Just next to the Pantheon in the heart of Rome, don't miss the Elephant on top of a an ancient Egyptian obelisk. It was designed in the 1600's by Bernini, one of the most famous Italian sculptor and architect but actually made by one of his followers Ferrata, and it stands right in front of the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
After the obelisk was found buried in the close Dominican friars monastery, Bernini was commissioned by the Pope to create something special to hold the obelisk.
What a challenge for the sculptor and his genius! He prepared 10 different sketches and the Elephant, symbol of wisdom and strength, was chosen by the Pope.
The problems were about to start, in fact 2 different issues were causing some troubles to Bernini:
- the Dominican Friars wanted their crest ( the DOG) somewhere in the statue to underline the obelisk was found in their coirtyard but the Pope strongly refused it, that's why the friarfs got very upset
-the Dominican Friars convinced the Pope to impose some guidelines to Bernini: since the obelisk was too heavy they were sure Bernini wasn't able to make the elephant strong enough to hold it, so the artist was forced to add a marble cube, covered by the draps, under the elephant's belly.
Bernini was not happy at all of changing his sketch: the result was a very squat elephant that shortly was named by the Romas the "little pig" ("porcino").
Legend says that the elephant's tale and behind are toward the Dominican Friars Monastery as a very clear sign of protest by Bernini!!!
Who knows if this part of the story is true? Anyway we love it!