April 20, 2005
Article: Stolen obelisk is returned to Sheba's capital
Here's an article I did in today's Times about the return. If you read the original paper version you will see the map is a little off. Maqdala is actually a long way south of Axum. The paper also did an interesting follow-on article on Ethiopia calling on the UK to follow Italy's lead and return the plundered treasures that it possesses.
Stolen obelisk is returned to Sheba's capital From Andrew Heavens in Axum, Ethiopia AYALEW ASRESE was 14 when he heard that Benito Mussolini's invading Fascist troops had stolen an ancient granite obelisk from his homeland.
Yesterday the 82-year-old Ethiopian watched a new generation of Italians bring home the first part of the 160-tonne monument, which dates from the 3rd century and is thought to be a grave marker for a king from the Axumite Empire.
The bemedalled war veteran was one of hundreds of Ethiopians who crowded on to the tiny runway at Axum to greet the 1,700-year-old national symbol.
They cheered, wept, chanted prayers and waved banners as a huge Antonov 124 cargo aircraft circled, landed and open- ed its nose cone to reveal the first section of the 78ft column.
“Today the Italians have finished their war. Most of my friends from that time have died. They did not see this day. I am the lucky one,” said Mr Asrese, who signed up as a teenager to resist the invasion before the Second World War.
“The news that the Italians had taken our obelisk came through to us quickly,” he recalled. “For me, it just made me fight them harder.”
The return marked the end of a dispute between Italy and Ethiopia that began when Mussolini ordered that the obelisk be brought to Rome as a war trophy in 1937. It was hauled away in three pieces and erected near the Circus Maximus, outside the building that Mussolini had designed as his ministry for the African colonies.
In 1947, after Italy had been defeated in the war, Rome promised to return all property plundered from Ethiopia but failed to do so. Agreement was reached only after Ethiopia threatened to sever diplomatic relations two years ago.
The return was a cause for celebration in Axum. Schools had the day off, trees were festooned with flags and church bells pealed. The obelisk was among the finest of more than 120 that once stood in the dusty town that was the capital of the mighty pre-Christian Axumite Empire and where the Queen of Sheba once ruled.
“I'm so happy,” Netsanet Asfaw, the Information Minister, said after the landing. “This is the day my parents waited for. This is the day we have all been waiting for.”
Another group with a reason to celebrate was the team of Ethiopian and Italian engineers who had the task of dismantling the obelisk in Rome and transporting it.
“It wasn't just an issue of dealing with the weight. This was a very fragile piece of stone,” Simone Lattanzi, the technical director of the engineering group Lattanzi SRL, said.
Before the flight, engineers supported the carved stone in a metal casing and installed equipment to protect against turbulence. They monitored the temperature around Axum to ensure that the Antonov could support the 58-tonne section in the thin atmosphere of the Ethiopian highlands.
The engineers took more than four hours to hoist the section on to a lorry with two cranes. The section will remain under armed guard at the airport until the rest of the obelisk arrives in the next ten days.
Italy is footing the €6 million (£4.08 million) bill for the operation. Unesco archaeologists are surveying the obelisk's original site on the edge of Axum in preparation for its re-erection in September.
Posted by aheavens at April 20, 2005 9:24 AM