Rome's Egyptian Obelisks
|The impression made by Rome's obelisks has evolved from conquering to Christian to simply cool.|
Rome has 13 obelisks — more than any other city in the world — but we need to credit the ancient Egyptians for that.
In Egypt, obelisks were connected with the sun god Ra (think of them as stone sunrays) and the power of the pharaohs. The ancient Romans, keen on exotic novelty and sheer size, brought the obelisks home and set them up in key public places as evidence and celebration of their occupation of Egypt.
Starting from the 1580s, Rome's new rulers — the popes — relocated the obelisks, often topping them with Christian crosses so they came to acquire yet another significance that guaranteed their survival: the triumph of Christianity over all other religions.
An Egyptian obelisk from, say, the 16th century B.C, would have been carved out of a single block of granite. Imagine the work, with only man- and horsepower, to first quarry, sculpt and set them up in Egypt, then — after the Romans came along — to roll them on logs to the river or the coast, sail (or row) them in special barges all the way across the Mediterranean and up the Tiber, and finally hoist them up in the city of Rome.
A lot of trouble to go to...so Rome wasn't above cheap imitations. A couple of the city's obelisks are ancient Roman copies. How do we know? The one at the top of the Spanish Steps has misspellings in the hieroglyphics.
Excerpted from Rick Steves' Rome guidebook.