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Italy Set to Return Seized Obelisk to Ethiopia

The granite obelisk was taken from Axum, in northern Ethiopia, in 1937.
Geoff Gaudreault, NPR
The granite obelisk was taken from Axum, in northern Ethiopia, in 1937.

A precious piece of Ethiopia's archaeological heritage will soon return home. Italy has agreed to return a 1,700-year-old obelisk that dictator Benito Mussolini ordered seized from Ethiopia in 1937. The first of three pieces will be airlifted at the end of this month.

Melissa Block talks with Richard Pankhurst, of the Committee for the Return of the Axum Obelisk, about the homecoming.

Starting this month, the obelisk, which originally was erected as a royal grave marker in Axum, will be returned to Ethiopia in three pieces and reassembled.

More than 15,000 people in Axum signed a petition for its return, and a large celebration is expected to mark the homecoming, Pankhurst says.

"Ethiopia has been waiting for so many years for the Italians to honor this obligation that there'll be great excitement," he says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

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