Friday, June 22, 2007

UNESCO launches reerection project of Ethiopia's ancient Axum obelisk

The UNESCO World Heritage Center has signed a contract with an Italian construction company, funded by the Italian Government, to begin the reerection of the Axum obelisk, the 1700 year old monument that has become a symbol of Ethiopian heritage. The work is due to commence in mid July. The total budget for the project is over 2.8 million U.S. dollars.

The works will take place in two segments throughout a period of 18 months, according to the UNESCO press release. During the first segment, a foundation for the obelisk will be built as well as a temporary steel tower for lifting the separate parts of the obelisk. In the second phase, the steel structure will be put in place and the obelisk lifted and placed in position. Finally, the surface of the obelisk will be cleaned and restored, and the steel support structure dismantled and removed.

The Ethiopian government plans to mark the end of their Ethiopian calendar year 2000 celebrations, held on Sept. 12, 2007, by inaugurating the standing obelisk, it said.

Also known as Stela 2, it is the second largest stela on the Axum World Heritage site in Ethiopia. Transported to Rome by the troops of Mussolini in 1937, it was returned by the Italian government in April 2005. Weighing 150 tons and 24 meters high, the obelisk was cut into three pieces and transported by Antonov airplanes to north Ethiopia's Axum town.

For those interested in the obelisk and how it is perceived in Ethiopia, there's a Special Report on Archaeology Magazine by Ian Limback, entitled The Axum Obelisk Returns, But Some Still Grumble (July/August 2005).

Comprehensive details of the 1974 excavation at Aksum are provided by Stuart Munro-Hay at

Scribbling notes as the expedition leader crawls along under those tremendous stones, calling out what he sees... ‘another chamber.. ten in all... enormous… seems to be plaster on the wall... another shaft coming down here... roots between the stones... ouch!... at the end, the top of a brick arch... it's blocked…’ This was Dr. Neville Chittick, leader of the 1974 British Institute in Eastern Africa’s expedition to Aksum in Ethiopia, recorded in my notebook as we entered for the first time the great tomb dubbed ‘the Mausoleum’ for its unexpected size and architectural impressiveness. The slow unfolding of my own particular discovery as part of Dr. Chittick’s team, the Tomb of the Brick Arches, also had moments of suspense. First, a staircase going down. A granite lintel appeared. Then, totally unexpected, a brick. The diggers clear
the top of an arch; I recalled the received dictum; ‘the arch was unknown in Aksum’. More clearing. The arch was horseshoe shaped — a new page to be written in the history of architecture. Then the blocking... broken or still intact...?