The obelisk in the center of Saint Peter’s Square was brought to Rome from Egypt. Supposedly there used to be a bowl on top that contained the ashes of no one less than Julius Caesar. It was originally brought to the city to adorn the Circus of Caligula, but was not placed in its present position until 1586.
Obelisk Saint Peter’s Square Rome
History and description
The obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square is more than 25m tall, but when adding the base and the cross its height reaches slightly more than 40m.
The monument, which is made of red granite, started its existence in Heliopolis. In 37 AD the Emperor Caligula had it brought to Rome, in order to embellish the Circo di Nerone. It was transported by boat, in a bed of lentils, in order to prevent it from breaking.
Until 1586 the obelisk faithfully kept its position, right next to the old Saint Peter. In that year Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana to move it to its present location.
Symbols pertaining to three different coats-of-arms can be found on the obelisk. Its base is adorned with four lions and some bronze eagles while at the top hills and stars can be seen. The lions refer to Sixtus V, the eagles (only added in 1713) to the Conti family of Pope Innocence XIII and the hills and stars belong to Pope Alexander VII‘s Chigi family.
On its peak there are some relics of the Holy Cross. The bronze globe containing the ashes of Julius Caesar that used to crown the obelisk was donated to the city of Rome by Pope Sixtus V and can now be seen in the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The compass rose on the ground in front of the obelisk shows the time with the aid of the obelisk’s shadow.
The two fountains on Saint Peter’s Square are in a straight line related to the obelisk and are located at an equal distance from the pillars surrounding the square.