The Obelisks of Rome, Part I

In a prior post I wrote about my favorite obelisk in Rome: the small one mounted on a charming little elephant by Bernini. But this is just one of many obelisks that grace the Eternal City.

The closest one to us sits at the top of the Spanish Steps, in front of the church of Trinità dei Monti. This is the Sallustiano obelisk — and it is an ancient forgery! The ancient Romans had such an appetite for Egyptian obelisks that they ended up manufacturing some themselves. Originally built for display in the garden of a wealthy Roman, it moved around the city several times before coming to the Spanish Steps in 1789.

The obelisk at the top of the Spanish Steps.
The obelisk at the top of the Spanish Steps.

There’s also an obelisk at Piazza del Popolo.  Indeed, this one was the model for the obelisk at Trinità dei Monti. This obelisk forms a monumental fountain, surrounded by ancient Egyptian lions that “spit” water into a fountain. This is the “Flaminio” obelisk, and was brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus from Heliopolis. Originally erected in the Circus Maximus, it came to Piazza del Popolo in 1589.

The obelisk at Piazza del Popolo
The obelisk at Piazza del Popolo.

The Pincio obelisk is yet another ancient fake. Emperor Hadrian commissioned this one for the tomb of his lover Antinous at Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli.  It moved many times before arriving at the Pincian Hill in 1822.

The Pincian obelisk.
The Pincian obelisk.

Located at Piazza Monticitorio, in front of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, is the Solare obelisk. This is another Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus and is said to have been part of an ancient sundial. The obelisk was forgotten and buried but rediscovered and moved here in 1792.

Obelisk at Monticittorio
Obelisk at Monticittorio.

In Rome’s beautiful Piazza della Rotonda, home of the Pantheon, stands the Macuteo obelisk, part of a very engaging fountain. This obelisk once stood near the Temple of Isis, now Santa Maria sopra Minerva, before being moved to the church of San Macuto.

The Pantheon's obelisk
The Pantheon’s obelisk.

More obelisks in later posts… Part II, Part III, and Part IV.