The Obelisco Minerveo (5.47 m), which stands in Piazza della Minerva, was first erected in the Egyptian city of Sais by the pharaoh Apries (r. 589-570 BCE). Nothing is known about how the obelisk reached Rome, but it seems certain that it was installed in the Iseum Campense (Temple of Isis and Serapis).
The obelisk was unearthed in the garden of Santa Maria sopra Minervaduring the reign of Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67). It was soon decided to set it up in front of the church. Many proposals were submitted for the design of the base, but in the end the decision was made to place the obelisk on an elephant, which stands on a stepped pedestal. The reason an elephant was chosen is explained in the inscription on the west face. The 'bellarum fortissima' was carved by Ercole Ferrata (1610-86) to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680).
The inscriptions were penned by Pope Alexander VII, who died shortly before the monument was unveiled to the public.
East face: SAPIENTIS AEGYPTI / INSCVLPTAS OBELISCO FIGVRAS / AB ELEPHANTO / BELLVARVM FORTISSIMA / GESTARI QVISQVIS HIC VIDES / DOCVMENTVM INTELLIGE / ROBVSTAE MENTIS ESSE / SOLIDAM SAPIENTIAM SVSTINERE. (Let any beholder of the carved images of the wisdom of Egypt on the obelisk carried by the elephant, the strongest of beasts, realise that it takes a robust mind to carry solid wisdom.)
West face: VETEREM OBELISCVM / PALLADIS AEGYPTIAE MONVMENTVM / E TELLVRE ERVTVM / IBI IN MINERVAE OLIM / NVNC DEIPARAE GENITRICIS / TORO ERECTVM / DIVINAE SAPIENTIAE / ALEXANDER VII DEDICAVIT / ANNO SAL MDCLXVII. (Alexander VII dedicated to divine wisdom this ancient obelisk, a monument of the Egyptian Athena, unearthed and set up in the square, once Minerva's now belonging to the Mother of God, in the year of Salvation, 1667.)