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News: Research underway to restore ancient historical sites after two years of war

Aksum Obelisk, known as Stelae Three, which is believed to have been erected in the fourth century, has remained in its original position throughout history (Photo: ancient-origins.net)

Addis Abeba – The Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage is currently undertaking research revisions to restore the ancient historical and archaeological sites of the Aksum Obelisk, known as Stelae Three, and the Lalibela Rock-Hewn Church. This development comes nine months after the war in Tigray ended following the signing of the Pretoria Agreement in November 2022.

The Authority is now conducting a survey in the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray regions following the two-year-long war in northern Ethiopia to assess the damages incurred at Ethiopia’s ancient historical and tourist attraction sites.

Habtamu Abrha, acting director of Heritage Preservation and Protection at the Authority, stated that before the outbreak of COVID-19 and the war in northern Ethiopia, an agreement was signed with an Italian company to restore the braced obelisk, Stelae Three, and the ancient underground tombs, called mausoleums. The cost of this restoration project was estimated at 115 million birr.

However, due to the two-year conflict in the region, it is necessary to revise the survey conducted before the war as there may be consequences for the archaeological site of Aksum, according to Habtamu. “Additionally, the survey was conducted four years ago, and there has been an inflation gap caused by the conflict.” The Authority planned to restore the obelisk as soon as the revision is finished.

According to legend, Stela Three was erected in the fourth century to honor King Ezana. It stands out as the only large stela that has remained in its original position throughout history, never having been relocated or fallen down. It is believed to be the final obelisk constructed in Aksum.

Alay Weldesilase, an archaeology expert from the Aksum Tourism Office, stated that Stelae Three has been unstable for over ten years. He said that during the installation process of another obelisk of Aksum, which returned after 68 years in exile from Rome, the foundation of Stelae Three became destabilized due to the involvement of heavy machinery and cranes.

Before the war in Tigray broke out, an agreement was signed between MH Engineering, a construction consultancy company based in Addis Abeba, and Studio Croci, an Italian consulting firm, for the restoration of Stelae Three. Materials were transported for maintenance, according to Alay.

Regarding the Lalibela Rock-Hewn Church, Habtamu mentioned that there was no damage caused by the war. However, the Authority is implementing a restoration approach called “Sustainable Lalibela” to address urgent restoration needs and ensure comprehensive restoration. The Authority is working in cooperation with the government of France to solve the problems related to the Lalibela Rock-Hewn Church. The restoration will commence once the surveys are completed, but the Authority is currently taking care of urgent restorations, according to the acting director.

In December 2021, France expressed interest in reinitiating the renovation project of the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela as soon as peace is fully restored in the town.

In May 2023, Addis Standard reported that the ancient historical and archaeological sites, including the UNESCO-inscribed Obelisks of Aksum, the Palace of Queen Sheba, and the tombs of King Kaleb, which made Axum a leading tourist destination in Ethiopia, were in peril following the two-year war that devastated the Tigray region.

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Experts have noted that the renowned ancient obelisks of Aksum, along with other archaeological sites such as the Tomb of King Kaleb and another tomb called the Royal Tomb, are in critical condition, along with the Palace of Queen Sheba. These tourist sites have suffered damage as they were abandoned and left unprotected for most of the two-year war in Tigray. AS

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