The Iseum/Serapeum complex must have been a most impressive place. Don't you wish you could have a peek at it in its prime? Well, you can. But only a tiny peek.
Even many fans of things Roman have never heard of the Severan Marble Plan. This was a huge, highly detailed map of the city of Rome that was mounted on a wall near the Forum. Think of one of the modern day city maps you encounter, but without the "You are Here" arrow to help orient you.
The Plan has suffered the usual fate of Roman antiquities, it has been battered, burned and burgled. But maybe 15% of it survives. And happily for our tale it has fragments that depict the Serepeum. (There were actually other Iseum/Serapeum complexes in Rome, but that is another story).
These are from the Stanford University reconstruction of the Severan Plan, a most impressive on line effort. You can see the word SERAPAEUM in the two pieces. The little dots probably represent obelisks. The exact number of them is unclear. But lets visit a few.....
Here we are on the steps of the Pantheon. In front of us is the Piazza della Rotanda. It's a fun place, lots of people around, lots of things happening. Tourists taking pictures, merchants hawking stuff, a discrete presence of Italian police watching out for any nefarious activity by modern day followers of a far darker ISIS. In the background is the sound of a busker band playing Pink Floyd's "The Wall".
The obelisk only had to travel about 500 feet, but did so by an indirect route. It was found in 1373 near the church of San Macuto. It was moved to the Capitoline Hill before being brought back in 1711 to be added to an existing fountain by Barigioni. It is close enough to its mate in front of Maria sopra Minerva that you would be able to see both if not for the corner of a building being in the way.
This obelisk originally was made for Rameses II who had it adorning the temple of Ra in Heliopolis. The star, mountains and cross on top are the emblems of the Pope who was responsible for its final move, Clement XI.
The fountain is pretty swell.
Here is another obelisk. Not quite as much fun. This was one of the last pair found, only turning up in 1883 near sopra Minerva. This was shortly after Italian reunification and the country was in a feisty, expansionist mode. It was set up near Termini, the main rail station in Rome. It became a commemorative marker for the 500 Italian soldiers who died in an obscure colonial war battle at Dogali in Ethiopia. In 1924 it was moved to its current location near the Baths of Diocletian close to the Piazza della Republica.
Oh, this obelisk saw some grandeur in its day. Like our earlier specimen it was a Ramses II item from Heliopolis. Nowadays it is getting along in much reduced circumstances. There is graffiti on the wall behind it. Derelicts sleep on the benches in the little park that surrounds it. A close up of the plinth:
A lion to recall Africa. An empty bottle and a scrawl to show its current circumstances.
Other obelisks from the Iseum/Serapeum complex have ended up here and there. The relatively small size of these makes them something that is easier to related to on a human scale. It also makes it easier to haul them off to other places.
In the Villa Celimontana on the Celian Hill of Rome there is an obelisk cobbled together from the parts of several. At least some of these came from near Maria sopra Minerva.
Another can be found in the Boboni Gardens in Florence.
And still one more, a twin to the Dogali obelisk, can be found in the small town of Urbino.
Some sources make the claim that the larger obelisk in the Piazza Navona is from the Serepeum, but this is not certain. It is for one thing a Roman copy of an Egyptian original, and one would imagine that honoring an Egyptian god with a knock off would have been bad form.