Resettlement of Aksum Obelisk

© UNESCO/Niamh Burke

The Aksum Obelisk Story

This burial stele from the 3rd or 4th century is 24m tall and weighs 160 tonnes. It was never raised up on the Aksum site and had been in Rome until 1937. In 2005, the stele returned to its original location in Ethiopia. In 2008, it was erected and became the symbol of Ethiopian people's identity.  


On 18 November 2004, the Ethiopian and Italian Governments signed an Agreement on the return of the Aksum Obelisk. Italy covered the costs and UNESCO participated in this delicate operation.  


After a thorough examination, Italian experts developed the means and the trajectory of the return of the obelisk to Aksum.  

©UNESCO/Niamh Burke

Setting up

UNESCO carried out following complex operations, financed by the Italian government, in order to put together and raise up the monument:

  • Preparation of the foundations;
  • Construction of an embankment in order to slide the parts of the obelisk before raising them;
  • Construction of a 33 meter steel tower weighing 150 tonnes;
  • Junction of the blocs with carbon fibre bars to ensure stability seismic stability;
  • Final restoration and cleaning of the obelisk;
  • A final settlement of the site.

©UNESCO/Niamh Burke

Zero risk

Key principle of this operation was to reduce the risks to minimal at all levels. The project included a thorough evaluation of the impact on the environment, using state-of- the-art technologies in order to analyze subterranean archaeological structures and consider high technology for the relocation of the obelisk.  

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