Rome has more obelisks than anywhere in the world outside of Egypt.
Here are a few interesting stories and tidbits about the 8 most important Egyptian obelisks rising tall in Rome’s squares.
1) The Lateran Obelisk
The Lateran Obelisk is Rome’s tallest and largest obelisk, weighing 340 tons, with a height of 32 meters (=104 feet). Covered in Egyptian inscriptions, it was brought to Rome and was taken down in the Middle Ages because it was thought to be bad luck. During the Renaissance, it was found buried under seven meters of dirt!
2) The Flaminio Obelisk
The Flaminio Obelisk is in Piazza del Popolo, built at the behest of Ramses, and is more than 3,000 years old. Augustus brought it to Rome in 30 B.C.
3) The Obelisk of Montecitorio
The Obelisk of Montecitorio - close to our hotel! - was also brought to Rome by Augustus and became the “gnomon” projecting part of a great sundial.
4) The Esquiline Obelisk
The Esquiline Obelisk, made of pink granite, was found broken in pieces near the ruins of the Mausoleum of Augustus and Pope Sixtus V had it erected again in 1587.
5) The Minerva Obelisk
The Minerva Obelisk is actually a sculptural composition, designed in part by the famed sculptor Bernini; standing on the back of a small elephant, who embodies the strength one needs to bear the weight of wisdom (as the inscription tells us).
6) The Obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda
The Obelisk in Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon, was brought to Rome from Heliopolis, Egypt. It now stands in front of the Pantheon on a fountain built in 1575.
7) The Vatican Obelisk
The Vatican Obelisk is in St. Peter’s Square, and is the second tallest in Rome. The Emperor Caligula brought it here in 37 A.D. It was so large that a big ship had to be built just to carry it. According to a legend, the sphere on the top of the obelisk holds Caesar’s ashes.
8) The Agonal Obelisk
The Agonal Obelisk is part of the famous Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navona. It was brought to Rome from Aswan. A dove sits on top of it, symbolizing the Pontiff.