The obelisk, which name is derived from the Greek word obelos (staff, pole) was present in Ancient Egypt from the IV Dynasty, some 4000 years before the birth of Christ. This extremely unique monument was closely related to the sun cult, since its form was believed to have been derived from the pyramid, which was the very expression of the beam of the rays of the sun that extend downward toward the earth to give it light and warmth. To the Ancient Egyptians, the sun was the most solemn symbol of the divinity, since it was believed to be the bestower of eternal youth and victor over darkness; clearly, then, both the pyramid and obelisk were the monuments essential to the Egyptian solar religion. The uppermost part of the obelisk, called ben ben by the Egyptians and pyramidion by the Greeks, was the expression of the beam from the rays that emanated from the sun. The remaining trunk represented the prolungation down to the point where it touched the earth; this is why the obelisk was worshiped as the symbol of the sun, just as it is represented ideographically as the god Amon Ra, the highest divinity of Thebes; for the very same reason obelisks were placed before the temples of Ra as his sacred symbols, and were situated as well before sepulchres, so that the rays of the sun might accompany the deceased on their journey to the beyond. As a reinforcement of this identification of the obelisk with the sun’s rays, its tip would often be covered with a gilded metal, so that the luminous rays could sparkle from atop the granite monolith. Following the conquest of Egypt, the Roman Emperors brought back some of the obelisks to Rome as victory trophies, consecrating them to the Sun and inserting them within various monuments of Imperial Rome, like the Circus Maximus and the Tomb of Caesar Augustus. The middle of the Fifteenth Century marks the beginning of a period of renewal in Rome. Indeed, over the subsequent hundred and fifty years one great masterpiece of urban planning after another was realized: in the early 1500s, Julius II opens up new streets bedecked with the finest buildings of the nobility, and at the end of the century this period of transformation culminates in Sisto V (1585-1590) who, wishing to celebrate the universal qualities of Rome, reorganizes the ancient fabric of the city with an urban plan that was to bear his name. The “Sistine Plan”, realized by the papal architect Domenico Fontana, provided for the construction of a network of streets which, having the form of a star, would link all of the basilicas and important monuments visited by pilgrims,taking full advantage of the perspective and monumental views having as their main focal points obelisks or fountains. The present study, summarized in this abstract, attempts to develop the figure of the obelisk as divine symbol of the Egyptian era, as well as to define its role within the urban fabric of Renaissance Rome.

Egyptian obelisks in Rome

CIGOLA, Michela
2003

Abstract

The obelisk, which name is derived from the Greek word obelos (staff, pole) was present in Ancient Egypt from the IV Dynasty, some 4000 years before the birth of Christ. This extremely unique monument was closely related to the sun cult, since its form was believed to have been derived from the pyramid, which was the very expression of the beam of the rays of the sun that extend downward toward the earth to give it light and warmth. To the Ancient Egyptians, the sun was the most solemn symbol of the divinity, since it was believed to be the bestower of eternal youth and victor over darkness; clearly, then, both the pyramid and obelisk were the monuments essential to the Egyptian solar religion. The uppermost part of the obelisk, called ben ben by the Egyptians and pyramidion by the Greeks, was the expression of the beam from the rays that emanated from the sun. The remaining trunk represented the prolungation down to the point where it touched the earth; this is why the obelisk was worshiped as the symbol of the sun, just as it is represented ideographically as the god Amon Ra, the highest divinity of Thebes; for the very same reason obelisks were placed before the temples of Ra as his sacred symbols, and were situated as well before sepulchres, so that the rays of the sun might accompany the deceased on their journey to the beyond. As a reinforcement of this identification of the obelisk with the sun’s rays, its tip would often be covered with a gilded metal, so that the luminous rays could sparkle from atop the granite monolith. Following the conquest of Egypt, the Roman Emperors brought back some of the obelisks to Rome as victory trophies, consecrating them to the Sun and inserting them within various monuments of Imperial Rome, like the Circus Maximus and the Tomb of Caesar Augustus. The middle of the Fifteenth Century marks the beginning of a period of renewal in Rome. Indeed, over the subsequent hundred and fifty years one great masterpiece of urban planning after another was realized: in the early 1500s, Julius II opens up new streets bedecked with the finest buildings of the nobility, and at the end of the century this period of transformation culminates in Sisto V (1585-1590) who, wishing to celebrate the universal qualities of Rome, reorganizes the ancient fabric of the city with an urban plan that was to bear his name. The “Sistine Plan”, realized by the papal architect Domenico Fontana, provided for the construction of a network of streets which, having the form of a star, would link all of the basilicas and important monuments visited by pilgrims,taking full advantage of the perspective and monumental views having as their main focal points obelisks or fountains. The present study, summarized in this abstract, attempts to develop the figure of the obelisk as divine symbol of the Egyptian era, as well as to define its role within the urban fabric of Renaissance Rome.
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11580/25347
 Attenzione

Attenzione! I dati visualizzati non sono stati sottoposti a validazione da parte dell'ateneo

Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
social impact