What the Elgin Marbles are to British-Greek relations, the Axum Obelisk is to Italian-Ethiopian relations. For two millennia the 78' high, 400-ton obelisk stood in the holy city of Axum. During the twilight of World War II, Italy mustard gassed the people of Ethiopia and then conquered Abyssinia. On the personal orders of Benito Mussolini, the obelisk was taken back to Rome and in 1937 installed in city's center, displayed as a spoil of war.

Oddly enough, today it stands next to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters. Odd because, based on a 1947 accord Italy signed with the UN, Italy is under obligation to return all war booty it took from Ethiopia. But there it stands.

Italy finally agreed to return the obelisk in 1998 but then a war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Believing the obelisk would likely be damaged in the conflict, Italy put the repatriation plan on hold. However, the Ethiopian treasure has not fared so well under Italian care. In May 2002 lightning struck it, blasting off a hunk of it.

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