erected outside the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus Although it was unearthed (in three pieces) in 1527, it was not re-erected until 1786.
It was repaired and placed by Pope Pius VI in the Piazza del Quirinale next to the two colossal statues of the Dioscuri.
Piazza Navona (1st century, 16.5 metres/54 feet).
The 'Agonalis' obelisk was commissioned by the emperor Domitian (r. 81-96) and transported to Rome, where it was erected outside the Temple of Serapis.
The obelisk was later removed to the Circus Maxentius on the Via Appia, where it was found, in 1645, broken into several pieces.
In 1651, Pope Innocent X (r. 1644-55) ordered the obelisk to be repaired and moved to the Piazza Navona, where it was incorporated into the design of his new fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi).
Piazza della Trinità dei Monti (3rd century, 14 metres/46 feet).
The 'Sallustiano' obelisk was initially erected in the the Gardens of Sallust (Horti Sallustiani), which covered a large area between the Porta Pinciana and the Porta Salaria. The gardens later became part of the Villa Ludovisi, where the obelisk was found in 1734.
In 1789 it was moved by Pope Pius VI to its current location. It is a small scale copy of the obelisk of Rameses II, which stands in the Piazza del Popolo.
Piazzale del Pincio (2nd century, 9.2 metres/30 feet).
The 'Pinciano' obelisk was initially erected by Hadrian (117-38) at his palace in Tivoli, where it formed part of the tomb of Antinous. It was later moved to Rome by Elagabalus. It was found in the 16th century near the Porta Maggiore. In 1633 it was moved to the grounds of the Palazzo Barberini. In 1822 Pope Pius VII moved it to the Piazzale del Pincio.
Copyright © David Lown 2001-2017. All rights reserved.