Axum obelisk: «Relic of the world's third kingdom.»
afrol News, 18 March - The Axum obelisk, one of the major treasures of the ancient Ethiopian Empire, finally is to be returned from Italy. Ethiopia and Italy have had a long diplomatic row over the issue, but also the problem of transporting the 160 tonnes monument has complicated its return. The obelisk has now been dismantled and awaits transport.
This was reported yesterday by the UN's culture agency, UNESCO, which is to handle the obelisk's reintegration into the World Heritage site at Axum (Aksum) in northern Ethiopia. At the request of the Ethiopian and Italian governments, UNESCO is now to send an evaluation team to Axum to prepare the return of the former imperial capital's celebrated obelisk.
The Axum obelisk has been in central Rome since 1937, after fascist Italy invaded the Ethiopian Empire. To transport the monument, Italian troops cut it in three pieces, which again were reunited by an internal steel construction. Art conservators have later criticised this method and held that it would make a transport back to Axum close to impossible.
Following years of angry discussions between the governments in Rome and Addis Ababa, on November 18 last year, the two countries signed an agreement for the return of the Axum obelisk. Since that, there have been discussions on how to transport the funeral stele back to Axum without causing it too much damage.
The monument, weighing 160 tonnes and standing 24 metres high, is around 1,700 years old. There is no airport capable of receiving fright airplanes of a dimension that could transport the obelisk in one piece. An overland transport from Addis Ababa to Axum also would be impossible due to the poor road quality. Finally, art conservators pledged to avoid cutting the monument into pieces.
This however remained the only solution. The obelisk has been cut into three sections to facilitate its transportation and is now at Rome airport waiting to be flown to Ethiopia. The first section, weighing 60 tonnes, is expected to arrive in Axum in early April, according to UNESCO.
Problems do not stop in Rome, however. Ahead of the obelisk's return, the Ethiopian authorities responsible for its transportation from Axum airport to the archaeological site, have already modernised the airport and reinforced the two bridges it will cross on its journey.
Arriving the World Heritage site Axum, there will still be much work to restore the funeral stele. UNESCO is now drawing up the re-installation project for the obelisk and the development of the site, which will be funded by Italy.
Preparations for the obelisk's return have however been made for several decades. Following the signing of two agreements by Italy and Ethiopia, in 1956 and 1997, Ethiopia formed a national committee for the return of the obelisk. This committee has carried out research and technical analyses to prepare the segmentation and transportation of the obelisk to Ethiopia.
The Axum archaeological site was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1980, thus providing for an appropriate management regime for the ex-capital and the obelisk, once it returns. With this status of the Axum archaeological site, the Italian government also found it difficult to return the looted obelisk, which Rome was obliged to by international law.
The funeral stele has over the years become a symbol of the Ethiopian people’s identity. "After 68 years in exile, the Axum obelisk returns to the heart of ancient Ethiopia, to the Tigray region," commented UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. "It will once again be erected in the former kingdom, which the Persian philosopher Mani called the 'world's third kingdom' and whose relics were among the first to be inscribed on the World Heritage List."
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