November 1997

Italy will return Axum obelisk to Ethiopia

The act is part of a considerable effort to erase Mussolini’s mark on the nation

Axum Obelisk in Rome

The powers that be in Italy today have gone to considerable efforts to erase Mussolini’s mark on their nation. One of the most glaring testaments to the dictator’s imperialist aspirations, the Axum obelisk looted from Ethiopia in 1936 and erected in Rome the following year, is now to be returned to Ethiopia. Shortly after his occupation of Addis Abbaba, Mussolini ordered the seizure of one of the famous fourth century AD obelisks at the ancient Ethiopian city of Axum. The finely sculptured stelae, measuring 28 metres in height, was duly transported to Rome and erected in front of the Ministry of Italian Africa (today the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) on 28 October 1937 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Fascist March on Rome. The move to return the monument follows years of lobbying from Ethiopia. In 1992 campaigners organised a televised demonstration held during an international football match in Addis Abbaba when 40,000 football fans chanted “Let it return”. The obelisk has been kept in Rome in defiance of Article 37 of the 1947 Peace Treaty in which Italy agreed to return all looted objects to Ethiopia. Now Italy has agreed to clean the obelisk and to cover the costs of its transport which are expected to be high as the monument weighs over 400 tonnes. It is to be returned in December.