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Obelisk of Axum

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The Obelisk of Axum is a 1700-year-old, 24-metre (78-foot) tall granite obelisk, weighing over 100 tonnes, carved in or around the 4th century AD by the Axumite Kingdom, an ancient Ethiopian culture. It was looted from the town of Axum (in modern-day Ethiopia) by the Italian army in 1937, during Mussolini's regime, and taken to Rome to stand in front of the Ministry for Italian Africa (later the headquarters of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization).

After years of pressure, the Italian government agreed, in April 1997 to return it; the first steps in dismantling the obelisk and shipping it home were taken in November 2003, with the intent to ship the obelisk back to Ethiopia in March 2004. However, the repatriation project encountered a series of obstacles: the runway at Axum airport was considered too short for a cargo plane carrying even one of the thirds into which the obelisk had been cut; the roads and bridges between Addis Ababa and Axum were thought to be not up to the task of road transport; and access through the nearby Eritrean port of Massawa – which was how the obelisk originally left Africa – was impossible due to the strained state of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The runway at Axum airport was then upgraded especially to facilitate the return of the obelisk, the heaviest object to ever be transported by air. The dismantled obelisk remained sitting in a warehouse near Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport, until Tuesday, 19 April, 2005 when the middle piece was repatriated by use of Antonov An-124, amidst much local celebration. The second piece was returned on Friday, 22 April, 2005, with the final piece returned on Monday, 25 April, 2005. The obelisk is expected to be re-assembled and re-erected in September 2005.

Several other similar obelisks exist in Ethiopia. The obelisks have a rectangular base with a false door carved on one side. Elements like small windows and disk patterns decorate the shaft up to the top. The obelisk ends in a semicircular top part, which used to be enclosed by metal frames. The structure may symbolize a tower leading to heaven.

The Obelisk of Axum has two false doors and decorations on all sides.

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