Any observant tourist in Rome will start to notice the ancient Egyptian obelisks scattered throughout the city, often in front of history churches. There are eight ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome, as well as five ancient Roman obelisks.
Ancient Egyptian obelisks
After the Roman conquest of Egypt, several obelisks were brought to Rome to adore papal palaces and city squares. Many are over 3,000 years old and moved to Rome as much as 2000 years ago. With the fall of the Roman Empire, most eventually collapsed, were buried over time and lost, until they were rediscovered in the 16th century or later.
Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, 32.19 m (45.7 m with base)
The Lateran obelisk is the tallest in Rome, and the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world. It was made around 1400 BCE, originally erected in Karnak, then moved to Alexandria and shortly thereafter to Rome in 357 for the Circus Maximus. Prior to it’s collapse, it was 4 metres taller. It was re-found in 1587 and erected in its current position 1588 near the Lateran Palace and Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.
Saint Peter’s Square, 25.5 m (41 m with base)
The Vatican obelisk is the centrepiece of Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Unlike most other Egyptian obelisks, it does not have any inscriptions. It was moved to Rome in 37 CE for the Circus of Nero. It was moved to Saint Peter’s Square in 1586. It is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since antiquity.
Piazza del Popolo, 24 m (36.5 m with base)
Brought to Rome from Heliopolis in 10 BCE along with the Solare Obelisk and erected in Circus Maximus. It was re-found along with the Lateran obelisk in 1587 and erected in 1589 at the entrance to the city at Piazza del Popolo.
Piazza di Montecitorio, 21.79 m (33.97 m with base)
Also called the Solare obelisk as it served as a giant solar marker, the gnomon of the Solarium Augusta. It was brought to Rome in 10 BCE, re-found and re-buried in the 16th century before being found again and erected in its current location in Piazza di Montecitorio in 1792.
Piazza della Rotonda, 6.36 m (14.52 m with base)
Originally paired with the Matteiano obelisk in Heliopolis, it was found in Rome in 1373 and erected in Piazza Macuta and then moved to Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon in 1711.
Piazza della Minerva, 5.47 m (12.69 m with base)
Originally from Sais, it was brought to Rome in the 3rd century. It was found in 1655 and erected in 1667 on an elephant sculpture by Bernini near the Pantheon in Piazza della Minerva.
The other obelisk in the pair is in Urbino.
Baths of Diocletian, 6.34 m with base
Originally from Heliopolis, its matching pair is in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. It was re-found in 1883 and erected near Termini Station to commemorate the Battle of Dogali. It was moved to its current location in 1924.
Villa Celimontana, 2.68 m (12.23 m with base)
Originally paired with the Macuteo obelisk in Heliopolis, it was found in Rome in 1373 and erected near Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. It was moved to Villa Celimontana after Michelangelo redesigned the square in the 16th century. It was lost again and re-found fragments were erected in 1820, explaining its reduced height.
Ancient Roman obelisks
These ancient Roman obelisks were created in Egypt while it was part of the Roman Empire
Piazza Navona, 16.53 m (30+ m with base)
Commissioned in the 1st century for the Temple of Serapis on the Quirinale Hill, it was later moved to the Circus of Maxentius. Since 1651 it’s been located in the centre of Piazza Navona, as part of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini.
It is unique among all the obelisks in Rome as it’s not supported directly underneath, but rather by the 4 “legs” of the fountain.
Piazza del Quirinale, 14.63 m (28.94 m with base)
Originally erected at the Mausoleum of Augustus (along with the Equiline obelisk), it was re-found in 1527, and erected in front of the Quirinale Palace in 1786.
Piazza dell’Esquilino, 14.75 m (25.53 m with base)
Originally paired with the Quirinale obelisk at the Mausoleum of Augustus, it was re-found in 1527, and erected behind Santa Maria Maggiore in 1587.
Trinità dei Monti, 13.91 m (30.45 m with base)
This obelisk is a smaller copy of the Flaminio obelisk in Plazza del Popolo created for the Gardens of Sallust. It was moved to Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano in 1734 but never erected. It was finally erected in 1789 in front of the church Trinità dei Monti at the top of the Spanish Steps.
Pincian Hill, 9.24 m (17.26 m with base)
The Pinciano obelisk was commissioned by Hadrian for the tomb of his favourite and lover, Antinous. It was moves several times before finding its current location on the Pincian Hill.