April 25, 2005

Final piece of Axum Obelisk arrives in Ethiopia

Posted at 8:05 pm in Similar cases

At last, this chapter in the history of the Axum Obelisk is closed. There is still debate going on within Ethiopia about whether it can be re-erected in its original location, or whether this may cause other complications.

As I have mentioned previously, the Ethiopians are now turning their efforts to other treasures that have been taken from their countries in the past.

The Guardian

3rd Piece of Axum Obelisk Back in Ethiopia
Monday April 25, 2005 10:46 AM

Associated Press Writer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – The third and final piece of the Axum obelisk was returned to Ethiopia from Italy on Monday, as thousands cheered the end of an almost 70-year dispute over a symbol of African civilization stolen by European troops as a war prize.

“This is the land of the Queen of Sheba, and the obelisk belongs here,” said Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giogis, wiping tears of joy from his eyes. “I never thought I would be alive to see its return.”

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi also watched as a massive cargo plane landed in the northern Ethiopian town and workers unloaded the 1,700-year-old piece of carved granite.

The 80-foot-high funeral stone, or stele, had been taken in 1937 on the orders of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The Italian government first promised to return the obelisk, which was erected in the Circus Maximus in central Rome, in 1947.

“I am very happy and relieved that at last the obelisk is back,” Meles said after receiving the 60-ton top piece at the airport shortly after dawn. “I think this will bring about a major change of attitude in those countries that have treasures that do not belong to them.”

The granite monument symbolizes the powerful Axumite Kingdom, which was established between 200 and 100 B.C. and ruled the entire region that stretched across the Red Sea. When it was removed, the obelisk was in fragments, having been toppled during a 16th-century Muslim rebellion.

“Justice has been done,” said Abune Paulos, head of the 40 million-member Ethiopian Orthodox Church. “This was the right thing for Italy to do.”

Ethiopia hopes to re-erect the three sections of the 180-ton monument in October. But concerns remain over whether the obelisk would collapse if erected on its original site, which archaeologists describe as honeycombed with tombs.

Dozens of politicians, religious leaders and elderly men who once fought against the brutal five-year Italian occupation of Ethiopia that ended in 1941 stood shoulder to shoulder at Axum airport to receive the monument.

Massive obelisks are among a few tangible remains of the past glory of Axum, an area lying in the shadow of the Adwa Mountains where Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italians in 1896 – the greatest modern victory of an African army over a European force.

Ethiopians hope the return of the obelisk will pave the way for hundreds of priceless artifacts locked up in palaces and museums around the world to be handed back. One of the most valuable is one of two copies of Kebre Negast, known as the Glory of Kings, which is Ethiopia’s holy book and is currently held in the British Museum.

“This marks a new chapter,” Italian ambassador Guido La Tella said. “This also marks an end of our colonial period.”

Ethiopia is the only African nation that European powers failed to colonize. Italy occupied Ethiopia from 1936-1941, but it was never a colony.

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