Flaminio Obelisk Rome & Fountain of the Lions

The Fountain of the Lions (Fontana dei Leoni) is the most central one of the three fountains in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. It is also known under the name Fountain of the Obelisk, after the Obelisco Flaminio.

Fountain of the Lions (Piazza del Popolo Rome)

History and description

Piazza del Popolo Obelisk Rome
Piazza del Popolo Obelisk

The obelisk itself, without counting the base is 24 meters high. Counting the pedestal, it is slightly taller than 36 meters.

The fountain as it can be admired nowadays is not the original one, which was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII and built by Giacomo della Porta.

The Flaminian Obelisk originally stood in Heliopolis in Egypt. Just before 1200 BC, it had been placed in front of the Temple of the Sun by the pharaohs Seti I and Ramses .

After Augustus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra and thus added Egypt to the Roman Empire, he had the obelisk brought to Rome. This happened around 10 BC, which means it was one of the first obelisks transported to the Eternal City.

The now 3,300-year-old obelisk was first placed on the Circus Maximus, in the company of an even older and taller obelisk that has since been placed in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, the two obelisks were overturned. It was not until 1569, when they were recovered in pieces, that they were brought to their current residences by order of Pope Sixtus V. For the pedestal, he used blocks from a nymphaeum built in 203 by Emperor Septimius Severus, which was called Septizoneum.

Hieroglyphics show that the obelisk was originally dedicated to the pharaohs Ramses II and Seti I. Inscriptions on the base referring to the sun date from the time of Augustus. Later inscriptions, also on the base, are additions from the time of Sixtus V and dedicate the obelisk to the Holy Cross.

On the side of the obelisk facing the Santa Maria del Popolo Church is another inscription, which makes it very clear that the obelisk has not a pagan but a Christian meaning: “I stand here much happier, before the temple dedicated to One, whose virgin womb, during the reign of Augustus, gave birth to the Sun of Justice.” Or something similar. The inscription facing the Tridente is unfortunately damaged and as a result illegible.

Though Pope Leo XII Della Genga found Della Porta‘s creation of artistic merit, he also judged it to be too small in size compared to the dimensions of the Piazza del Popolo itself , and thus he ordered Giuseppe Valadier to redesign a fountain for the obelisk.

Fountain of the Lions, Piazza del Popolo Rome
Fountain of the Lions

Valadier‘s creation features four marble lions around the obelisk itself. Five steps lead to a base containing a round travertine marble basin.

The original fountain was moved to the Piazza Nicosia.

Piazza del Popolo – Rome

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