When the Roman Empire was at the height of its expansionism and conquests, it added Egypt to its territory. Everything Egyptian was either collected and brought back to Rome, or copied. There are numerous obelisks throughout Rome that were taken from Egypt and transported here. Not to be outdone by the Egyptians with their hieroglyphic enhanced obelisks, notable Romans built large columns engraved with tales of their exploits or lives (I.e. Trajan's column). We found a number of these obelisks and columns throughout Rome, but there are more. Perhaps you can find the others if/when you come to visit.
This Egyptian obelisk is located in the Piazza di Populo with the twin churches in the background.
A closer look at the Piazza di Populo obelisk
This obelisk with its fancy water fountain at the base is opposite the Pantheon.
The Elephant obelisk can be found in the Piazza de Minerva, on the back side of the Pantheon. It was the center of some controversy between a Dominican priest who had submitted his own plans for the obelisk, the actual sculpturer, Bernini, and Alexander VII, the Pope at the time. The Pope eventually chose Bernini's design. Bernini apparently wanted the elephant's base to be its four feet. The Dominican priest wanted the elephant to be on top of a cubical base. They went to the pope to settle the dispute. The Pope sided with the Dominican. However, Bernini got his final revenge. He placed the elephant in such a manner and with its tail a bit to the left, that when the Dominicans left their rectory, they had to look at the back side of the elephant. And so it is to this day.
The emperor Trajan liked the Egyptian practice of carving the sides of the obelisks with various tales. As a result, he had the column that was erected in his honor not far from the Roman Forum engraved with stories of his life and battles.
Continuing our journey to locate interesting obelisks and columns throughout Rome, we found the following examples:
This particular obelisk, frequently referred to as the Vatican Obelisk, is the only ancient Egyptian obelisk to have remained standing since Roman times. Not much is known about the origins of this red granite obelisk except that it was intended to be erected in Heliopolis . Between 30 and 28 BC, Emperor Augustus had it moved to Alexandria. Caligula had it brought to Rome in 37 AD. It is thought that the original placement of the obelisk is near the present-day sacristy of the basilica (I.e. To the south). It took 13 months between 1585 to 1586, to move it to its present location in St. Peter's square.
The Sallustiano obelisk sits atop the Spanish Steps in front of the Trinita de Monti church ( pictured in the background...sort of... Behind the scaffolding and the billboard).
The column of the Immaculate Conception, located in the Piazza Mignanelli to the south east of the Spanish Steps, is from the nineteenth century. It was commissioned by Ferdinand I, King of the two Sicilies in an effort to ease the strain between Naples and the Papal States, after Naples stopped its yearly tribute to the Pope as ultimate sovereign of Naples.
This is the Solare Obelisk in the Piazza di Montecitorio, just outside the Parliment building. It was brought to Rome in 10 BC by Emperor Augustus.