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Obelisci Mausolei Augusti

[Also known as: Esquiline Obelisk and Quirinal Obelisk]

The two obelisks which stood in front of the Mausoleum of Augustus were probably placed there by Domitian. They were discovered, shortly before 1527, near the church of S. Rocco (s. Fulvius, ed. 1527, fol. 71). In 1586 the obelisk, which had been lying in front of the church, in what is now Via di Ripetta, was taken to the Piazza dell'Esquilino, where it was re-erected under the direction of Domenico Fontana. The second obelisk, which had been lying behind the church, became buried under earth and rubble. In 1781 it was rediscovered when a drain was being laid, and in 1782 it was excavated and taken to the Piazza del Quirinale to be erected between the horse-tamers. The work began in 1783 and was completed in October 1786.

Esquiline Obelisk
Esquiline Obelisk
Quirinal Obelisk
Quirinal Obelisk

Obeliscus Antinoi

[Also known as: Obelisk of the Pincian Hill, Obelisco del Pincio]

The obelisk which stands today on the Pincio, in the middle of the Viale dell'Obelisco, belonged to the tomb or cenotaph of Antinous outside the Porta Maggiore on the ancient Via Labicana. At the beginning of the 16th century, it lay about 390 m. east of the Aurelian Wall, near the arches of the Aqua Claudia. An inscription of 1570, which was later fixed to one of the piers of the Acqua Felice (built in 1585), records the re-erection of the obelisk. In 1633, it was taken to the courtyard of the Palazzo Barberini. There it remained for more than 135 years, until Princess Cornelia Barberini presented it to Pope Clement XIV (1769-1777), and it was taken to the Giardino della Pigna in the Vatican Palace. Finally, Pius VII arranged for it to be set up on the Pincio, and in 1822 this work was executed by Valadier.

Pincian Obelisk
Pincian Obelisk
Circus Varianus, remnants of the cavea substructures beneath the arches of the Aqua Felix, at the intersection of Via Ozieri and Via Lanusei
Circus Varianus, remnants of the cavea substructures beneath the arches of the Aqua Felix, at the intersection of Via Ozieri and Via Lanusei

Obeliscus Augusti in Campo Martio

[Also known as: Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio]

In 10 B.C. Augustus erected an obelisk, which he had brought from Heliopolis, in the Campus Martius. It stood about 89 m. west of the Ara Pacis, and served as a gnomon for a marble sundial, inlaid with bronze lines, which extended to the north of it. According to the Itinerary of the Anonymous Einsidlensis (2.5, 4.3), it was still standing in the 8th century. Parts of the dial were discovered in 1463, when a chapel (later the Sacristy) was built at S. Lorenzo in Lucina; and in 1502 the base of the obelisk and its inscription were found. The obelisk was excavated in 1748, as is recorded in an inscription on a house at No. 3, Piazza del Parlamento. Forty years later, preparations for its re-erection were started, and between 1788 and 1792 the base, and the four broken pieces of the shaft, were taken to Piazza di Montecitorio, where the obelisk was repaired with fragments from the column of Antoninus Pius (s. Columna Antonini Pii I, p.270). It was re-erected on the 14th July 1792.

Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio
Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio
Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio
Obelisk of Piazza Montecitorio

Obeliscus Augusti in Circo Maximo

[Also known as: Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo, Obelisco Flaminio]

Of two obelisks brought to Rome by Augustus in 10 B.C., one was erected in the Campus Martius, and the other on the spina of the Circus Maximus. It was removed later to the east side of the spina, to make room in the centre for a second obelisk, which Constantine intended to bring to Rome. In 357 A.D., Constantius brought this larger obelisk from Alexandria, and set it up in the centre of the spina (s. Obeliscus Constantii). In the meantime, the obelisk of Augustus had stood alone on the east side, and in this position it is shown on a mosaic in the villa at Piazza Armerina, thus dating the mosaic between 326 A.D., the date of Constantine's last residence in Rome, and 357 A.D. (s. Magna Mater II, 711). In 1587, the obelisk was unearthed from the east side of the circus; the base with its inscription (CIL VI, 701) had already been discovered under Gregory XIII (1572-1585). Sixtus V intended to erect it in front of S. Croce in Gerusalemme (Marliani, ed. 1588; engraving by Bordino in 1588), but eventually decided on the Piazza del Popolo where, in March 1589, it was re-erected under the direction of Domenico Fontana.

Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo
Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo
Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo
Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo
Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo, base with inscription
Obelisk of Piazza del Popolo, base with inscription

Obeliscus Capitolinus

[Also known as: Capitoline Obelisk, Obelisco di Villa Celimontana]

S. Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitol until 1542; its provenance is unknown. It occupied a position at the foot of the steps, which at that time led from the Piazza del Campidoglio to the church and monastery of S. Maria in Aracoeli, as is shown in seven drawings by Marten van Heemskerck, and other views of the 16th century. Against the theory that it stood there in antiquity may be argued, not only that according to the drawings its base stood far above the ancient level, but also that it consists of two pieces, a small original Egyptian pointed fragment, 2.68 m. long, with hieroglyphs and a plain granite shaft about 5 m. long. When Pope Paul III was altering the Piazza del Campidoglio, he started to build a new access to the monastery of S. Maria in Aracoeli, and the obelisk was taken down in 1542, and stored above the little cemetery of the church. When a plan to re-erect it in the Piazza was not carried out, the Conservatori decided on the 11th September 1582 to present it to Ciriaco Mattei, who set it up in his Villa Caelimontana. The villa fell into disrepair with the decline of the Mattei family at the end of the 18th century. In 1813, a new owner, Don Manuel Godov, Principe de la Paz, found the obelisk thrown down; after putting the gardens in order he had it re-erected in its present position, on the south side of the villa, in May 1817.

Capitoline Obelisk, now in the Villa Celimontana
Capitoline Obelisk, now in the Villa Celimontana

Obeliscus Hortorum Sallustianorum

[Also known as: Obelisk of Trinità dei Monti]

The obelisk of the Gardens of Sallust is a copy of Augustus' Obelisk in the Circus Maximus, which was made in the imperial period. It stood on the Collis Hortorum (Pincio), between the Porta Salaria and Porta Pinciana. It is mentioned in the 8th century Einsiedeln Itinerary, where it is called a "piramis." The overturned obelisk is shown in almost all the pictorial maps of the 16th century (Bufalini 1551, Pinardo 1555, Paciotto 1557, Cartario 1576, Du Perac-Lafrery 1577). Its foundation was discovered when the Lutheran Church was built, in 1912, in the street block bounded by Via Sicilia, Via Toscana, Via Sardegna, and Via Abruzzi. Pope Clement XII had the obelisk taken to the Lateran in 1734, and it was intended that it should be set up in front of the new facade by Alessandro Galilei. This plan was never carried out and the obelisk lay near the Scala Santa until, in 1789, Pius VI had it re-erected in front of SS. Trinita dei Monti. The ancient base, which had been visible until the end of the 17th century, became buried and lost, and was rediscovered in 1843, in the Villa Ludovisi. In 1890 the City of Rome, to whom it had been presented, transferred this block of granite to a storehouse near the reservoir of the Aqua Marcia in Via Gaeta. In 1926, it was taken from there to the Capitol, and became a memorial to the fallen Fascists. Since 1954, the base has stood in the garden south-east of S. Maria in Aracoeli, opposite the Republican Wall.

Obelisk of Trinità dei Monti
Obelisk of Trinità dei Monti
Capitoline Obelisk (now in the Villa Celimontana), granite base in the Aracoeli garden
Capitoline Obelisk (now in the Villa Celimontana), granite base in the Aracoeli garden

Obeliscus Isei Campensis - di Dogali

[Also known as: Obelisk of Dogali]

everal of the Roman obelisks came from the Iseum and Serapaeum (the Temple of Isis) in the Campus Martius; they were found near S. Maria sopra Minerva and the neighbouring Dominican convent. The last one was excavated in 1883, in Via Beato Angelico, between the apse of the church and the Biblioteca Casanatense. From its size, and the dedication to Ramses II, it must be the counterpart of the obelisk which now stands in front of the Pantheon. In June 1887, the newly-discovered obelisk was set up in front of the old railway station - the Stazione Termini - as a memorial to the 500 Italian soldiers who fell in the Battle of Dogali in Abyssinia, on the 25th January 1887. Because it obstructed the traffic, it was removed, 37 years later, to its present position in the public gardens between Viale delle Terme and Via delle Terme di Diocleziano. The removal, transportation and re-erection of the obelisk were carried out between the end of July 1924 and the 31st May 1925.

Obeliscus Isei Campensis - di S. Macuto

[Also known as: Obelisk of Piazza del Pantheon]

he obelisk which now stands in front of the Pantheon was probably discovered when the apse of S. Maria sopra Minerva was rebuilt in 1374. For a long time it lay neglected, against a wall of the church of S. Macuto; but in the middle of the 15th century it was set up in the Piazza di S. Macuto (s. Poggii Bracciolini, Descriptio Urbis ad Nicolaum V [1447-1455] ap. Urlichs, Cod. Topographicus, p. 241). Early in the 18th century, there was a scheme to erect it in front of the Palazzo Quirinale, between the two horse-tamers; however, nothing came of this project, for which even the model had been prepared, and later one of the obelisks from the Mausoleum of Augustus occupied the position (s. II, 877). In 1711, Pope Clement XI had the obelisk of the Piazza di S. Macuto (popularly known as the "Guglia di S. Mautte") erected on top of the fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon.

Obeliscus Isei Campensis - Piazza della Minerva

[Also known as: Obelisk of Piazza della Minerva]

his, the smallest of the Roman obelisks, was found in 1665 in the garden of the Dominican monastery adjoining S. Maria sopra Minerva. Pope Alexander VII (Chigi) commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to erect it in the Piazza della Minerva. From Bernini's drawings, the sculptor Ercole Ferrata created the base, with the elephant supporting the obelisk, which stands in front of S. Maria sopra Minerva. The obelisk was placed in position on the 3rd February 1667, and the monument was unveiled on the 11th June of the same year.

Obeliscus Pamphilius

[Also known as: Obelisk of Piazza Navona]

The obelisk which stands on Bernini's fountain in the Piazza Navona was found in the Circus of Maxentius on the Via Appia, lying in the centre of the spina, broken in five pieces. When Champollion first deciphered its inscription in 1822, he established that it was definitely not Egyptian, but Roman work. It gives the names of Domitian, Divus Vespasianus and Divus Titus. Since it was Domitian who rebuilt the Iseum after the fire of 80 A.D., and as the inscription refers to the "restoration of that which was destroyed," it can be assumed that the obelisk was originally set up in the Isis Temple. Maxentius must have removed it to his circus on the Via Appia, early in the 4th century. In April 1647, Pope Innocent X (Pamphili) saw the obelisk lying near the Via Appia, and had it taken to the Piazza Navona, to be erected over Bernini's central fountain. The fragments arrived at their destination in August 1648, and a year later, on the 14th August 1649, the re-erection of the obelisk was completed. The almost unanimously accepted date of the transporting and re-erection of the obelisk -- 1651 -- is wrong. The obelisk, surmounted by a dove (the Pamphili arms), was erected in 1649, the fountain was not actually dedicated until the 16th June 1651.

Obelisk of Piazza Navona
Obelisk of Piazza Navona
Obelisk of Piazza Navona
Obelisk of Piazza Navona

Obeliscus Vaticanus

[Also known as: Vatican Obelisk]

The obelisk which stands in the centre of the Piazza San Pietro was brought from Heliopolis at the time of Caligula, and set up in the Circus Gai et Neronis (q. v. I, 270). It was transferred to its present position in 1586; before that, it stood south of St. Peter's, in front of the round church of S. Andrea. Excavations in 1957-1959 established that this was its original position. When it was re-erected in the Piazza San Pietro, under the direction of Domenico Fontana, the ball, which had previously surmounted it, was replaced by a cross. In 1587 the ball was presented to the City of Rome, and was used to adorn the Marforio fountain on the Piazza del Campidoglio. In 1692 it was placed at the north end of the balustrade, on a column drum; in 1848 this was replaced by the seventh milestone from the Via Appia, and the ball was taken to the Palazzo dei Conservatori, where it is exhibited in the Sala dei Bronzi.

Vatican Obelisk, from the Circus of Gaius and Nero and in Piazza S. Pietro since 1586
Vatican Obelisk, from the Circus of Gaius and Nero and in Piazza S. Pietro since 1586
Vatican Obelisk, from the Circus of Gaius and Nero and in Piazza S. Pietro since 1586
Vatican Obelisk, from the Circus of Gaius and Nero and in Piazza S. Pietro since 1586