The present Montecitorio Obelisk was brought to Rome in the year 10 BC, together with another obelisk now known as the Flaminio Obelisk. Another name for the monument is Obelisco Solare, since its original function was that of sundial for the meridian in the present Piazza del Parlamento.
Montecitorio Obelisk Rome
The obelisk in the Piazza di Montecitorio in Rome is of Egyptian origin and was made by Pharaoh Psammetico II. Emperor Augustus had the monument transported to the Eternal City. The obelisk was originally located in Heliopolis, in those days one of the most important cities of Egypt, but now no more than part of a suburb of Cairo.
The emperor placed the monument in what was then the Campo Marzio district, in order to serve as a sundial for the enormous meridian north of the Piazza del Parlamento.
Lost and found
Towards the 11th century the ground shifted as a result of either floods or earthquakes. This made the obelisk tilt so that it became unable to fulfill its function. It became covered with earth and virtually forgotten, not to be found until several centuries had passed.
In 1748 the architect Antonio Zabaglia got the task to restore the obelisk, which had broken into five pieces. The restoration had been ordered by Pope Benedict XIV.
The restoration took a long time and was finally completed in 1792 by Giovanni Antinori, who also placed it in its present location. Antinori used red granite parts of the Column of Antoninus Pius for the restoration. The pedestal of this column is on display in the Vatican Museums.
The globe on top of the obelisk is a memorial sign for its former function. Every day, exactly at 12 noon, a sunbeam strikes the earth through a hole in this globe.
The height of the Montecitorio Obelisk is almost 22m, but with its base it reaches more than 33m. The pedestal contains an inscription with a dedication to emperor Augustus.
Of the inscriptions on the obelisk, only very few are still legible. The ones that can still be deciphered include a list of the Pharaoh’s names and an interpretation of natural phenomena according to the Egyptians’ philosophy.
The pavement below the obelisk was decorated with mosaics showing the signs of the zodiac, the winds and a sundial. After a first restoration in 1965, in 1998 the entire square got a new layout. The signs of the zodiac and the sundials were recreated.