All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in February 2010.
Obelisco cavato di sotto le ruine (Book 2) (Day 4) (Rione Colonna)
In the text accompanying Plate 21 covering Piazza del Popolo Giuseppe Vasi described at length the obelisk which Pope Sixtus V placed there at the end of the XVIth century; Vasi, as a logical consequence of that description, added an extra-plate to show another obelisk which at the time (1752) he was publishing his etchings was the subject of a lot of discussions as to where it should be placed. This obelisk had been unearthed in 1748 when some small houses behind Palazzo di Montecitorio were pulled down to make room for a large building belonging to the Augustinian monks of S. Maria del Popolo; the obelisk was found broken into five major pieces, but parts of it were missing or were damaged by fire.
In the early XIXth century the area shown in the plate was largely impacted by the enlargement of Palazzo di Montecitorio which since 1871 has housed the Lower Chamber (Camera dei Deputati) of the Italian Parliament. Palazzo della Vignaccia (also known as Palazzo Poli di Campo Marzio) was pulled down; the Augustinian building is on the right side of the image.
Psammetichus II, a Pharaoh who lived in the VIth century BC erected two tall obelisks in Heliopolis; it is generally thought that they were knocked down by the Persians when they conquered Egypt in 525 BC. In 10 BC Emperor Augustus ordered the relocation of one of the obelisks to Rome as a symbol of the conquest of Egypt; the inscription says Aegupto in potestatem Populi Romani redacta (Egypt was placed under the rule of the Romans). Augustus however paid tribute to the conquered country by dedicating the obelisk to the Sun, a major deity of the Egyptian Pantheon.
The Romans were fascinated by the advanced astronomical knowledge of the Egyptians and Julius Caesar gave his name to a calendar which was based on the Egyptian one; Augustus, the adoptive son of Caesar, utilized the obelisk as the gnomon of a gigantic sundial; the globe placed at its top projected its shadow on a large paved square where bronze marks indicated the corresponding hours of the day and days of the year; it was placed in the precise position so as to reach Ara Pacis, the altar dedicated to Peace built by Augustus in that same year, on September 23, the emperor's birthday.
The accuracy of Horologium Divi Augusti, the name given to the sundial, did not last long; Pliny the Elder noted in his Historia Naturalis that its data were no longer reliable and he indicated the impact of floods on the stability of the obelisk among the most likely causes of this deterioration.
In 1748 many thought that Pope Benedict XIV would have re-erected the obelisk for the forthcoming 1750 Jubilee Year, yet it remained in the courtyard of Palazzo della Vignaccia until 1789 when Pope Pius VI decided to place it in front of Palazzo di Montecitorio; a granite column erected in honour of Emperor Antoninus Pius which also was found in the XVIIIth century in the same area was used to complete the obelisk (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).
Between 1908-18 Palazzo di Montecitorio was enlarged and its rear side was given a grand fašade designed by Ernesto Basile, an architect known for many buildings in Palermo; unfortunately the new part of Palazzo di Montecitorio does not fit with the overall Roman context.
Many buildings near Palazzo della Vignaccia were pulled down
to obtain space for the enlargement of Palazzo di Montecitorio. The Renaissance fašade of one of them was thought worthy of being reconstructed in the street behind S. Lorenzo in Lucina. It belonged to Don Pedro de Vaca, a Spanish nobleman from Valencia
who came to Rome maybe called by Pope Alexander VI, who also was from the region of Valencia; as a matter of fact his coat of arms (a cow)
is very similar to that of the Pope (Vaca, Italian vacca, means cow). The space between the windows was most likely painted. Above the entrance Don Pedro de Vaca wrote a sort of will: Ossa et opes tandem partas tibi Roma relinquam - My bones and my assets, which cost me a lot of effort, I leave to you Rome.
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza Colonna
Next step in Day 4 itinerary: Chiesa dell'Immacolata Concezione in Campo Marzio
Next step in your tour of Rione Colonna: Palazzo di Fiano