List of obelisks in Rome

The city of Rome harbours the most obelisks in the world. There are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks in Rome, together with a number of more modern obelisks; there was also until 2005 an ancient Ethiopian obelisk in Rome.

The Romans used special heavy cargo carriers called obelisk ships to transport the monuments down the Nile to Alexandria and from there across the Mediterranean Sea to Rome. On site, large Roman cranes were employed to erect the monoliths.

1586 Rome obelisk erection
Re-erection of the Vatican Obelisk by the Renaissance architect Domenico Fontana in 1586

Ancient Egyptian obelisks

At least eight obelisks created in antiquity by the Egyptians were taken from Egypt after the Roman conquest and brought to Rome.

Basilica di San Pietro 1450
The old Basilica of Saint Peter with the obelisk at the left in its original place.

Ancient Roman obelisks

At least five obelisks were manufactured in Egypt in the Roman period at the request of the wealthy Romans, or made in Rome as copies of ancient Egyptian originals.

Image Height
(with base)
Name Location Notes
Vierstroemebrunnen Piazza Navona Rom
(16.53 m
(30+ m)


Piazza Navona

41°53′56.3″N 12°28′23.1″E / 41.898972°N 12.473083°E
A copy commissioned by Domitian and erected at the Temple of Serapis. Moved to the Circus of Maxentius by Maxentius. The Earl of Arundel paid a deposit and attempted to ship the four pieces to London in the late 1630s but Urban VIII disallowed its export.[7]

Erected on top of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini in 1651.

(14.63 m
(28.94 m)
Quirinale Piazza del Quirinale

41°53′56.7″N 12°29′11.9″E / 41.899083°N 12.486639°E
Originally erected on the eastern flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus, paired with the Esquiline obelisk. Found in 1527. Erected by Pope Pius VI in 1786 on the Quirinal Hill next to statues of the Dioscuri (called the 'Horse Tamers') from the Baths of Constantine.
(14.75 m
(25.53 m)
Esquiline Piazza dell'Esquilino

41°53′53.4″N 12°29′51″E / 41.898167°N 12.49750°E
Originally erected on the western flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus, paired with the Quirinale obelisk. Found in 1527 and erected in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V behind Santa Maria Maggiore.
(13.91 m
(30.45 m)
Sallustiano Trinità dei Monti

41°54′22.1″N 12°28′59.6″E / 41.906139°N 12.483222°E
Above the Spanish Steps. An Aurelian copy, although smaller, of the Flaminio obelisk of Ramses II in the Piazza del Popolo, for the Gardens of Sallust. Found by the Ludovisi and moved to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano in 1734, but kept horizontal. Erected in 1789 by Pope Pius VI.
Hadrianic Obelisco del Pincio, Rome, Italy
(19.24 m
(17.26 m)
Pinciano Pincian Hill

41°54′38.9″N 12°28′47.1″E / 41.910806°N 12.479750°E
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. Found in the 16th century near the Porta Maggiore. Moved to the Palazzo Barberini, then moved to the Vatican by Pope Clement XIV; finally erected on the Pincian by Pope Pius VII in 1822.

Obelisk of Axum

2 giugno 2002-Axum
The Obelisk of Axum in Rome in 2002

There was also an Ethiopian obelisk in Rome, the Obelisk of Axum, 24 m, placed in the Piazza di Porta Capena. It had been taken from Axum by the Italian Army during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in 1937. It was struck by lightning in May 2002. After being restored, it was cut into three pieces and returned to Ethiopia in April 2005.

Modern obelisks

Roma - EUR - Obelisco EUR
The Marconi obelisk, in the centre of the EUR district

There are five well-known modern obelisks in Rome:

Former locations of some obelisks

Further reading

  • Wirsching, Armin (2000), "How the Obelisks Reached Rome: Evidence of Roman Double-Ships", The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 29 (2): 273–283, doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2000.tb01456.x
  • Wirsching, Armin (2003), "Supplementary Remarks on the Roman Obelisk-Ships", The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 32 (1): 121–123, doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2003.tb01438.x
  • Wirsching, Armin (2013), Obelisken transportieren und aufrichten in Aegypten und in Rom, ISBN 978-3-8334-8513-8 (3d ed.) templatestyles stripmarker in |title= at position 65 (help)
  • D'Onofrio, Cesare (1967), Gli obelischi di Roma

See also


Roman triumphal monuments

External links

Media related to Obelisks of Rome at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ Supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 41 m to the cross on its top


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Touring Club Italiano, Roma e Dintorni.
  4. ^ a b Travels and Adventures, Chapter 3, Pero Tafur, digitized from The Broadway Travellers series, edited by Sir E. Denison Ross and Eileen Power, translated and edited with an introduction by Malcolm Letts (New York, London: Harper & brothers 1926):

    On the other side of it is a high tower made of one piece of stone, like a three-cornered diamond raised upon three brazen feet; and many, taking it for a holy thing, creep between the ground and the base of that tower. This was a work undertaken in honour of Julius Caesar and assigned for his burial, and on the top of it are three large gilt apples in which is the dust of the Emperor [sic] Julius Caesar, and certainly it is a noble edifice and marvellously ordered and very strange. It is called Caesar's needle, and in the middle and at the base, and even at the top, are a few ancient letters carved in the stone which now cannot well be read, but in fact they record that the body of Julius Caesar was buried there.

  5. ^ Pedro Tafur's Andanças (1874 edition) referenced in the Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, Joan Corominas, José Antonio Pascual, 1987, Editorial Gredos, Tome I, ISBN 84-249-1361-2, entry carnicol, page 880.
  6. ^ L'Italia. Roma (guida rossa), Touring Club Italiano, Milano 2004
  7. ^ Edward Chaney, "Roma Britannica and the Cultural Memory of Egypt: Lord Arundel and the Obelisk of Domitian", in Roma Britannica: Art Patronage and Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century Rome, eds. D. Marshall, K. Wolfe and S. Russell, British School at Rome, 2011, pp. 147-70.
Elephant and Obelisk

Elephant and Obelisk is the base of the smallest obelisk of Rome, with a height of 5.47 meters: there are other 12 ancient obelisks present in Rome nowadays.

The statue is a sculpture designed by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The elephant was probably executed by his assistant Ercole Ferrata; the Egyptian obelisk was uncovered during nearby excavations. It was unveiled in February 1667 in the Piazza della Minerva in Rome, adjacent to the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where it stands today.

The image possibly originated from the Hypnerotomachia Polyphili of 1499. Various preparatory drawings done by Bernini exist. One version in Windsor Castle, UK was probably done in the 1630s when Cardinal Francesco Barberini wished to place an Egyptian obelisk in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Barberini. Nothing came of this specific project, but Bernini revived the idea in the 1660s, when Pope Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi, wished to build a similar monument after another Egyptian obelisk had been discovered in Rome.

Various other concepts were explored for this later commission as attested by preparatory drawings. It is likely that the drawings were used so that the patron could make a decision about which design he wanted. This include a drawing (in Leipzig) of the figure of Time holding a scythe and simultaneously the obelisk. In the Vatican Library there are two pen and ink drawings with other figures holding up the obelisk, including one of Hercules, and another with various allegorical figures supporting the spire. A third version in the Vatican Library shows Bernini adapting on the concept he created in the 1630s, although he added in a larger base, changed the direction of the elephant's orientation, and made its face appear more friendly than ferocious.It turned out to be the last commission Pope Alexander VII would ask of Bernini, as he died in May 1667. He was succeeded by Pope Clement IX.

On 15 November 2016, Rome authorities announced they were searching for vandals who broke the left tusk the previous Sunday night and left the piece nearby. Mayor Virginia Raggi said that they will assess the damage to determine how to best reattach the fragment.The statue makes a brief but prominent appearance in the Italian neorealist film Umberto D. (1952). It also features as a motif in the novel Adua by Igiaba Scego (2015).

Index of Italy-related articles

The following is an alphabetical list of articles related to Italy.

List of ancient Greek and Roman monoliths

This is a list of ancient monoliths found in all types of Greek and Roman buildings.

It contains monoliths

quarried, but not moved

quarried and moved

quarried, moved and lifted clear off the ground into their position (architraves etc.)

quarried, moved and erected in an upright position (columns etc.)Transporting was done by land or water (or a combination of both), in the later case often by special-built ships such as obelisk carriers. For lifting operations, ancient cranes were employed since ca. 515 BC, such as in the construction of Trajan's Column.It should be stressed that all numbers are estimations since only in the rarest cases have monoliths been actually weighed. Rather, weight is calculated by multiplying volume by density. The main source, J. J. Coulton, assumes 2.75 t/m³ for marble and 2.25 t/m³ for other stone. For an explanation of the large margin of error, which often leads to widely differing numbers, see these introductory remarks.

List of obelisks

This List of obelisks contains an incomplete list of obelisks sorted by their (current) country.

Lists of monuments and memorials

This is a list of articles that are lists of monuments and memorials.


An obelisk (; from Ancient Greek: ὀβελίσκος obeliskos; diminutive of ὀβελός obelos, "spit, nail, pointed pillar") is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion at the top. These were originally called tekhenu by their builders, the Ancient Egyptians. The Greeks who saw them used the Greek term 'obeliskos' to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and ultimately English. Ancient obelisks are monolithic; that is, they consist of a single stone. Most modern obelisks are made of several stones; some, like the Washington Monument, are buildings.

The term stele is generally used for other monumental, upright, inscribed and sculpted stones.

Obelisk ship

Obelisk ships were ships used to transport obelisks.

Today, eight Ancient Egyptian obelisks stand in Rome, though not in their original places. The first of the obelisks, the 263-ton Flaminian obelisk, was transported from Heliopolis – modern-day Cairo – in 10 BCE. while the last, the 500-ton Lateran obelisk, was transported from Karnak.

Piazza della Rotonda

The Piazza della Rotonda is a piazza (city square) in Rome, Italy, on the south side of which is located the Pantheon. The square gets its name from the Pantheon's informal title as the church of Santa Maria Rotonda.

Sais, Egypt

Sais (Ancient Greek: Σάϊς, Coptic: Ⲥⲁⲓ) or Sa El Hagar (Arabic: صا الحجر‎) was an ancient Egyptian town in the Western Nile Delta on the Canopic branch of the Nile. It was the provincial capital of Sap-Meh, the fifth nome of Lower Egypt and became the seat of power during the Twenty-fourth Dynasty of Egypt (c. 732–720 BC) and the Saite Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt (664–525 BC) during the Late Period. Its Ancient Egyptian name was Zau.

Topography of ancient Rome

The topography of ancient Rome is a multidisciplinary field of study that draws on archaeology, epigraphy, cartography and philology.

The classic English-language work of scholarship is A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1929), written by Samuel Ball Platner, completed and published after his death by Thomas Ashby. New finds and interpretations have rendered many of Platner and Ashby's conclusions unreliable, but when used with other sources the work still offers insights and complementary information.

In 1992, Lawrence Richardson published A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, which builds on Platner and Ashby. The six-volume, multilingual Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (1993‑2000) is the major modern work in the field.

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