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Thu, 03.17.2005

The Obelisk of Axum is returned to Ethiopia

*On this date in 2005, Italy returned the Obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia

One of the African country’s most cherished relics, it was taken by Italian fascist invaders almost 70 years before.  During Italy’s invasion in 1937, the 78-foot (24-meter), 160-tonne granite tower was stolen and placed in a square in Rome by the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini.  The national treasure was returned to Ethiopia by the Italian government. However, its return to the site at Axum was delayed while scientists studied a newly found network of underground funeral chambers beneath the site. 

Then Italian Under-Secretary Alfred Mantica said: “I would like to express happiness on behalf of my own and the government of Ethiopia over the re-erection of the ancient Axum obelisk that was down for a long time before being taken to Italy in exile.” The Italian government paid some 10 million U.S. dollars in shipping and installation costs, but the local people are elated.  The Obelisk, believed to be at least 2,000 years old, was split into three and hauled off when fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1937.  

After the fall of the dictator Benito Mussolini and his nascent Italian "empire," Rome signed an accord in 1947 agreeing to return stolen relics and artworks to Ethiopia.  Tens of thousands of Ethiopians cheered as a 1,700-year-old giant stone obelisk was returned to where it once stood. Italian invaders took the two slender carved columns in the 1930s.  U.N. engineers have helped install it in its original location in Axum. This ancient and holy city was once the center of a powerful trading empire. 

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