The dismantling of the Axum obelisk in Piazza Porta Capena outside the headquarters of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization has finally begun with the removal of the top section of the granite stele, which was damaged by lightning in summer 2002. The remaining two sections are scheduled to be taken away by the end of the year, before being flown separately back to Ethiopia by a Russian or American cargo plane and reassembled at the monument's original site in Axum.
Brought to Italy by Mussolini in 1937, the fourth-century obelisk has been the subject of controversy for decades. It weighs around 160 tonnes, and the cost of returning it to Ethiopia is estimated at 1.5 million, which will be paid by the Italian government. The delicate dismantling procedure is being overseen by engineer Giorgio Croci, who was responsible for reconstructing the roof of the basilica of S. Francesco in Assisi after it was partly destroyed by an earthquake in 1997.