So famous are Ethiopia’s obelisks that it was at one point stolen by Italian invaders during the conquest of Ethiopia in 1935.
Ethiopia was once home to one of the world's greatest trade-based empires, called the Kingdom of Aksum. From roughly 4th century B.C.E until the 10th century, Aksum controlled trade routes between the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Arabian Middle East.
Centered as a trade city between Persia and Rome, the city of Axum flourished in culture, power and wealth. At its early peak, the city dwellers erected giant pillars to mark the tombs of important leaders.
The most famous and grand was Obelisk of Axum which is intricately carved to represent a nine-story Axumite building. At the base are two false doors, carved to look like the wooden entryways into an Axumite home. The detail on these doors is incredible, even to the point of false locks being carved into them. The architectural illusion continues as we work up the monolith.
Each 'story' of the building appears to have a frame, structural supports, and windows, all of which are only carved outlines. At the top is a rounded peak that once was enclosed in a metal frame. It was likely used to hold some sort of symbolic image or icon.
In the 4th century, the King Ezana of Axum converted the Kingdom to Christianity, and effectively put a stop to all ‘pagan practices’, including the erection of burial stelea such as the 80-foot Obelisk of Axum.
The Obelisk of Axum stood tall until 6th century where an earthquake is thought to have toppled the obelisk, and without any importance in a Christian society, it was left in multiple pieces to disintegrate back into the sand.
The Obelisk lay in ruin for hundreds of years until it was re-discovered by Italian soldiers during the conquest of Ethiopia in 1935.
The Italian soldiers then stole the 160-ton stele and brought it back in three pieces to Rome as loot, where it was reassembled. After world war II, the UN ruled that the stele must be returned to Ethiopia, but Italy was reluctant to part with it.
After years of fighting and delays, the 1,700-year-old giant stone obelisk was finally returned to Ethiopia in 2007. The pieces were re-assembled and the Obelisk was re-erected in 2008 and placed near two other famous stelea; the Great Stelea standing at 108 feet, and the King Ezana stele, erected to the King that outlawed their use when he brought Christianity to his kingdom.
However, after years of standing strong, they are now threatening to come tumbling down and be lost for forever.
Whilst the main structure according to reports remain well managed, other minor portions of the obelisk have collapsed due to weakened foundations hence in dire need of rehabilitation to arrest further deterioration.
Gladly, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed has not thrown his hands in the air in despair and has in recent months launched rehabilitation efforts of the obelisks.
On Monday, together with Tigray Region Vice President Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael he visited the site in Axum to review the current status of the obelisks.
“The one being reviewed is the ‘King Ezana’s Stele’ still standing but requiring preservation work,” a spokesperson from the office of the Prime Minister wrote in a Twitter clarification.
“PM Abiy held discussions with community members of Axum city. The participants appreciated the PM’s responsiveness to the call residents made to hold discussions with him on issues related to the rehabilitation of the obelisks.
“In addition, the Prime Minister addressed key queries raised regarding budgetary allocations, water shortages, infrastructure requirements, peace and security and other issues,” his office added.