There is no city in the world with more obelisks than Rome. One would expect it to be an Egyptian city, but this is not so. It is true, though, that many “Roman” obelisks started their existences in Egypt, but were subsequently brought to Rome by the emperors.
History and curiosities
The total number of obelisks in Rome is 18.
The Emperors had the structures transported to Rome so that they could be placed as decorations on their racecourses and stadiums.
After the decline of the Roman Empire they were toppled by the Christians, who did not want anything to do with the pagan needles. Often it was only centuries later that they were found and rebuilt.
These reconstructions happened at places that were important for the rulers of that moment, so they are usually placed on squares constructed by certain popes or in front of certain churches.
Usually a cross was placed on the obelisks themselves. They were then dedicated to the Catholic Church to provide a kind of protection from the Devil.
Not all obelisks in Rome are of Egyptian manufacture. Some are Roman imitations of Egyptian originals.
The Obelisks of Rome
The Montecitorio Obelisk was brought to Rome from its original site at Heliopolis in Egypt by Emperor Augustus in the year 10 BCE. It came to stand in the Campo Marzio and served as a needle for a sundial.
Piazza del Popolo Obelisk
After Augustus defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra, thus adding Egypt to the Roman Empire, he had this obelisk brought to Rome. Originally it stood on the Circus Maximus. After the decline of the empire, the obelisk was buried under the earth and forgotten only to be brought to the Piazza del Popolo centuries later. The obelisk is also known as Flaminio Obelisk.
The Sallustiano Obelisk is the official name of the obelisk that stands in front of the Trinità dei Monti church at the top of the Spanish Steps. However, most Romans know the structure by the name Trinità de’ Monti Obelisk.
Villa Torlonia Obelisks
The two obelisks at the Villa Torlonia are copies of Egyptian examples and were brought to Rome by boat, via the Po River and then by sea around the entire coast of Italy. The obelisks have been there since the late 19th century.
The Esquilino Obelisk stands in the Piazza dell’Esquino on the Via Cavour side of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome. It is an imitation of an Egyptian original.
The Dogali Obelisk stands along Via delle Terme di Diocleziane, about halfway between Roma Termini central station and Piazza della Repubblica. The obelisk has a twin that can be viewed in the Gardens of Boboli in Florence.