Monday, April 6, 2020

Story Behind The Picture: The Egyptian Obelisk at St Peter's Square

From: Jill M.
Sent: April 6, 2020
To: undisclosed recipients
Subject: Fw: The Egyptian Obelisk at St Peter's Square


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Excerpt: "Images of Saint Peter’s Square are frequently broadcast around the World. Not surprising really given that this is at the public heart of the Vatican City. Cameras tend to be directed towards St Peter’s Basilica and its iconic Renaissance dome, which dominates the skyline of Rome.

Another monument also features prominently in these images; and that is the obelisk that stands at the centre of the square. An obelisk that was brought to Rome from Egypt by Caligula in 37 AD. But, why does the Vatican have a four thousand year old Egyptian obelisk?

There are a number of Egyptian obelisks standing in Rome, in fact 13 of them. There are more erect obelisks from Egypt in Rome than there are anywhere else in the World, including Egypt.

They were all brought to Rome by various Roman Emperors. This particular example, often called the Vatican Obelisk and sometimes Caligula’s Obelisk, is the only ancient Egyptian obelisk in Rome to have remained standing since Roman times.

Sadly, little is known of its origins or which Pharaoh ordered its construction, because it has no hieroglyphs on it that would record that information. It was certainly quarried in Egypt and intended to be erected in Heliopolis. Sometime between 30 and 28 BC the red granite obelisk shows up in Alexandria under Augustus’s instructions to have it erected in the Julian Forum there.

It was Gaius Caligula who had the obelisk bought to Rome in 37 AD. It was the largest non-inscribed obelisk to leave Egypt, at 25.5 meters high and weighing an estimated 326 tonnes.

The obelisk was originally erected in gardens Caligula had inherited from his mother, and then on the central spina of a circus that was started by Caligula and completed during Nero’s reign. Much of this circus is under the basilica and square, the original spot for the obelisk is near the present-day sacristy, south of the basilica.

Because of the solid pedestal on which the obelisk was placed, it remained standing for 1,500 until it was moved to where it stands today in Saint Peter’s Square. It took thirteen months, between 1585 and 1586 to move and re-erect the obelisk. The idea to move it was that of Pope Sixtus V, as part of his desire to recover and re-erect all the obelisks lying then in the ruins of Rome.

Legend had it that the original metal globe that was placed at the top held the ashes of Julius Caesar. During the re-siting of the obelisk, the globe was opened and found to be empty. The globe can now be seen in the Museo dei Conservatori. The cross at the top of the obelisk today is said to have certain relics of Jesus Christ."


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