The Axum Obelisks in Ethiopia

Axum obelisks

The area of Axum (present day Ethiopia) is home to what was once seven large stelae, all decorated in the same style, with doors and windows and astral imagery at the top. The largest stela that is still standing is 21m (70ft) high but there were even larger ones. The heaviest, now fallen and broken, is estimated to have originally weighed in at around 500 tons.

The city of Axum was the ancient political and religious capital of Ethiopia. Though the exact date of its founding is unknown, it is known that the Queen of Sheba, who reigned around 1000 BC had Axum as her royal capital. There are also speculations that Axum is the home of the Ark of the Covenant.

The Axum civilization had its own written language called Ge’ez, and also developed a distinctive architecture exemplified by giant obelisks, the oldest of which, though much smaller than the larger ones, dates from 5,000-2,000 BC.

An area called Northern Stelae Field contains more than 120 stelae made of smooth, grey stone. The stelae are each made from single pieces of granite and stand as high as 24m (82 ft). All the Axum stelae face south.

Axum stella

The Stelae were carved and erected in the city of Axum, most probably during the 4th century AD by the Kingdom of Aksum, an ancient Ethiopian civilization. The largest of the grave markers were made for royal burial chambers and were decorated with multi-story false windows and doors, while nobility would have smaller, less decorated ones.

The Fate of the Axum Obelisk

In 1937, the Axum Obelisk was cut into six sections and dragged for more than two months by hundreds of Italian and Eritrean soldiers to the port of Massawa. It arrived via ship to Naples on March 27, 1937. Then it was transported to Rome, where it was reassembled and placed on October 28, 1937 in Porta Capena square, Rome.

On 28th May, 2002 an “act of God” reminded Rome of the spirit of the pillar. It was actually on the eve of the Ethiopian Independence Day that lightning struck the obelisk on the Piazza and damaged the tip.

One of the seven obelisks erected at Axum when Ethiopia adopted Christianity under the Emperor Ezana in the mid-fourth century AD, the 23-meter-tall (78 ft) monument was taken by the invading Italian army and shipped to Rome in 1937 to celebrate Mussolini’s fifteenth year of power.

It was erected near the Circus Maximus and stood there until it was dismantled in 2003 following a lightning strike that had damaged the top of the obelisk the year before.