Lateran Obelisk and Fountain Rome

The Lateran Obelisk (Obelisco Lateranense) is located on the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and is the oldest existing Egyptian obelisk in Rome. The fountain was a later addition. Its original spot in Rome was on the Circus Maximus. In 1588, it was placed in its present location, by Domenico Fontana.

Lateran Obelisk Rome

Address, opening hours and admission

Lateran Obelisk Rome
Lateran Obelisk

Address: Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano – Rome. Opening hours and admission: The monument can be viewed from outside.

History and description

The Lateran Obelisk itself is more than 32m tall, but when counting its base, its total height reaches almost 46m.

It is made of red granite and was brought to Rome from Thebe, an Egyptian city along the Nile, now known as Luxor. In Thebe, the obelisk was placed in front of the Temple of Amon. It was dedicated to Pharaoh Tutmosi III.

The obelisk was shipped to Rome in the year 357 AD by Costanzo II and was initially placed on the Circus Maximus. After the Circus Maximus was abandoned and left to decay both the Obelisco Lateranense and the other obelisk that had been erected there (now the Obelisco Flaminio) were covered with earth and forgotten. They were rediscovered in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V.

The obelisk had been broken into three pieces. The Pope commissioned Domenico Fontana to restore it and place it in its present location, in front of the back entrance to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.


Fountain Lateran Obelisk Rome
Fountain at the foot of the Lateran Obelisk

The fountain was only later placed below the south side of the obelisk. It is not known who the designer was. As possibilities, besides Fontana himself, Pietro Bernini, Flaminio Ponzio and Taddeo Landini have been mentioned.

The fountain, fed by the Acqua Felice Aqueduct, was completed in 1607. Its construction had taken about 5 years.

The Fountain consists of a large tub decorated with two dolphins supporting a shell. On either side of the tub are two winged dragons and above them is a large eagle. The dragons are part of the coat of arms of Paul V Borghese, who was pope at the time the fountain was completed.

Other elements (lions and garlands) are part of the coat of arms of Sixtus V, which means that Fontana must have been (at least partly) involved.

A bronze statue representing John the Baptist was removed in the 18th century, as were the irises from the coat of arms of Pope Leo XI.

Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano – Rome

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