Italians Protest Return of Axum Obelisk staff updated:Wed Oct. 22 7:51 amWith a dramatic last-minute timing worthy of opera, Italians are protesting the return of the Axum Obelisk to Ethiopia.
The Italian government agreed to give back this enormous chunk of fascist booty over 50 years ago, but only got around to taking it apart earlier this month. Slated to arrive in Africa in early November, the 80-foot, 150-ton obelisk is wrapped in scaffolding and once again the center of controversy.

Italian wire services reported that a mysterious ‘protest committee’ plans try to stop the delicate work to take apart the monument.
No details about committee members were provided but just that the group believes the ‘obelisk should stay in Rome’ and that some sort of protest was planned for this week in Piazza Carpena.
One thing is certain — Italians have mixed feelings about doing the right thing. Newsweekly Panorama published a mock-up photo to show what the ‘naked’ square will look like and several newspapers have published letters from readers who feel the plunder has become part of the Italian patrimony.
Piazza Carpena won’t be left empty, however. According to Nicola DeMarco, whose grandfather was a colonist in Ethiopia under Mussolini, a group of Italian and international artists will create a peace monumenton that site to commemorate the years of peace between Ethiopia and Italy and as a reminder of the evils of Fascism.

The granite monument will be sent back as damaged goods — it was partially shattered by lightning in 2001.
Taken by order of Benito Mussolini in 1937, the Ethiopian government has been trying to get it back for over half a century. Lightning struck the deserted piazza around 1 a.m., probably attracted as much by the shape as the steel braces added when the monument was transported. The incident also shattered the argument by Italian officials that the relic was in better hands in the Bel Paese.

The pre-Christian relic once crowned the city of Aksum, then center of trade in ivory, animal skins and grain in the ancient Ethiopian empire. The Obelisk was the latest in a series of heated arguments for return of stolen art — one that found Italians as the accused. Owning over 60% of the world’s art treasures, according to UNESCO, usually places Italy in the position of petitioning for its own looted treasures. One recent example: after years of negotiations, the Getty Museum in California was prevailed upon to return 500 terracotta and bronze pieces to a Calabrian museum in 2001.

Foot-dragging by Italian authorities meant that agreements to return the obelisk to Ethiopia, signed as early as 1947, never amounted to action. Italian government officials, most vocally Vittorio Sgarbi, have protested the restitution both because of political instability in the African region as well as complications in shipping the heavy monument.

Placed at the center of piazza di Porta Capena, close to the Circus Maximus, Italian Culture Minister Giulio Urbani told newspapers after lightning struck that the sculpture would be restoredand sent home — and it only took two years to sort out the shipment. ©1999-2007