The She-wolf and the Sphynx : why are there so many obelisks in Rome?

Why are there so many obelisks in Rome?

An egyptian visiting Rome would probably wonder why Egypt had such a large amount of influence on the Eternal City.

Apart from Ancient Greece , no other culture had such an impact on the Roman Empire. Egyptian architectural styles, religious cults and economical systems shaped the Roman Empire into the main classical institutions in Western history.


Obelisco Flamino, brought in 10AD to decorate the spina of Circu Maximus, now in Piazza del Popolo

Starting from the City Hall of Rome, Piazza del Campidoglio. On either side of the fountain dedicated to the goddess Roma, we can find two allegories. The Tiber river on the right side(originally identified as Tigris), represented with a small statue of the mythological She-wolf, breastfeeding Romulus and Remus. Along with the Nile on the left side, represented with a small statue of a Sphynx. One of the symbols of egyptian civilization, represented in a crucial square for Rome, designed by renaissance master Michelangelo.

I Century magistrate Caius Cestius Epulo built himself a huge pyramid on the southern outskirts of the city. Indeed, the Pyramid of Cestius is still well preserved and strongly resembles the Pyramids of Nubia.

Pyramid of Cestius, Porta San Paolo, Roma

Some historians argue Cestius served in a 23 BC military campaign in Southern Egypt, thus the huge similarity.


In addition to the vast egyptian symbology through the years, the obelisk made it to Rome in the first century B.C. Its exotic design gradually became a symbol of  Rome, as the city now harbours the most obelisks in the world.

In the times of Augustus, Romans transported several obelisks from the Nile delta region in northern Egypt, taken as spoils of war.

They symbolized the military power of the Empire. Placed inside the numerous egyptian temples in Rome or in front of gravestones.

Especially in the 1st century A.D. the Romans started imitating this structure.

Sometimes they left them blank or tried to copy the original hieroglyphics.

After the Middle Ages, several popes financed renovations in the piazzas of the historical center. In front of the gorgeous basilicas, the obelisks served as a symbol for the victory of life on death. Some of them were even cristianized, with papal symbology carved on it. A major example is the Vatican Obelisk, in St Peter’s Square. Previously brought to Rome in 40 AD by Caligula and placed at St Peter’s in 1586, while the basilica was still under construction.

Moreover, among our picks, how couldn’t we mention the smallest of them all? Designed by baroque master Bernini, a marble elephant holds up the obelisk situated in Piazza della Minerva., just a few meters away from the Pantheon.

Besides, while you’re at it, why won’t you go to Piazza Giovanni Paolo II ?

Lat but not least, the massive Obelisco Lateranense often seems to beautifully stand out among the nearby traffic of San Giovanni.



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