A Tourist in Rome - Obelisks in Rome

Rome has more obelisks than any other city in the world. There are 8 ancient Egyptian obelisks, 5 ancient Roman obelisks, and several modern obelisks. An obelisk is a long 4-sided tapering stone shaft which has a pyramid-shaped upper end called a pyramidion that has a taper of 60 degrees, all carved from one solid piece of stone. It is erected in an upright position, pointing at the sky, usually placed upon some sort of base that raises it some distance above the ground. It represents the rays of sunshine, widening as they stream down to earth and provides communication between the earth and the gods.

The ancient Egyptians were the first culture to practice the art of carving obelisks, and the finest and most beautiful obelisks were made by them during ancient times. They carved hieroglyphics into the four flat sides of their obelisks. They sometimes covered the pyramidions of their obelisks in gold to reflect sunlight and make them appear to emit light on their own.

When Augustus defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 30 BC, and the empire thereby acquired control of Egypt, the Romans became infatuated with all things Egyptian. Beginning with Augustus, they began confiscating obelisks from Egypt and bringing them to Rome as trophies of conquest. Subsequent emperors Caligula, Diocletian, Domitian and Hadrian all stole obelisks from Egypt and erected them in Rome. Whereas the Egyptians usually placed obelisks in pairs in front of temples and funerary monuments, the Romans usually placed them as solitary monuments, in places such as the spina (central spine) of a circus (racetrack). The Romans built specialized ships to transport the up-to 455 ton unwieldy cargo up the Nile, across the Mediterranean, and up the Tiber, employing up to 300 rowers, displaying their power through superior engineering that only they could muster. The Romans also tried their hand at making their own obelisks, even carving fake hieroglyphics into some of them, but the Roman-made obelisks are generally inferior.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the obelisks also fell into ruin, toppling and breaking into pieces which were eventually buried by rising ground level and silt deposited by Tiber River floods. During the Counter-Reformation, the popes dug them up, reassembled them, and had them re-erected at key locations in Rome, such as in front of churches or in the center of piazzas. The obelisks were a way of connecting their city back to the glory of Imperial Rome. Long straight roads often provided clear sight lines (and still do today) from a mile away, helping guide pilgrims unfamiliar with Rome to churches. The obelisks today usually have some you of bronze ornamentation at the top, often displaying symbols of the pope who erected them.

The superb article entitled The Legacy of the Obelisks of Rome describes the relevance of these obelisks in much more detail than this brief introduction.


The 8 Ancient Egyptian Obelisks in Rome are:


Lateran Obelisk (Obelisco Lateranense) in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano
Location:Next to the church of San Giovanni in Laterano, in Piazza San Giovanni
Metro:San Giovanni, located along my Southeastern Sights Walking Tour
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Lateran Obelisk is the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world, with a height of 105.6 feet (149.9 feet with base) and a weight of 455 tons. It's made of red granite, and it's surface is covered with hieroglyphics. Its inscriptions state that while it was begun during the reign of Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC), a great oppressor of the Hebrews in Egypy. It lay in the craftsmen's workshops for 35 years and was finally erected in about 1400 BC by his grandson Tuthmosis IV. It stood at the eastern end of the Temple of Amun Re in Karnak (Thebes), Egypt, but was removed under the orders of the Roman emperor Constantine (274-337 AD) who intended to erect it in his new capital of the Roman Empire at Constantinople. He died before the obelisk ever left Egypt, and his son and successor Constantius (317-361 AD) had it taken with the Obelisk of Theodosius (now in Istanbul) to Alexandria. From there it was brought on its own to Rome in 357 AD, where it was re-erected in the center of the spina of the Circus Maximus along with the Flaminian Obelisk at the eastern end. It was the last obelisk transported to Rome, although even Augustus (14-37 AD) had considered bringing it to Rome. But although it is the last obelisk brought to Rome, it might be the oldest obelisk of all those in Rome, having been made in the 15th century BC (but the Vatican Obelisk might have been made in 1835 BC). While St Peter saw the Vatican Obelisk now at St. Peter's Square, Moses may very well have seen this obelisk.

At some unknown date and by some unknown cause, the obelisk fell. It was not until the 16th century that Pope Sixtus V ordered a search for the monolith. It was found, in three pieces, some 23 feet down in the former Circus Maximus. It was restored, about 4 meters shorter than it originally had been. On August 3, 1588, after more than a year of effort, the Lateran Obelisk was raised in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, replacing the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius which stood there but was moved to the Campidoglio. Around the same time, the Fountain in Piazza San Giovanni was completed, mounted to the northern face of the base of the obelisk. The obelisk has stood there ever since, a Christian cross at its apex.

    
The southeast corner of the Lateran Obelisk, in Piazza Porta San Giovanni
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The west side of the Lateran Obelisk, in Piazza Porta San Giovanni
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The 4 photos below show a view of each of the four sides of the obelisk and its base. The inscriptions on the four sides of the base state (paraphrasing):

The hieroglyphics in the 3 columns of the four sides of the obelisk extoll the virtues of Tuthmosis III and Tuthmosis IV. For example, the central line on the north side says, "The Harmachis, the living Sun, the strong Bull beloved of the Sun, Lord of Diadems very terrible in all lands, the Golden Hawk the very powerful, the Smiter of the Libyans, the King of Ramenkheper, the son of AmenRa, of his loins, whom his mother Mut gave birth to in Asher, one flesh with him who created him, the Son of the Sun, Thothmes (III) the Uniter of Creation, beloved of AmenRa, Lord of the thrones of the Upper and Lower country, giver of life like the Sun for ever.". Wow, what a guy! If you're up for more, all the hieroglyphics are translated starting on page 127 of Egyptian Obelisks, by Henry H. Gorringe, 1885.

    
The north side of the Lateran Obelisk
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The east side of the Lateran Obelisk
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The south side of the Lateran Obelisk
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The west side of the Lateran Obelisk
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Vatican Obelisk (Obelisco Vaticano) in St Peter's Square
Location:Center of St. Peter's Square, in front of St. Peter's Basilica
Metro:Ottaviano/San Pietro, then walk 10 minutes south
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time, as long as the square is not closed to the public due to a papal appearance, which it probably will be on Wednesday mornings

The Vatican Obelisk has a height of 83.6 feet (134.5 feet with base) and weighs 331 tons. It stands on a base 27 feet wide. This is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since Roman times. This obelisk, like two others in Rome, is uninscribed, but is stated by St. Peter's - Guide to the Basilica and Square to have come from Heliopolis (Cairo), Egypt, where it was built by the Pharaoh Mencares in 1835 BC in honor of the sun. It is made of red granite. It is the oldest monument in St. Peter's Square, and might be the oldest obelisk in Rome. It is known that Emperor Augustus ordered it erected in the Julian Forum (Forum Iulium) in Alexandria by the prefect Cornelius Gallus around 30-20 BC, where it stayed until 37 AD. That year, the Emperor Caligula had it transported to Rome on a specially built ship, and erected in the spina of the Vatican Circus (later named Nero's Stadium, or the Circus of Nero, built by Caligula on the grounds of what is now the Vatican) in Rome. There it stood on a spot perhaps 50 feet from the left outside wall of today's St. Peter's Basilica, near the left transept. After the voyage, the ship, which had been specially made to transport the obelisk, was filled with pozzolana and sunk so as to be used as the base for the left pier of Claudius' harbour, at the mouth of the Tiber River. According to the Egyptologist Labib Habachi, "Legend has it that in the Vatican Circus innumerable Christians, including St. Peter, were put to death and that the reason this obelisk was not later overturned as were all the others in Rome was that it was looked upon as the last witness to the martyrdom of St. Peter."

    
The Vatican Obelisk, in St. Peter's Square
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The spot where the Vatican Obelisk originally stood. Look through archway beside St. Peter's Basilica to see the obelisk today, in the center of St. Peter's Square, about 800 feet away.
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In 1586 the Pope Sixtus V directed the obelisk to be re-erected in the collonnaded square before the Basilica of St. Peter, where it remains to this day. The spot where it stands is only about 800 feet from where it stood in the spina of the Vatican Circus (see last photo above). During the Middle Ages, the gilt ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar (also Augustus and Tiberius). That, and the fact that Nero was thought to be a sorcerer during the Middle Ages, might explain the fact that the obelisk was never toppled. During its relocation, workers carefully inspected the metal globe that had stood atop the obelisk since Roman times. They looked for the remains of Caesar, but they found only dust. That ancient metal ball is now in the Museo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museum in Rome. After the successful re-erection, triumphant Romans carried the chief engineer, Domenico Fontana, on their shoulders all the way to his home. This was the first obelisk to be re-erected in "modern" times, and was acknowledged as a great accomplishment. This operation took four moths, required hundreds of workmen, and used 900 men, 75 horses and 44 winches on the day of the raising. The story of its raising is Roman legend: how in 1586 Pope Sixtus V ordered the huge crowd of spectators to remain silent under pain of death, how the ropes were about to break under the strain of the column's weight, how a Genoese sailor risked his life, screamed, "Water on the ropes!" and thus saved the obelisk from crashing into a million pieces, how the grateful Pope ordered that henceforth all the Vatican's Palm Sunday fronds be purchased in Bordighera (they still are). The inscriptions on the north and south sides of the base have texts written by Cardinal Silvio Antoniani as a memorial to the moving of the obelisk. The east and west sides have exorcist formulas.

    
The Vatican Obelisk, in St. Peter's Square
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Inscriptions on the base of the Vatican Obelisk
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The obelisk is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. The obelisk rests upon four couchant lions, each with two bodies whose tails intertwine.

    
The Vatican Obelisk in the center of St. Peter's Square, from the top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
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Flaminian Obelisk (Obelisco Flaminio) from Circus Maximus, now in Piazza del Popolo
Location:Center of Piazza del Popolo
Metro:Flaminio
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

In the center of Piazza del Popolo is the Flaminian obelisk, supported by a fountain with four lionesses at the corners spouting water. It is 78.7 feet tall (119.75 feet with base), weighs 263 tons, and is covered in heiroglyphics. The pharoah Seti I (1318-1304 BC) decorated three sides of this obelisk, made of Aswan granite, and his son Ramses II carved the fourth, and erected the obelisk in the sun temble at Heliopolis, a capitol of ancient Egypt. Some believe that it was during the reign of Ramses II that the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt occurred. In inscriptions on one side of the monolith, Seti I describes himself as "the one who fills Heliopolis with obelisks that their rays may illuminate the Temple of Re." Ramses II, one of history's greatest self-aggrandizers, styled himself as one who made "monuments as innumerable as the stars of heaven. His works join the sky. When Re shines, he rejoices because of [the obelisks] in his temple of millions of years." The obelisk was brought to Rome by Augustus after the death of Antony and Cleopatra, and erected on the eastern end of the spina of the Circus Maximus, being rededicated by Augustus in 10 BC to the Sun, making this the first obelisk erected in Rome. A vessel was specially constructed to transport this obelisk and the Solar Obelisk from Egypt to Rome, then another was constructed to carry the obelisk up the Tiber River. Augustus erected the obelisk on the spina of the Circus Maximus, where it was joined nearly 350 years later by the Lateran Obelisk. It fell during the wars between the Byzantines and the Goths for the control of Rome in the 6th century AD and it was covered by debris. In 1587, it was found in two pieces, buried in the Circus Maximus, along with the Lateran Obelisk. It was excavated and repaired (it was slightly shortened). In 1589, the obelisk was moved by Pope Sixtus V to its present site as the centerpiece of the Piazza del Popolo, where three major avenues of the city converge. It was topped by the mountains and the star of Sixtus V. Sculptures with lion fountains were added to the base in 1818. Since the Piazza del Popolo is located at the Flaminian Gate in the Aurelian Wall (the spot where Via Flaminia enters the ancient city of Rome), the obelisk is known as the Flaminian Obelisk. The Flaminian Obelisk can be seen from the Victor Emmanuel Monument, at the far end of Via del Corso.

    
The Flaminian Obelisk, in the center of Piazza del Popolo, with the Fountain of the Obelisk at its base
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The Flaminian Obelisk
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Solar Obelisk (Obelisco di Montecitorio), or Montecitorio Obelisk, in Piazza Montecitorio
Location:Piazza Montecitorio, about 3 blocks north north-east of the Pantheon
Metro:Spagna (or Barberini if you're going to the Trevi Fountain and the Column of Marcus Aurelius first)
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Solar Obelisk has a height of 71.5 feet (111.4 feet with base), weighs 230 tons, is made of red granite, and is covered with hieroglyphics. Psammetikos II (595-589 BC), the third king of the 26th Dynasty, erected this obelisk at Heliopolis near Cairo during the 7th century BC. Many of the inscriptions have eroded away, though a list of the king's many names remains: "The Golden Horus, 'beautifying the Two Lands,' beloved of Atum, lord of Heliopolis; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferibre, beloved of Re-Harakhti; the son of his own body, who seizes the White Crown and who unites the Double Crown, Psammetikos, beloved of the Souls of Heliopolis." Like the Flaminian Obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo, this obelisk was brought from Egypt to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC to commemorate his conquest of Egypt. When he brought it to Rome it caused such a stir that even the ship used to transport it was kept on public display. It was re-erected in Rome in 10 BC in the Campus Martius, where now Piazza dell'Impresa is found, to form the gnomon (needle) of a sundial designed by the mathematician Facundus Novius in a vast square (Horologium Divi Augusti) between the Ara Pacis Augustae and the columna Antonini Pii, where its shadow on an extensive pavement of marble with inlaid strips of gilt metal on the north side of the shaft indicated the hours of the day and the days of the year. It was extremely important to have an accurate calendar because an ever-increasing number of days belonged to the gods and had to be celebrated. By 12 BC, when Augustus took over as pontifex maximus, the calendar had gotten ahead of itself because the priests had been observing a leap year every three years instead of every four years. Because of the new meridian, Augustus could announce, in 9 BC, that the error had been corrected and everything was now back in order. Seventy years later the indications of the dial were incorrect, and it was supposed that the obelisk had been slightly displaced by an earthquake. It remained there, in the Campus Martius, for many centuries and was still standing in the 8th century AD, but it was subsequently knocked down and broken into five pieces at some unknown date. It was discovered buried in 1512, but was reburied. In about 1484, and at various times in the next century, portions of the pavement were found, with the gilt lines, and figures in mosaic around the edge representing the winds and different heavenly bodies, but they were covered up again and are not visible. The height of the obelisk would require a pavement extending about 110 meters east and west, and 60 north and south, to form the described sundial. The obelisk was excavated and found split in five pieces in 1748, but in spite of various attempts, it was not set up again until 1789, by Pope Pius VI, in the Piazza di Montecitorio, its present site. The reliefs are partially lost. Pope Pius VI put a symbol of his coat of arms on top of the obelisk thus restoring the sundial; at noon a sunbeam goes through an opening in the globe and it ends on a series of marks on the ground showing the various dates when the sunbeam should strike those spots.

    
The Solar Obelisk, in Piazza Montecitorio
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The Solar Obelisk
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Macuteo Obelisk, above the Fountain of the Pantheon, in Piazza della Rotonda (at the Pantheon)
Location:In front of the Pantheon
Metro:None, maybe Spagna. An alternate is to take Bus 40 or 64 (get off at Largo di Torre Argentina, then walk north from there).
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time, well lit at night

The Macuteo Obelisk is 20.8 feet tall (47.6 feet with base), covered in hieroglyphics, and now stands in front of the Pantheon. This obelisk was erected by Ramses II as one of a pair at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis, the other being the now much shorter Mattei Obelisk. The Isaeum/Serapeum Campense covered a large area between the Pantheon and Via Flaminia (today Via del Corso) and it was embellished with several small-sized obelisks all coming from Egypt, probably during the first century AD by emperor Domitian. The Macuteo Obelisk was erected at the Temple of Isis, near the current-day Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It was subsequently found, in 1373, near San Macuto and referred to as Guglia di San Macuto in several descriptions of Rome, and was erected at that time east of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill. In 1711 Pope Clement XI moved it to the center of the already existing Fountain of the Pantheon by Filippo Barigioni in front of the Pantheon. The top of the obelisk is decorated with the mountains and the star of Clement XI.

    
The Macuteo Obelisk and the Fontana del Pantheon
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The Macuteo Obelisk
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Minerva Obelisk, at Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Location:Piazza della Minerva, one block south from the left side of the Pantheon (as you look at the front of it)
Metro:None, maybe Spagna. An alternate is to take Bus 40 or 64 (get off at Largo di Torre Argentina, then walk north from there).
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time, well lit at night

The Minerva Obelisk is 17.9 feet tall (41.6 feet with base) and has four lines of hieroglyphics. It was originally erected at Sais by Pharoah Apries during the period of 589-570 BC. It was brought to Rome by emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD) for the Temple of Isis, a lost temple near the obelisk's current location. It fell over at some point, was buried by the rubble of the ages, and was found in 1655 (many sources say 1665) in a garden belonging to a Dominican monestary. In 1667 it was erected by Pope Alexander VII on the back of the adorable little Elephant base created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The obelisk is named the Minerva Obelisk because the place it now stands was once a temple to Minerva.

    
Minerva Obelisk and Bernini's Elephant
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Minerva Obelisk and Bernini's Elephant
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An interesting story about the elephant tells that Bernini wanted the elephant to have the normal four legs with nothing between them, with the obelisk's weight being carried by the elephant's legs. But Father Paglia was envious of Bernini receiving the commission and convinced the Pope that the legs alone would not carry the obelisk's weight. So Bernini, although he disagreed with the design, had to add a block between the elephant's legs and Bernini was not quite successful in disguising the heavy look of the cube by adding a saddle to the elephant. He was so upset by the forced modifications that Bernini sculpted the elephant such that his rear end pointed toward the Dominican monestary, and with the tail slightly shifted toward the left, in the attitude of saluting Father Paglia and the other Dominican Friars in a rather obscene way (2nd photo below).

    
Bernini's Elephant
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The tail of Bernini's Elephant
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Dogali Obelisk, at the Baths of Diocletian
Location:In the small triangular park between the Palazzo Massimo branch of the National Museum of Rome (near Termini) and Piazza Della Repubblica
Metro:Half way between Termini and Repubblica
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time, but there might be homeless people in the park at night

The Dogali Obelisk is about 9 feet tall (20.8 feet with base). The obelisk originally stood in Heliopolis, but was brought by Domitian in the late first century AD to Rome. It was erected in the Temple of Isis (a long-lost temple near where Santa Maria sopra Minerva now stands). At some point in history, it was toppled, and found in 1883 by Rodolfo Lanciani near Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It was erected in front of the Termini Station to commemorate the 1887 Battle of Dogali, in Ethiopia, and moved to its present site in 1924 upon a base inscribed with the names of the Italian soldiers who died in that battle.

    
Dogali Obelisk, on the grounds of the Baths of Diocletian
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Dogali Obelisk, on the grounds of the Baths of Diocletian
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The Dogali Obelisk
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Mattei Obelisk, or Celimontana Obelisk, at Villa Celimontana
Location:Villa Celimontana, south of the Colosseum
Metro:Colosseo
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Daylight hours

The Mattei Obelisk is 8.8 feet tall (40.1 feet with base), is covered by hieroglyphics, and is now located in Villa Celimontana, south of the Colosseum. I'd guess the park might be closed and locked at night. This is the smallest of the ancient Egyptian obelisks, and is also the most battered and the hardest to find. The park can be quite a hike to get to, depending on the route you select. The shortest route from a metro stop is from the Colosseo station. Walk 180 degrees around the Colosseum, then down Via Claudia. Just past the Santa Maria in Domenica convent is the entrance, on the right, into Villa Celimontana. The obelisk was originally erected by Rameses II as one of a pair at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis, the other being the Macuteo Obelisk which retains much more of its original height. It was brought to Rome by Domitian in the late first century AD and erected in the Temple of Isis (a long-lost temple near where Santa Maria sopra Minerva now stands). It was found in the 14th century and erected east of Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the steps of the Campidoglio until some time between 1555 and 1561 when it fell. Michelangelo redesigned the Capitoline square in the late 16th century. It was given in 1582 by the city authorities to Ciriaco Mattei, who set it up in the Mattei Gardens (now called Villa Celimontana), There, it collapsed again and lay forgotten until 1820 when the upper part was erected where it still stands on a modern base made from parts of several unknown obelisks. During this job, one of the workmen lost his hand when a rope broke and the obelisk fell onto his hand, amputating it. That hand is presumably still under the obelisk.

    
Mattei Obelisk
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Mattei Obelisk
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The 5 obelisks made in Egypt in the Roman period at the request of wealthy Romans, or made in Rome as copies of ancient Egyptian originals are:


Agonal Obelisk (Obelisco Agonalis), or the Obelisk of Domitian, above the Fountain of the Four Rivers, in Piazza Navona
Location:Center of Piazza Navona
Metro:None, perhaps Spagna. An alternate is to take Bus 40 or 64 (get off at Piazza San Panteleo, 2 stops past Piazza Venezia, then walk north from there).
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Agonal Obelisk is 54.2 feet tall (about 100 feet with base), covered in hieroglyphics, and dominates Piazza Navona in modern Rome, standing at the center, above Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. The obelisk was a copy of an Egyptian obelisk commissioned by Domitian and transported to Rome where the hieroglyphics were cut. They allude to the repair of the Temples to the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, located near today's Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which had been ruined in the fire of 80 AD, and they also include the names of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, correctly carved using hieroglyphics. The obelisk was erected at that time at the Temple of Serapis. When the Circus of Maxentius was built in 309 AD on the via Appia, Maxentius moved the obelisk to the spina of that circus. The obelisk fell in the 6th century and it broke into five pieces. The Earl of Arundel paid a deposit and attempted to ship four of the pieces to London in the late 1630s but Urban VIII disallowed its export. In 1648 the obelisk was repaired and in 1649 it was erected on top of the Fountain of the Four Rivers designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to celebrate the glory of Pope Innocent X, in Piazza Navona, where it still stands. Bernini had not been invited to submit a project for the fountain because the Pope reproached him for his too-close connection with his predecessor Pope Urban VIII and for the technical failure of his attempt to erect bell towers for St Peter's Basilica. Bernini found a way to have a model of the fountain seen by the Pope and he immediately was given the commission. The base of the obelisk is cut through in both directions, creating the illusion that the obelisk is unsupported. The top of the obelisk is decorated with the dove of Innocent X. The obelisk is named the Agonal Obelisk because Piazza Navona was originally a stadium named Circus Agonalis built by emperor Domitian in 96 AD.

    
Agonal Obelisk, on Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers
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Agonal Obelisk, on Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers
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Quirinal Obelisk, in Piazza del Quirinale
Location:Piazza del Quirinale, 3 blocks southeast from the Trevi Fountain
Metro:Barberini
Time:about 15 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Quirinal Obelisk is 48 feet tall (94.9 feet with base), but has no hieroglyphics since it is a Roman imitiation of an Egyptian obelisk. This, and its sister obelisk, the Esquiline Obelisk, were probably quarried by the Romans in the late first century AD. This one was erected on the eastern flank of the Mausuleum of Augustus, paired with the Esquiline Obelisk on the western flank. Both obelisks fell into pieces and as the area was often flooded by the Tiber River they disappeared into the ground under a covering of silt. It was found in 1527, but left in place. It was rediscovered in 1781, broken into three pieces. It was repaired and re-erected in 1786, under Pope Pius VI, on the Quirinal Hill between the two existing colossal statues of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) from the Baths of Constantine. A large bowl fountain also exists at the feet of the obelisk. The Italian flag flies behind the obelisk above the Quirinale Palace, former summer home of the popes and present-day home of Italy's President. The Quirinal Obelisk (along with the Esquiline Obelisk and the Sallustian Obelisk) can be seen from the corner of the four fountains, at the intersection of Via 20 Settembre and Via delle Quattro Fontane.

    
Quirinal Obelisk and Fountain of Castor and Pollux, in Piazza del Quirinale (HDR of 3 images)
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Quirinal Obelisk
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Quirinal Obelisk
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Esquiline Obelisk, in Piazza dell'Esquilino
Location:Piazza dell'Esquilino, in back of Santa Maria Maggiore (on the Via Cavour side of the church)
Metro:Half way between Termini and Cavour, located along my Southeastern Sights Walking Tour
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Esquiline Obelisk is 48.4 feet tall (83.8 feet with base), has no hieroglyphics, and is a Roman imitiation of an Egyptian obelisk. This, and its sister obelisk, the Quirinal Obelisk, were probably quarried by the Romans in the late first century AD. This one was erected on the western flank of the Mausuleum of Augustus, paired with the Quirinal Obelisk on the eastern flank. Both obelisks fell into pieces and as the area was often flooded by the Tiber River they disappeared into the ground under a covering of silt. In 1519 the opening of Via di Ripetta led to the discovery of one of them. This one was in four pieces which were assembled near the church of San Rocco in 1527. Sixtus V had the obelisk repaired and placed in 1587 at the end of Strada Felice, a new street he had opened to reach Santa Maria Maggiore. The top of the obelisk is decorated with the mountains and the star of Sixtus V. The Esquiline Obelisk (along with the Quirinal Obelisk and the Sallustian Obelisk) can be seen from the corner of the four fountains, at the intersection of Via 20 Settembre and Via delle Quattro Fontane.

    
Esquiline Obelisk
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Esquiline Obelisk
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Sallustian Obelisk, or Trinita dei Monti Obelisk, at the top of the Spanish Steps
Location:At the top of the Spanish Steps, in front of the church Trinita dei Monti
Metro:Spagna
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Sallustian Obelisk is 45.6 feet tall (99.9 feet with base). It is a Roman copy, although smaller, of the Flaminian Obelisk of Ramses II, now in Piazza del Popolo. The hieroglyphics of the Flaminian Obelisk were copied onto this obelisk. Its construction in Rome was ordered by Aurelius and it was initially erected in a private residence called Horti Sallustiani after the name of its first owner, the Latin historian Sallustius, a very wealthy man. The Horti Sallustiani covered a large area near Porta Pinciana and Porta Salara, which later became part of Villa Ludovisi. According to experts on ancient Egypt, some of the hieroglyphics on this obelisk are upside down, as they were copied by ancient Roman workmen from the newly arrived obelisk of Ramses II while that object was still lying horizontal on the ground. In the fifteenth century the obelisk was lying on the ground near its base, broken into two pieces, and it remained there until 1733 when Clement XII moved it to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano in 1734, but kept horizontal. He left the original base of the obelisk where it was and had it covered over with dirt. It was moved by Pius VI in 1789 to its current location at the top of the Spanish Steps and erected there. The original base was found again in 1843 in the northern part of the horti, between the Vie Sicilia, Sardegna, Toscana and Abruzzi. It is a large block of red granite (8 by 8 feet), and has been placed on the Capitoline Hill as the base of a monument to the fallen Fascists. The top of the obelisk shows a lily and a star which are heraldic symbols of Pius VI. The Sallustian Obelisk (along with the Quirinal Obelisk and the Esquiline Obelisk) can be seen from the corner of the four fountains, at the intersection of Via 20 Settembre and Via delle Quattro Fontane.

    
Sallustian Obelisk
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Sallustian Obelisk
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Pincian Obelisk, on the Pincian Hill
Location:Pincio Hill, within Villa Borghese, east of Piazza del Popolo, on Viale dell'Obelisco
Metro:Flaminio
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time (might be closed at night)

The Pincian Obelisk is 30.3 feet tall (56.6 feet with base). It was commissioned and brought to Rome by Hadrian (117-138 AD). The hieroglyphics were probably cut in Rome, and state that the obelisk was erected on the site where Antinous was buried, just outside the limits of the city, but it is uncertain whether this means that the body of Antinous was actually brought to Rome or not; the grave may have been in Tivoli. Antinous was the beautiful young man who emperor Hadrian adored, and who drowned in the Nile while saving Hadrian's life. The obelisk was moved to Rome by Elagabalus (218-222 AD) to decorate the spina of the Circus Varianus, a chariot racing track built by Caracalla. The fragments of this obelisk were set up in 1570 in the vigna Saccoccia outside Porta Maggiore at a point marked by an inscription recording the fact, which was fixed to one of the piers of the Aqua Claudia, about 1180 feet east of the Aurelian wall. This became one of the piers of the Acqua Felice in 1585. The original site of the obelisk was probably not far from this point. In 1633 it was removed by the Barberini family to their palace, and afterwards presented to Clement XIV. It lay in the Giardino della Pigna in the Vatican until 1822, when Pius VII erected it on the Pincian Hill where it still stands.

    
Pincian Obelisk
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Pincian Obelisk
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There are several modern obelisks in Rome, including these two:


Marconi Obelisk, in Piazza Marconi, in the EUR
Location:Center of the EUR district in Piazza Marconi
Metro:EUR Fermi
Time:about 10 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Marconi Obelisk is 147 feet tall, and located in the center of the EUR district in Piazza Marconi. Built in 1959 for the 1960 Summer Olympics, the obelisk is dedicated to Guglielmo Marconi. Modern hieroglyphics narrate the endeavors of inventor Guglielmo Marconi and other 20th-century triumphs in the 92 white marble panels that decorate this obelisk. While you're here, the Museum of Roman Civilization and Palace of Labor are nearby.

    
Marconi Obelisk
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Marconi Obelisk
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Villa Medici Obelisk, in the courtyard at Villa Medici
Location:In the courtyard of Villa Medici, north a short distance from the top of the Spanish Steps
Metro:Spagna
Time:about 75 minutes, can be less time if you only wish to see the courtyard
Cost:Free
Hours:Tuesday - Sunday 11 AM - 4:30 PM, English guided tour Tuesday - Sunday at noon

The Villa Medici Obelisk is 19th century copy of the original, found in the gardens and taken to Florence. It is visible only, as far as I know, when taking a free guided tour of the gardens of Villa Medici. Just go up to the welcome desk inside Villa Medici and ask for a tour of the gardens. You'll need to state which language you want the tour to be in. English tours are at noon. But if you just want to see the obelisk, you can take a tour in any language, see the obelisk and the courtyard, then leave the tour and exit the villa. Tours are about every hour and are free. While you're waiting for your tour, you can probably go see the Pincian Obelisk, about a 10 minute walk from here.

    
Villa Medici Obelisk
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