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ROME’S 13 ANCIENT OBELISKS

No city in the world boasts such a multitude of historical obelisks as Rome. During the Roman Empire, after Augustus conquered Egypt in 31 BC, every Emperor sought for honor and immortality by bringing a monolith in Rome to adorn a monument. Domitian was the most active on this front.

The biggest one is erected in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, followed by the obelisk in Piazza Montecitorio. The smallest one is located in Piazza della Minerva. After the fall of the Empire, the obelisks fell into oblivion. Thanks to the popes Sixtus V, Innocent X, Pius VI and Alexander VII they came back to adorn many newly restored squares.

  1. Obelisk of St. Peter’s Square (Vaticano – height of 25.5 metres): brought to Rome by Caligula, this is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since Roman times. It was placed in the center of the square in 1586
  2. Obelisk of Piazza dell’Esquilino (Esquiline – height of 14.75 metres): commissioned by Domitian and originally erected on the western flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus, it was placed in front of the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V
  3. Obelisk of Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano (Lateranense – height of 32.18 metres): brought to Rome by Constantius II in 357 to decorate the spina of the Circus Maximus, it was erected near the Lateran Palace and Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in 1588 in the place of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which was moved to the Capitoline Hill
  4. Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo (Flaminio – height of 24 metres): brought to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC with the Solare obelisk and erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus, it was found with the Lateranense obelisk in 1587 in two pieces and erected by Pope Sixtus V in 1589. Sculptures with lion fountains were added to the base in 1818
  5. Obelisk of Piazza Navona (Agonalis or Pamphilius – height of 16.53 metres): erected on top of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini in 1651, it was originally commissioned by Domitian and erected at the Temple of Serapis, later moved to the Circus of Maxentius
  6. Obelisk of Piazza del Quirinale (Quirinale – height of 14.63 metres): originally erected on the eastern flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus, pairing with the Esquiline obelisk, in 1786 it was erected by Pope Pius VI on the Quirinal Hill next to statues of the Dioscuri (called the ‘Horse Tamers’) from the Baths of Constantine
  7. Obelisk of Piazza Trinità dei Monti (Sallustiano – height of 13.91 metres): an Aurelian copy, although smaller, of the Flaminio obelisk of Ramses II in the Piazza del Popolo, for the Gardens of Sallus. It was placed above the Spanish Steps in 1789 by Pope Pius VI
  8. Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio (Solare – height of 21.79 metres): brought from Heliopolis to Rome by Augustus in 10 BC with the Flaminio obelisk to form the gnomon of a sundial on the Campus Martius, it was erected by Pope Pius VI in front of the Palazzo Montecitorio in 1792
  9. Obelisk of Piazza della Minerva (Minerveo – height of 5.47 metres): brought to Rome by Diocletian for the nearby Temple of Isis, it was erected in 1667 by Pope Alexander VII on an Elephant base by Bernini, behind the Pantheon
  10. Obelisk of the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda (Macuteo – height of 6.34 metres): Originally one of a pair at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis, it was later moved to the Temple of Isis near Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In 1711 it was placed to the front of the Pantheon by Pope Clement XI over a fountain by Giacomo della Porta
  11. Obelisk of Villa Celimontana (Matteiano – height of 2.68 metres): a fragmentary obelisk (only the upper half is original), dating to Pharaoh Ramsete. Moved to Villa Celimontana after Michelangelo redesigned the square in the late 16th century, this is the smallest obelisk in Rome
  12. Obelisk of the Pincian Hill (Pinciano – height of 9.24 metres): commissioned by Hadrian and erected in Tivoli for the tomb of Antinous. Moved to Rome by Elagabalus to decorate the spina of the Circus Varianus, it was finally erected on the Pincian by Pope Pius VII in 1822
  13. Obelisk of the Baths of Diocletian (Dogali – height of 6.34 meters): originally one of a pair from Heliopolis, the other now in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Found in 1883 by Rodolfo Lanciani near Santa Maria sopra Minerva, now it commemorates the Battle of Dogali, originally in front of Near Termini Station and moved to its present site in 1925

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