The Obelisks of Rome, Part II

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.

Drawing of the Circus of Nero (Pietro Santi Bartoli, 1699)
Drawing of the Circus of Nero (Pietro Santi Bartoli, 1699)

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.

Dispositione e veduta generale delle machine che servirono per alzare l'obelisco Vaticano, 1743
Dispositione e veduta generale delle machine che servirono per alzare l’obelisco Vaticano, Nicola Zabaglia, 1743.

 

1590 depiction of the Lowering of the Vatican Obelisk
1590 depiction of the Lowering of the Vatican Obelisk.

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.

St. Peter's Square, as seen from the cupola.
St. Peter’s Square, as seen from the cupola.
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