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.[6]

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 disassembled 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. ^ 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.

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