FONTANA, Domenico
(b. 1543, Melide, d. 1607, Napoli)

Moving the Vatican Obelisk

Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican

The Romans had plundered several Egyptian obelisks and set them up at key points in Rome, where they remained all through the Middle Ages. The most famous was that imported by Nero and erected in what had been his circus, to the south of St Peter's. In 1586 Pope Sixtus V ordered Domenico Fontana to move it to its present location in front of the basilica. It was an outstanding feat of engineering, watched by thousands and recorded in a sumptuous publication by the architect.

This engraving from Fontana's publication shows the Vatican obelisk standing in its original location next to the Sacristy of St Peter's with demonstrations of how it was to be moved.