Location: Piazza S. Giovanni, Laterano, Rome, Italy Pharaoh: Tuthmosis III (reigned 1504-1450 B.C.) Height: 105.6 feet Weight: 455 tons Story: The so-called Lateran obelisk is the largest standing obelisk in the
world. Its inscriptions state that while it was begun during the reign of
Tuthmosis III, it lay in the craftsmen's workshops for 35 years and was finally
erected by his grandson Tuthmosis IV. The only single obelisk ever put up in
Karnak Temple (obelisks usually came in pairs), it was removed under the orders
of the Roman emperor Constantine (A.D. 274-337), who hoped to raise it in his
new capital at Constantinople. He died before the obelisk ever left Egypt, and
his son and successor Constantius (A.D. 317-361) had it taken to Rome, where it
was re-erected in the Circus Maximus.
At some unknown date and by some unknown cause, the obelisk fell. It was not
until the 16th century that Pope Sixtus V ordered a search for the monolith. It
was found, in three pieces, some 23 feet down in the former Circus Maximus. On
August 3, 1588, after more than a year of effort, the Lateran obelisk was
raised in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, where it has stood ever since, a
Christian cross at its apex.
Location: St. Peter's Square, Vatican, Rome Pharaoh: Unknown Height: 83 feet Weight: 331 tons Story: This obelisk, like two others in Rome, is uninscribed, and no one knows
where it originally came from or who created it. It is known that Emperor
Augustus ordered it erected in the Julian Forum in Alexandria, where it stayed
until A.D. 37. That year, the Emperor Caligula had it removed to the Vatican
Circus in Rome. According to the Egyptologist Labib Habachi, "Legend has it
that in the Vatican Circus innumerable Christians, including St. Peter, were
put to death and that the reason this obelisk was not later overturned as were
all the others in Rome was that it was looked upon as the last witness to the
martyrdom of St. Peter."
In the 16th century, the Pope Sixtus V directed the obelisk to be re-erected
in the collonnaded square before the Basilica of St. Peter, where it remains to
this day. During its relocation, workers carefully inspected the metal globe
that had stood atop the obelisk since Roman times. They were looking for the
remains of Caesar, which were reputedly cached there, but they found only dust.
After the successful re-erection, triumphant Romans carried the chief engineer,
Domenico Fontana, on their shoulders all the way to his home.
Location: Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy Pharaoh: Seti I (reigned 1318-1304 B.C.) Height: 75 feet Weight: 263 tons Story: Seti I decorated three sides of this obelisk, while his son Ramses II
carved the fourth and erected the obelisk in the sun temple at Heliopolis, a
capital of ancient Egypt. In inscriptions on one side of the monolith, Seti I
describes himself as "the one who fills Heliopolis with obelisks that their
rays may illuminate the Temple of Re." Ramses II, one of history's greatest
self-aggrandizers, styled himself as one who made "monuments as innumerable as
the stars of heaven. His works join the sky. When Re shines, he rejoices
because of [the obelisks] in his temple of millions of years."
In 10 B.C., the obelisk was re-erected at the Circus Maximus in Rome to
celebrate Augustus' conquest of Egypt. Sometime later it toppled, to be
resurrected in the 16th century under Pope Sixtus V. In 1589, it became the
centerpiece of the Piazza del Popola in Rome, where three major avenues of the
Location: Monte Citorio, Rome, Italy Pharaoh: Psammetikos II (reigned 595-589 B.C.) Height: 72 feet Weight: 230 tons Story: Psammetikos II, the third king of the 26th Dynasty (666-524 A.D.),
erected this obelisk at Heliopolis near Cairo. Many of the inscriptions have
eroded away, though a list of the king's many names remains: "The Golden Horus,
'beautifying the Two Lands,' beloved of Atum, lord of Heliopolis; the King of
Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferibre, beloved of Re-Harakhti; the son of his own
body, who seizes the White Crown and who unites the Double Crown, Psammetikos,
beloved of the Souls of Heliopolis."
Like the obelisk at the Piazza del Popolo, this obelisk was re-erected in Rome
in 10 B.C. to commemorate the emperor Augustus' victories in Egypt. It remained
there, in the Campus Martius, for many centuries before falling over in the
10th or 11th century. It wasn't until the 18th century that it was finally
restored and re-erected at Monte Citorio.