In an earlier post, I discussed some of the obelisks near the Spanish Steps Apartment. Now let’s cross over the river for the Vatican’s well-traveled obelisk.
The Vatican obelisk is from Egypt, originally standing in Heliopolis. The obelisk itself, made of red granite, is a bit more than 25 meters, but (today) with the addition of the base and the cross at the top, the composition is 41 meters tall. The Roman Emperor Caligula had the obelisk brought from Egypt to Rome, where it stood in what came to be called the Circus of Nero.
The obelisk gained world fame in 1586 when Pope Sixtus V ordered it be moved to St. Peter’s Square. Architect/engineer Domenico Fontana was selected to oversee this massive effort, involving 900 men, 75 horses, and a complex system of pulleys and ramps. The effort to move the obelisk was so extraordinary that it was documented in several books and drawings.
Later, Gian Lorenzo Bernini would use the obelisk as the centerpiece of his magnificent piazza, adding the Chigi arms to the top in honor of his patron, Pope Alexander VII. And this is how it came to be what, and where, it is today.