Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 11:24 UK

Ethiopia unveils ancient obelisk

File photo of Axum obelisk
The obelisk was surrounded by scaffolding for reassembly

Ethiopia is celebrating the unveiling of the reassembled Axum obelisk, one of the country's greatest treasures.

The obelisk, at least 1,700 years old, was looted by Italian troops in the 1930s and returned to Ethiopia in 2005.

A giant Ethiopian flag was removed from the obelisk in front of what organisers said was a crowd of tens of thousands in the ancient northern town of Axum.

The ceremony is the last big event of Ethiopia's millennium year, the year 2000 by the country's Coptic calendar.

The president and prime minister were among the officials attending.

Ancient empire

Intricately carved obelisks were erected at the tombs of Ethiopia's ancient kings when Axum was the centre of a great empire.

The obelisk shows the architectural talent of our ancestors
Berhanu Kebede
Ethiopian ambassador to the UK

But only one remained standing amid the tumbled blocks of its former companions, the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt reports from Ethiopia.

The Axum obelisk was taken by troops in 1937 during the Italian occupation.

The monument weighs more than 150 tonnes and was brought back from Italy in three pieces.

Its return followed decades of negotiations between the Italian and Ethiopian governments, and long delays in transporting the heavy stones from Rome.

The monument has now been restored and resurrected in its original home.

How the Axum obelisk was restored

It had been lying on the ground for centuries when the Italians found it, and some archaeologists argued it should have been replaced in that position to avoid damage to it or nearby networks of underground tombs.

But others have said Ethiopians should be able to see the obelisk in its original position.

Ethiopia's ambassador to the UK, Berhanu Kebede, told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the obelisk would help his country "to build a stronger and vibrant nation".

"We have fought a protracted battle to bring back our historical asset, and this is very important because it's a manifestation of who we are and it also shows what our ancestors have done," he said.

"The obelisk shows the architectural talent of our ancestors and modern architects are fascinated how the Ethiopians were able to do that during that period."


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