You are along the route: EGYPT THE EMPIRE THE POPES. THE CITY OF OBELISKS
The places mentioned in this itinerary are open for visitors all week long, with the exception of Villa Medici, which is closed on Monday.
The obelisks take their name from the Greek word obeliskos, originally indicating a spit or a large needle. First erected by ancient Egyptians in honour of the god of the Sun, they were tapered granite monoliths with a pointed end at the top. The cusp was coated with precious materials in order to achieve special light effects, and all four faces were decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions celebrating the Pharaoh.
After conquering Egypt, Augustus started what later became the common practice of roman emperors by bringing some of the most impressive obelisks to Rome as war trophies. Some of them were then placed in the circuses of the Capital, where they decorated the “spina” the dividing barrier used to hold cart races. Other obelisks were moved near places of worship dedicated to Egyptian gods, like Isis and Serapis.
With the fall of the empire, the obelisks fell too, due to lack of care, earthquakes and plundering; with the precious materials of their decorations long gone, they remained buried and forgotten for centuries.
From the XVI century onward, many obelisks were then rediscovered, often by change during construction activities, and were recovered thanks to the Popes – and in particular to Sixtus V – and put back in place, although they now bore symbol of the cross to cover any solar symbol. They were therefore included in the urban restauration process of the city, underlining the return to an age of prosperity and prestige. The obelisks were used as initial and convergence points of new road perspectives, lending their character to the road system.
Their sober but massive built was so effective a symbol of power, that it survived the centuries and came back in new forms also in modern times.
Rome still has many majestic obelisks: eight Egyptian obelisks, five obelisks made in Roman time as emulation, plus six modern or contemporary obelisks. Together with the places where they were originally located, they represent the stops of an evocative route under the shades of a great symbol.