Other Romes

Christian Catacombs and Egyptian Obelisks

Renaissance archaeologists loved Roman culture, but they were also fascinated by Rome's great, mysterious relics of ancient Egypt: the obelisks, some of them inscribed with mysterious hieroglyphs, that Roman emperors had brought across the Mediterranean. One of these relics, at once threatening and magnificent, was still standing by the Vatican; others were discovered underground. Scholars tried to understand their messages and functions. The imperious pope Sixtus V had five of them raised--a job so hard that Michelangelo had refused to undertake it. Once formally exorcised of their evil spirits, the obelisks clearly showed that Christianity had overtaken Rome and Egypt alike in power and glory. Still other archaeologists penetrated the buried early Christian tombs in the catacombs under the city, making adventurous trips into the dark to find a whole lost world of early Christian symbolism and imagery. Now turn left to the next room to continue this part of the exhibition. You can also turn back to the beginning of the Archaeology room, or run back to the main hall.