Long the symbol of Ethiopia’s monarchy, the Lion of Judah is ubiquitous throughout the country – and although images of the almighty animal abound in Addis Ababa, it’s the storied history of the Lion of Judah Monument that makes this statue significant.
After being erected on the eve of Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930, it was looted by Italians in 1935 and placed in Rome next to the massive Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. In 1938, during anniversary celebrations of the proclamation of the Italian Empire, Zerai Deress, a young Eritrean, spotted the statue and defiantly interrupted proceedings to kneel and pray before it. After police verbally and physically attempted to stop his prayers, he rose and attacked the armed Italians with his sword while screaming ‘the Lion of Judah is avenged!’ He seriously injured several officers (some reports say he killed five) before he was shot. Although he died seven years later in an Italian prison, his legend lives on in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The Lion of Judah Monument was eventually returned to Addis Ababa in the 1960s.