Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 11:56 UK

Ethiopia starts restoring obelisk

The Axum Obelisk
The Obelisk had to be cut into three pieces

Work has begun to restore a historic obelisk in Ethiopia's ancient city of Axum, after it was returned from Italy.

The Axum Obelisk, a symbol of Ethiopia’s identity, was looted by troops in 1937 during Italy's brief occupation of Abyssinia.

Italy returned the 1,700-year-old monument in 2005, after decades of negotiations between the two countries.

The obelisk, which weighs more than 150 tonnes, had to be cut up into three pieces to be taken to Ethiopia.

The officer in charge of its restoration says the process of assembling the giant monument is slow and complicated.

"This strong granite monolith has suffered a lot of trauma in its life and it is not in very good shape so assembling it is a very delicate and complex operation," Nada al-Hassan told the BBC.

"We had to invent a way to assemble the pieces without harming them and respecting the delicate historic artefacts we are dealing with," she said.

The obelisk has weathered years of damage from pollution and a lightning strike in 2002.

The process of reconstruction is being overseen by the UN cultural agency, Unesco.

In 1947, Italy signed a pledge to the UN to give back the obelisk - seized by troops under Italy's fascist leader Benito Mussolini - but did not return it until 2005.


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