The ancient Egyptian granite obelisk which now stands outside Palazzo del Montecitorio dates back to the reign of the pharaoh Psammetichus II (r. 595-589 BCE). It originally stood at the sanctuary of Re, in the city of Heliopolis, and was brought to Rome in 10 BCE, on the orders of the emperor Augustus (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE).
The obelisk (21 m) was used as the gnomon of the Solarium Augusti, the giant sundial (or horologium) that Augustus created in the Campus Martius.
At some point between the 9th and 11th centuries, the obelisk collapsed (or was toppled), and broke into pieces. It was unearthed nearby in 1748, repaired and finally erected on this spot in 1792, at the behest of Pope Pius IV (r. 1775-99).
The bronze sphere atop the obelisk sports the pope's armorial bearings: three stars and a clutch of lilies withstanding a strong gust of wind.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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