The following curious account of the removal of the obelisk in the Circus Vaticanus to the centre of St. Peter's square, by Domenico Fontana, is extracted from Milizia's life of that famous architect. It shows plainly that the Egyptians must have attained great skill and perfection in mechanics and engineering, to have been able to quarry out obelisks at least a third larger, and convey them often several hundred miles, to the places where they erected them.

"Sixtus V. was now desirous of raising in the centre of the square of St. Peter's the only obelisk which remained standing, but partly interred, near the wall of the Sacristy, where was formerly the Circus of Nero. Other pontiffs had had the same wish, but the difficulty of the enterprise had prevented the execution.

"This obelisk, or pyramid, is of red granite, called by the ancient Romans, Marmor Thebanum (Theban marble), on account of having been worked near Thebes, in Egypt, whence it was transported to Rome in the time of Cæsar. Of the immense number in Rome, this is the only one remaining entire; it is without hieroglyphics, 84 feet high, 8 feet 6 inches wide at the base, and 5 feet 6 inches at the top. One cubic foot of this granite weighs about 160 pounds; so that the whole weight of the obelisk must be somewhat less than 759,000 lbs. Of the manner in which the Egyptians and Romans moved these enormous masses we have no idea, and so many centuries having elapsed since such a thing had been done, this proposition of Sixtus V. was considered so novel, that a general assembly was called of all the mathematicians, engineers, and learned men from various parts of Europe; and, in a congress held by the pope, more than 500 persons presented themselves, bringing with them their inventions; some with drawings, some with models, others with writings or arguments.

"The greater number were for removing it by means of an iron carriage and thirty-two levers. Others invented a half wheel, on which the obelisk was to be raised by degrees. Some proposed screws, and others thought of carrying it upon slings.

"Bartolomeo Ammanati, a Florentine architect and sculptor, sent expressly by the grand duke, presented himself before the pope, without either models or designs, and requested a year to consider it; for this he was most severely reprimanded by the pontiff. Fontana exhibited his wooden model, with a leaden pyramid, which, by means of a windlass and crane, was raised and lowered with the greatest facility; he explained the nature of these machines and movements, and gave a practical proof of their capability by raising a small pyramid in the mausoleum of Augustus, which was in a ruinous condition. After many disputes, Fontana's invention was approved; but, as he had not yet acquired a name of sufficient importance, the execution of it was committed to two architects of renown, Giacomo della Porta and Bartolomeo Ammanati.—These immediately commenced a scaffold in the centre of the square where the obelisk was to stand.

"Fontana being justly displeased that his own discovery should not be entrusted to his execution, went to the pope, and respectfully represented to him, that no one could so properly execute a design as the inventor. Sixtus was persuaded, and committed the entire direction of it to him. The architect then commenced his work with the utmost celerity. He dug a square hole of 44 feet, in the piazza, 24 feet deep, and finding the soil watery and chalky, he made it firm by strong and massive piles. At the same time he had ropes made, three inches in diameter, 1500 feet long, an immense quantity of cords, large iron rods to strengthen the obelisk, and other pieces of iron for the cases of the cranes, pins, circles, pivots, and instruments of every kind. The iron to secure the obelisk alone amounted to 40,000 lbs., and was made in the manufactories of Rome, Ronciglione, and Subbiaco. The beams, taken from the woods of Nettuno, were of such a prodigious size, that each was drawn by seven pair of buffalos. From Terracina, elm was brought, for the caseing, and Holm oak for the shafts of windlass; and to prevent the ground from giving way, it being soft and marshy, in consequence of the great weight, he made a bed with two layers of timber, crossing each other in a contrary direction. On this foundation he placed the castle or carriage, which had eight columns: each of these columns was composed of so many thick planks, that they measured 13 feet in circumference. These were united together by thick cords, without screws, in order to be done and undone with greater quickness. The height of the beams was required to be 90 feet; and not any being of that length, they were placed one on the other, and united by iron bands. These columns were strengthened by forty-eight braces, and tied together on all sides. The obelisk was entirely covered with double mats, to prevent its being injured; it was then surrounded by planks, over which were placed large rods of iron, and these embracing the thick part underneath, came directly over the four faces of the mass, which thus became totally encircled with these coverings. The whole pyramid thus weighed one million and a half pounds. Fontana calculated that every windlass, with good ropes and cranes, would be able to move 20,000 lbs. weight; and consequently forty would move 800,000, and he gained the rest by five levers of thick beams 52 feet long.

"So novel an apparatus excited the curiosity of all Rome, and of foreigners also, who came from distant countries to see what effect would be produced by this mass of beams, mingled with ropes, windlasses, levers, and pulleys. In order to prevent confusion, Sixtus V. issued one of his mandates, that on the day of its being worked, no one, except the workmen, should enter the enclosure, on pain of death, and that no one should make the least noise, nor even speak loud. Accordingly, on the 30th of April, 1586, the first to enter the barrier was the chief justice and his officers, and the executioner to plant the gibbet, not merely as a matter of ceremony. Fontana went to receive the benediction of the pope, who, after having bestowed it, told him to be cautious of what he did, for a failure would certainly cost him his head. On this occasion, Sixtus felt the difference between his regard for his own glory, and his affection for the architect. Fontana, in terror, secretly placed horses at every gate, ready to convey him from the papal anger, in case of an accident. At the dawn of day, two masses of the Holy Ghost were celebrated; all the artificers made their communion, and received the papal benediction, and before the rising of the sun all entered the barrier. The concourse of spectators was such, that the tops of the houses were covered, and the streets crowded. The nobility and prelates were at the barriers, between the Swiss guards and the cavalry: all were fixed and attentive to the proceedings; and, terrified at the sight of the inexorable gibbet, every one was silent.

"The architect gave an order that, at the sound of the trumpet, each should begin working, and at that of the bell, placed in the castle of wood, each should desist; there were more than 900 workmen, and 75 horses. The trumpet sounded, and in an instant, men, horses, windlasses, cranes, and levers were all in motion. The ground trembled, the castle cracked, all the planks bent from the enormous weight, and the pyramid, which inclined a foot towards the choir of St. Peter, was raised perpendicularly. The commencement having prospered so well, the bell sounded a rest. In twelve more movements the pyramid was raised almost two feet from the ground, in such a situation that it could be placed on the rollers, and it remained firmly fixed by means of wedges of iron and wood. At this happy event the castle of St. Angelo discharged all its artillery, and a universal joy pervaded the whole city.

"Fontana was now convinced that the ropes were better than iron bands, these being most broken or distorted, or expanded by the weight. On the 7th of May the pyramid was placed on the sledge—a more difficult and tedious operation than that of raising it, it being necessary to convey it over the piazza to the situation intended for it, which was 115 rods from where it then stood. The level of the piazza being about 30 feet lower, it was necessary to throw up an earthen embankment from one place to the other, well secured by piles, &c. This being done, on the 13th of June, by means of four windlasses, the pyramid was removed with the greatest facility on the rollers, to the place of its destination. The pope deferred its erection to the next autumn, lest the summer heats should injure the workmen and spectators.

"In the meantime the pedestal, which was interred 30 feet, was removed: it was composed of two parts, the ogee and basement being of the same mass, and the plinth of white marble. All the preparations were made for this last operation on the 10th of September, with the same solemnities; 140 horses and 800 men were employed. The pope selected this day for the solemn entrance of the duke of Luxembourg, ambassador of ceremony from Henry III. of France, and caused the procession to enter by the Porta Angelica, instead of the Porta del Popolo. When this nobleman crossed the Piazza of St. Peter's, he stopped to observe the concourse of workmen in the midst of a forest of machines, and saw, admiring, Rome rising again by the hand of Sixtus V. In fifty-two movements the pyramid was raised, and at the setting of the sun it was placed firm upon its pedestal. The castle disappeared, and the artificers, intoxicated with joy, carried Fontana on their shoulders in triumph to his own house, amidst the sound of drums and trumpets, and the plaudits of an immense crowd.

"In placing it upright on the pedestal, Fontana considered the method adopted by the ancients as the least difficult; which was to rest one end on two globes, then draw the point round, raising it at the same time, afterwards letting it fall perpendicularly on the pedestal. It is conjectured that this was the practice adopted by the ancients, because two dies alone were always covered with lead for a foot or more, and were moreover crushed at the extremities. Sixtus V. placed a cross 7 feet high at the top of the obelisk, which was carried in procession, and which made the whole height 132 feet.

"For this undertaking, Fontana was created a knight of the Golden Spur, and a Roman nobleman; he had a pension of 2000 crowns, transferable to his heirs, ten knighthoods, 5000 crowns of gold in ready money, and every description of material used in the work, which was valued at more than 20,000 crowns. Two bronze medals of him were struck; and the following inscription was placed on the base of the pyramid by order of the pope:—"

Dominicvs Fontana,
Ex. Pago. Agri. Novocomensis.
Transtvlit. Et. Erexit.