Tens of thousands of Ethiopians cheered, as a 1,700-year-old giant stone obelisk was returned to where it once stood. The two slender carved columns were taken by Italian invaders in the 1930’s.
U.N. engineers have helped install it to its original location in Axum. This ancient and holy city was once the centre of a powerful trading empire.
[Alfred Mantica, Italian Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs]:
“What we are witnessing here today in Axum is an extraordinary event from many points of view. Indeed we are witnessing not only the return to its homeland of the work of art of highly symbolic value but we are also having the privilege to live a moment which represents an historical turning point in the relations between Italy and Ethiopia.”
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During Italy’s invasion in 1937, the 78-foot (24-metre), 160-tonne granite tower was stolen and had been placed in square in Rome by the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini.
The national treasure was returned to Ethiopia three years ago 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.
[Meles Zenawi, Ethiopian Prime Minister]:
“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 ecstatic.