Axum, or Aksum, is a UNESCO World Heritage site city of some 60,000 inhabitants in northern Ethiopia named after the Kingdom of Aksum, a naval and trading power that ruled the region from around 400 BC up to the tenth century. The kingdom adopted the religion of Christianity in the fourth century, and was known in medieval writings as "Ethiopia." It was famous and prosperous through its trade with Rome, India, and elsewhere, but also for its alleged connection with the Queen of Sheba. Many Ethiopians also firmly believe that Axum is the current resting place of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant.
The ancient African civilization of Axum flourished for over a thousand years due to the emphasis it placed on commerce and trade. It minted its own coins during the third century, and converted to Christianity in the fourth century, becoming the second official Christian state (after Armenia), and the first country to feature the cross on its coins. It grew to be one of the four greatest civilizations in the world, on a par with China, Persia, and Rome. In the seventh century, with the advent of Islam in Arabia, Axum's trade and power began to decline and the centre moved farther inland to the highlands of what is today Ethiopia. This is a city with history!
Must see places in Axum include:
- the Northern Stelae Park which contains a number of famous stelae or obelisks, dating back 1,700 years. The tallest still standing are around 24m high, and are intricately carved.
- the Chapel of the Tablet in Axum.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, in which lie the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed. However, visitors do not get to view these ancient relics as, wherever they actually are, they are locked away and closely guarded! The remains of a palace, reputed to have been the home of the Queen of Sheba, can also be visited here.
- Ethiopian fresco of the Queen of Sheba on her way to Jerusalem, shown riding with sword and lance.
- the Old and New Cathedrals of St Mary of Zion. The old St Mary of Zion Cathedral was built in 1665 by Emperor Fasilides , while the new Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion was built to fulfill a pledge by Emperor Haile Selassie to Our Lady of Zion for the liberation of Ethiopia from the Fascist occupation. Built in a neo-Byzantine style, work on the new cathedral began in 1955.
- the Ezana Stone written in Sabaean, Ge'ez and Ancient Greek in a similar manner to the Rosetta Stone.
A couple of days exploring Axum as part of a tour of the historic north of Ethiopia, will be a fascinating experience. Baregota Travel and Tour can make the necessary arrangements to fit in with your schedule.