Obelisk looted by Mussolini to be re-erected after 70 years

Italy returned the monument to Axum over 50 years late

LONDON. The ancient Axum obelisk is to be re-erected on a plateau in the north of Ethiopia this month, according to Unesco officials. The obelisk was looted from the holy city of Axum by Mussolini in 1937 and re-erected in Rome. It was returned to the east African nation in 2005.

Nada Al Hassan, a programme specialist at the Unesco World Heritage Centre, told The Art Newspaper that work is scheduled to start on 15 May. The $4m project, funded by Unesco and the Italian government, will last a month: the obelisk should be completely in place by 15 June. A delegation from Unesco, led by Francesco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Centre, was in Axum in March to arrange the re-erection of the 160-tonne, 27-metre-high stone pillar, which dates from the fourth century AD.

Once in place, the monument will be partially obscured by a steel tower used to lift it into position. This will be removed when the column is restored over the following months.

The obelisk, dismantled into three pieces by Mussolini’s troops, arrived in Axum 58 years late. The 1947 peace treaty between Italy and the victorious powers in World War II decreed that the obelisk be returned within 18 months.

Unesco was invited by the Ethiopian government to work on the project in October 2005. In 2006, Unesco experts undertook remote sensing investigations of the archaeological area to prepare the ground for the re-erection.

The site is sensitive because the obelisk is the second of a group of six that may have been carved when Christianity first arrived in Ethiopia in the first half of the fourth century. Believed to be enormous tombstones, they range from 17 to 33 metres in height, each one unique, but all carved to resemble a block of dwellings several storeys high. Archaeological excavations of the site revealed a dense underground network of burial chambers and connecting tunnels. E.B.

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