At the center of St. Peter's Square, the second tallest Egyptian obelisk in Rome soars 84 feet (26 meters) into the air to signify the Catholic church's power. Brought from Heliopolis to Rome by Caligula in AD 37, the red-granite obelisk was moved to its current location by Pope Sixtus V in 1586.
The Vatican Obelisk (Obelisco Vaticano)—one of 13 obelisks in Rome, and the only one said to have never been toppled—is best visited with a guide on a tour that touches on multiple Vatican highlights, including St. Peter's Basilica, Michelangelo’s dome, and Vatican Museums. These sites' vast collection of art is best appreciated on a private tour with skip-the-line tickets to avoid long entrance lines. In-depth Vatican tours may also include Vatican Gardens and Vatican Grottoes.
Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- The square and its sights are accessible to wheelchair users.
- There is no dress code to enter the square, but to enter St. Peter's Basilica, your clothing must cover your shoulders and knees.
- Wear a hat and sunscreen and bring water if visiting in summer, as there is little shade in the square and no cafes or bars.
- Expect a security check to enter the basilica, but pedestrians entering the square are only screened on days when a papal audience is scheduled.
St. Peter’s Square is easily reached via metro line A, Ottaviano stop. To appreciate its overall architecture, approach the obelisk by walking up Via della Conciliazione to the square. When to Get There
The square is often crowded during the opening hours of St. Peter's Basilica, so consider joining an evening or early-entry Vatican tour to see the Vatican Obelisk in St. Peter's Square in relative peace.Mysteries and Legends of the Obelisk
For centuries, the decorative gilt ball on the top of the obelisk was believed to hold the ashes of Julius Caesar, but when architect Domenico Fontana removed the ancient metal ball to move the obelisk to St. Mark’s Square, he found only dust inside. The claim that a relic from Christ’s cross is set in the metal of the cross topping the obelisk has never been proven true or false and remains an unsolved mystery.