The Obelisk of Axum is a 1700-year-old, 24-meters (78-foot) tall granite obelisk, weighing 160 tonnes. It is decorated with two false doors at the base, and decorations resembling windows on all sides. The obelisk ends in a semicircular top part, which used to be enclosed by metal frames.
After years of pressure, the Italian government agreed, in April 1997, to its return. The first steps in dismantling it were taken in November 2003, with the intent to ship the obelisk back to Ethiopia in March 2004. However, the repatriation project encountered a series of obstacles: the runway at Axum Airport was considered too short for a cargo plane carrying even one of the thirds into which the obelisk had been cut; the roads and bridges between Addis Ababa and Axum were thought to be not up to the task of road transport; and access through the nearby Eritrean port of Massawa – which was how the obelisk originally left Africa – was impossible due to the strained state of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Another reason for the delay in returning the obelisk from Italy to Ethiopia in 2004 was because of Italy's claim of not having the money to pay for the transportation. Attempt to get help from the United States was unsuccessful as Americans claimed that their planes were tied up in the war in Iraq. Numerous attempts by Professor Richard Pankhurst, who spearheaded the campaign to return the obelisk, remained unsuccessful until an American-Ethiopian threatened the Italian government with the option of raising the money on the Net.
The runway at Axum airport was then upgraded especially to facilitate the return of the obelisk. The dismantled obelisk remained sitting in a warehouse near Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport, until 19 April 2005 when the middle piece was repatriated by use of an Antonov An-124, amidst much local celebration. The second piece was returned on 22 April 2005, with the final piece returned on 25 April 2005. The obelisk remained in storage while Ethiopia decided how to reconstruct it without disturbing other ancient treasures still in the area. Observations at the site in Axum in March 2007 revealed that the foundation has been poured for the re-erection of the obelisk near King Ezana's Stele. Reassemby began in June 2008 and the monument was resurrected in its original home and unveiled on 4 September 2008.