The first segment of an Ethiopian national treasure, the ancient Axum Obelisk that was plundered by Italian fascist invaders almost 70 years ago, will return home on 13 April, a government minister has said.
Ethiopian Minister of Culture Teshome Toga said on Friday that the remaining two segments of the 24m obelisk, believed to be at least 1700 years old, were expected to be transported back to the northern town of Axum by the end of the month.
He said it would take a joint Ethiopian and Italian technical team between two and three months to put the obelisk back together.
The obelisk was split in three and hauled off when Italy under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1937. He ordered its seizure from the town of Axum, 850km north of the capital Addis Ababa, and erected it in Rome.
Italy promised in 1947 to return the 200-tonne granite column, a symbol of the dawn of Ethiopian civilisation, but arguments and logistical problems delayed it until November last year when the two countries finally agreed to fly it home.
"We believe that the return of the obelisk will open a new chapter of cooperation between Ethiopia and Italy," Teshome said.
He thanked Rome for returning the priceless treasure.
"We would not want to dwell in the past. The present government in Italy has taken an important and positive step in facilitating the return of the obelisk," he said.
A celebration attended by religious leaders and other civil society members is planned to welcome the obelisk's return.
Italy has agreed to cover the transport costs by cargo plane. Landlocked Ethiopia has had to build a special runway to accommodate the Russian made Antonov 124, one of only two aircraft big enough to carry the obelisk.
The column is a funerary monument from pre-Christian Ethiopia, the largest and finest from the ancient site of Axum.