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Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square

January 31, 2011

Transport of the Obelisk

Domenico Fontana, engineer 1586.

St. Peter’s Square, Rome.

In response to 1575’s disastrous Jubilee, Sixtus V decided to make some changes to the lay out of the city of Rome before the next Jubilee in 1600.  Pilgrims were misguided from church to church by the inaccurate maps available to them at the end of the 16th century.  Sixtus’s plan was to create open spaces with large monuments – mainly obelisks – in the center so one could orient oneself in relation to other major points in the city.

In order to draw attention to St. Peter’s Square as a hot spot for pilgrims, Sixtus V had Domenico Fontana move an obelisk to the center of the square.  This huge feat is depicted in the etching above.  From this point on, Fontano was put in charge of many of Sixtus’s renovation projects throughout Rome.

The obelisks of Rome, in general, are symbolic of the triumph of the Catholic Church.  They no longer have the connotation of military victory as they once had when taken as booty from conquering Egypt.  Crosses were even put on top of them to show they were now Christain symbols of strength.  The one in St. Peter’s Square is the only one in Rome without Egyptian writing on it (

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 8:25 am

    I was trying to make the connection between obelisks and circles and this illustrates it perfectly. The obelisk is like the pointy part of a drafting compass. -Grammablog

    • December 19, 2011 8:49 am

      In a way, yes. Sixtus had several moved into the large piazzas of important churches to serve as a marker – what a wonderful idea in such a difficult-to-navigate city!!

  2. Jackie permalink
    December 8, 2011 3:08 pm

    Was it stolen by the Church?

    • December 19, 2011 8:46 am

      Emperor Caligula took it from Egypt in 37 AD. There are more Egyptian obelisks in Rome than in Egypt itself.

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