The obelisks of Rome: between history, culture and curiosity

Discover the obelisks of Rome!

Rome, the Eternal City, is the symbol of Italian history and culture, but not only… in fact it boasts the largest number of obelisks in the world. Wandering around Rome you will notice thirteen imposing obelisks, eight of which of Egyptian origin and five of Roman origin.

What does obelisk mean? The name means “skewer” and it was given by the Greeks because of its shape. 

Discover the meaning of the other famous roman monuments name here!

The homeland of these monuments is Egypt, a place where the obelisks had a strong religious symbolic meaning. In fact, the greatest pharaohs in history ordered the construction of these majestic monuments to highlight their power and thank the Sun King “Ra”.

With the conquest of the Egyptian empire by Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, many obelisks were transported to Rome, becoming a strong symbol of power.

The resistance of the obelisks to bad weather frightened the population of the Middle Ages who associated them with the seat of the devil and decided to demolish and bury them underground. They were later found in the Renaissance period under 7 meters of earth and, starting with Pope Sixtus V, they were raised again. They thus became a central symbol of the city’s art and architecture.

In San Giovanni square there is the largest known Egyptian obelisk, the Lateran obelisk, which boasts 32 meters against the clear sky!

In San Pietro square you will find the second largest obelisk in Rome (25 meters high!), The Vatican obelisk, brought by the emperor Caligula. It is considered a “fake original” as the structure doesn’t have hieroglyphs and was made in Egypt directly by the Romans, a symbol of their power.

Like the Vatican obelisk, many others are “false originals”, in fact the Romans used the same granite and, very often, reproduced the hieroglyphs on it, making mistakes and misunderstandings.

The roman stonecutter of the Sallustian obelisk, copied the hieroglyphs from an Egyptian obelisk without understanding their meaning, resulting in a reverse writing of the symbols!

Nearby, in front of Palazzo Montecitorio, you will see the solar obelisk, used at the time as a “gnomon”, the sundial rod that casts the shadow on the ground.

In Rome there are also modern obelisks, including the obelisk of the Foro Italico, created from blocks of stone taken from the Carrara quarries and dedicated to Benito Mussolini.

One last curiosity? If you place yourself at the center of the intersection between via del Quirinale and via delle Quattro Fontane, you will get the view of three obelisks at the same time (Quirinale, Sallustiano and Esquilino), a unique event in the world.

So dear Insideaters, now you know the history and curiosities of these monuments. We recommend you to take your backpacks and discover the obelisks of Rome.

See you soon Insideaters, to talk about food and wine, but also about the history of our beloved Eternal City!

Follow us on Instagram with @Insideat_ to discover other curiosity of the Eternal City.

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