Axum Obelisk and Piazza di Porta Capena (Porta Capena Square)

"Axum Obelisk and Piazza di Porta Capena (Porta Capena Square)" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Sunday 3rd July 2011

Axum Obelisk and Piazza di Porta Capena

This Axum Obelisk (Obelisco di Axum) was moved here from a saint Ethiopian city (Axum) in 1937 as a trophy of the colonial company of Italy in Eastern Africa. It dates from the 4th century and is 24 meters high.

Piazza di Porta Capena is a vast flat area among the offshoots of the Caelian, the Palatine and the Aventine hills. It owes its name to the ancient door that lead to the Via Appia. Opposite the square is the big modern building, seat of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Post Office, planned as seat of the Ministero dell’Africa Italiana by Vittorio Cafiero and inaugurated in 1951. From the square you can see the Circus Maximus with its few ruins and the Torre della Moletta.

Porta Capena was a gate in the Servian Wall near Caelian Hill, in Rome, formerly a sacred forest where Numa Pompilius and Egeria met. Porta Capena square (Piazza di Porta Capena) also hosts the FAO headquarters and the Casino La Vignola Boccapaduli. In the middle of the square was the obelisk of Axum dating back to the IV century BC, brought to Rome from Etiopia in 1937. Between the Caelian and the Aventine hills is the Parco di Porta Capena, aka Passeggiata Archeologica, realized in 1911 on the initiative of Guido Baccelli. Today is one of the favourite places by Romans to practice outdoor pursuits.

In 1947, in the peace treaty between post-war Italy and Ethiopia, it was agreed that all the spoils of war were to be returned within 18 months. However, in Italy this obligation was never taken seriously. In breach of all contracts, the pillar remained in Rome until 2005 on the Piazza di Porta Capena, where ironically the World Food Organisation (FAO) is situated.

The obelisk is actually a huge funerary stela that was sent to Rome in 1937 as war booty from Axum, the ancient religious capital of Ethiopia. The stela is considered one of the most important monuments of the ancient Ethiopian culture. After its removal it achieved even greater status as a symbol of Ethiopian independence and nationhood, and efforts to have it returned to Axum are continuing.

After its return to Aksum in April 2005, Unesco planned to raise the stele in its original position. However, while doing a geophysical survey of the site they discovered numerous new tombs surrounding the field, some even under the parking lot. Not wanting to damage these new discoveries with the massive cranes required to raise the stele, Unesco is having a rethink. Some are also worried that the original site may also not be stable enough to hold the stele. All this modern head-scratching regarding the raising of the stele throws into perspective the massive achievement of the ancient Aksumites almost 2000 years ago.

So until final decisions are made, the magnificent Rome Stele sits at the side of the road, near the park's entrance, in four neat pieces.

Axum Obelisk and Piazza di Porta Capena
Piazza di Porta Capena
00184, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Zone: Rione San Saba (Piramide) (Roma centro)
Axum Obelisk and Piazza di Porta Capena is Shown By "Map K Zone" As "58"

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