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Rome Reports

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The Vatican Obelisk, a sundial with 2000 years of history

ROSANA GASPARINI Rome Tour Guide "It's the only thing today that is still whole and healthy, without having undergone restorations like the others you find in Rome. The height that is has today is half the size of the original.� This obelisk was originally made in Egypt and transported to Rome in the year 37 AD by the Emperor Caligula. He then had it placed in the Circus of Nero. The Vatican obelisk remembers the martyrdom of many saint, but in particular the martyr of St. Peter. In 1586 Pope Sixtus V decided to move it in front of St. Peter's Basilica. The move required the help of 900 men and 150 horses. Because it was a very delicate task that required full concentration, there was an order of silence for the workforce, anyone one who spoke was sentenced to death. ROSANA GASPARINI Rome Tour Guide "In the moment when the weight was the heaviest, the ropes began to give. Among the workers was Benedetto Bresca. A sailor from Genoa who shouted 'Daghe l'aiga ae corde ' which means 'throw water on the ropes', and by which he broke the law by breaking the silence.Water was brought forward without a second thought, the ropes shrunk back to normal and they immediately raised the obelisk.� At the top of the obelisk, there was originally a bronze sphere, which according to medieval legend, contained the remains of Julius Caesar. However, Pope Alexander VII replaced it with a cross that sits above a star. Few know that this obelisk is also a sundial. In 1817 several disks of marble were placed in the ground surrounding it to form the compass rose as well as the meridian line. ROSANA GASPARINI Rome Tour Guide "We have this meridian line that shows on the one hand the hour of the day which is indicated by the shadow of the obelisk according to the position of the sun. And secondly, it indicates the winter and summer solstice.� Around 2000 years of history are tied to the Vatican's Obelisk that now stands in the middle of St. Peter's Square and is one of the most visited places in the world. DC/AE MG - -PR