Model of an obelisk

 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Energy & Mining
Mechanical Engineering
1800 - 1849
  • Dietmar Linzbacher
On the request of Pope Sixtus V, the obelisk was moved in 1586 in a meticulously detailed operation from the Circus Maximus to St. Peter's Square in Rome.

Pope Sixtus V was no protector of monuments. He had ancient structures torn down or converted and new roads and churches constructed ‘for the good of Christianity’ and his own glory. One of the pontiff's great visions was the redesigning of St. Peter's Square.
An obelisk 25.31 metres tall was to be erected in its centre. The Egyptian monolith, weighing over 300 tonnes, had to be brought from its location in the former Circus Maximus to its new site. A competition was announced for ways to overcome this difficult task. From projects submitted by 500 architects and engineers, the one by architect Domenico Fontana was selected.

The obelisk was laid on its side, embedded in an over-dimensioned wooden construction and brought to St. Peter's Square on 30.04.1586 using 907 men, 75 horses and 44 blocks and tackle. Several houses were torn down on the left-hand side of St. Peter's for this operation. The obelisk was re-erected on 10th September of the same year. This operation was meticulously planned and executed. Fontana optimally used the technical opportunities of his time and the muscle-power of humans and animals.

Fontana was so enthusiastic about his tasks that he described it in detail in a book, ‘Della trasportatione dell'obelisco Vaticano et delle fabriche di Nostro Signore Papa Sisto V’ (Rome, 1590). This work served as a basis for the model in the collection of the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum). Illustrations and translations of selected chapters complete the description of this great engineering feat of the early modern era.

Inv.Nr. 50882

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