Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

The Vatican Obelisk: Why is there an Ancient Egyptian Obelisk in St Peter’s Square?

Images of Saint Peter’s Square are frequently broadcast around the World. Perhaps not surprising given that this is at the public heart of the Vatican City. Cameras tend to be directed towards St Peter’s Basilica and its iconic Renaissance dome, which dominates the skyline of Rome. Another monument also features prominently in these images; that is the obelisk that stands at the centre of the square. An obelisk that was brought to Rome from Egypt by Caligula in 37 AD. But, why does the Vatican have a four thousand year old Egyptian obelisk?

A view of St Peter's square from the dome of St Peter's Church.
Looking down from the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, over Saint Peter’s Square with the Vatican Obelisk at the centre.
St Peter's Basilica at night.
Looking up the Via della Conciliazione at the Vatican Obelisk with Saint Peter’s Basilica in the background.

Visiting St Peter’s Square & the Vatican City

Vatican City Pass

Included in his pass is a guided tour of St Peter’s Basilica, and entry to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums. 

Guided Tour

A highly rated, 1.5 hour guided tour of St Peter’s Square and Basilica. With an optional visit to the dome.

Skip-the-Line Tickets

A good option for tickets to the Vatican Museums, with good optional add-ons to suit your needs, including Vatican Gardens.

Add the Vatican Obelisk to Your Itineraries & Travel Lists

Vatican Obelisk

Of the 13 Egyptian obelisks brought to Rome, the Vatican Obelisk is the only ancient obelisk in Rome to have remained standing since Roman times. It was the largest non-inscribed obelisk to leave Egypt, at 25.5 m high and weighing an estimated 326 tonnes. It was Gaius Caligula who had the obelisk bought to Rome in 37 AD. The obelisk was originally erected in gardens Caligula had inherited from his mother, and then on the central spina of a circus, where it stood until 1585 when it was re-erected in its present position the centre of St Peter’s Square in the Vatican.

Archaeology Travel Writer

Thomas Dowson

With a professional background in archaeology and a passion for travel, I founded Archaeology Travel to help more people explore our world’s fascinating pasts. Born in Zambia, I trained as an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and taught archaeology at the universities of Southampton and Manchester (England). Read More

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