The Obelisk of Aksum

The Obelisk of Aksum is a 24-meter monument weighing 160 tonnes located in Aksum, the former capital of the Aksumite Empire (100 – 940 AD), in present-day Ethiopia. The Aksumite Empire is described as one of the four greatest empires of the ancient world. It spanned present-day Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia. The Obelisk was built around the 4th century AD and was part of a group of seven large stelas (stone slabs) of the Aksumite Empire. The largest stele stood at 33 meters and 500 tonnes but is currently fallen.

Each stele was carved from a single solid block of nepheline syenite (a granite-like rock) and transported to the present site for carving, a process that required sophisticated logistical and design execution. The Obelisk of Aksum was shaped as a 9-storey building, including false doors and windows, carved in meticulous detail and representing the architecture of the time. Little is known about who built the stelas but it is estimated that they were erected during the reign of King Ezana (320 – 360 AD).

The Obelisk, and other stelas in the area, served as markers of burial sites of the Aksumite nobility. The larger stelas were reserved for the royal family, while the smaller ones were for other nobles. Underground tombs are located in the area surrounding the stelas, in addition to what are perceived to be sacrificial altars. Each stele carving was engraved with decorations that denoted the King’s or nobility’s rank.

During the brief Italian occupation in Ethiopia from 1935-7, the Obelisk (among other royal treasures) were stolen from the country and erected in Rome, under the Fascist government. Following demands from the Ethiopian government, the complete Obelisk was returned and re-erected in Aksum in 2008.

By Edel Were

(Image: Wikimedia; Ancient Pages)

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