|Saint Peter's Square viewed from the dome|
The famous relic sat exactly where Caligula placed it for 1500 even while its surroundings dramatically changed. The reason is sat undisturbed for so long is because it is 25 meters high and weighs 350 tons. It was not easily moved and eventually it became half-buried and forgotten due to the carelessness of men over the course of centuries.
Yet, interest in the landmark was renewed around the time of Pope Nicholas V (approximately 1450). Those put in charge sought to place the obelisk at the center of the square. They attempted to move it 250 meters from its original location, but significant technical obstacles foiled their efforts. Moving the obelisk was a challenge for the ages and early plans were insufficient failures. The object sat another 150 years until the energetic Pope Sixtus V took up the challenge. The Pope selected the plans of architect Domenico Fontana from a number of candidates and hired Fontana to execute the relocation of this colossus.
|Technical drawings by Domenico Fontana|
Anticipating the difficulties and dangers of his work at St. Peter's Square, Fontana sought to completely forbid the crowds of curious onlookers from creating any noise; from uttering a single word. The Pope threatened the death penalty for any offender of this noise ordinance. An ancient chronicler tells us that a gallows was constructed in the square with a hangman and his helpers nearby to make the strange papal edict more effective.
At this point in the story, legend and fact are truly blended.
On September 10, 1586 the final step was to be put completed. The obelisk would be hoisted onto its base. This step was comprised of 52 stages and each stage was completed that day until the monument reached an almost vertical position, ready to be lifted onto its base. Suddenly, the workers realized there was incredible friction and the ropes were about to break. They halted and the obelisk stopped its ascent. Realizing the grave threat to his task the architect panicked. He was completely at a loss for a response to would save his project and reputation. Seemingly from nowhere, a sudden cry was let out by a man standing in the crowd, heedless of the Pope's edict: “Water to the ropes!!!”.
It was the cry of a Genoese navy captain named Bresca who knew from long experience that under the action of water the ropes would shrink and become even stronger. Thanks to his advice, the obelisk was straightened and lifted and Fontana’s project was a success.
Bresca, rather than being executed, was called to appear before Sixtus V to request a papal favor. The man, a native of Sanremo, asked only to have the privilege, for himself, for his family and for his descendants, to supply the Vatican with the palms of Palm Sunday's ceremony. Pope Sixtus V granted the favor and the monopoly was awarded.
|'Parmureli', during the Palm Sunday's ceremony|
In Sanremo, a square in the center of the city’s seaside district is dedicated to Captain Bresca.
In Rome, in Saint Peter's Square, we have the obelisk here.