by Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska

There is an ancient Axum site in Ethiopia called the palace by some and tomb by others. It is situated toward the north-east, on the road leading in the opposite direction to Gonder. The ancient Aksum stones are best known as the Kaleb and Gebre Mesqel tomb.

Collapsed SteleNobody is sure today, what was the purpose of the building.

The question is valid since the Deutche Aksum Expedition lead by Enno Littmann made its archaeological research here in 1910 and found the remains.

While going up the road to visit the place it is easy not to pay attention to one of many tiny sheds which seem to serve for some storage purpose.

In fact one does serve as storage and the object kept there is a stone, more or less the size of a man, with an inscription in three languages – South Arabian, Geez and Greek.

The Axum stone brings to one’s mind the famous Rosetta stone that also made a similar impact on research conducted on the Aksumite civilization, as the Rosetta stone did in the case of Egypt.

Facing the main Axum obelisk field there is a crowded meeting place. This is another ancient site – the artificial pond or water reservoir called “Queen of Sheba’s Well”.
Most of the day many women and girls come here to collect water and take it home. Gossip and laughing are loud, exchange of information vivid.

The archaeological Museum in Axum shows a splendid exhibition of items excavated in the area of the town. The objects of every-day life like terracotta jugs, glasses, jewellery and coins prove the role and history of ancient Aksum.

They show its close connection with the Red Sea trade, the area of the Arabian Peninsula which is Yemen today, and formed the kingdom of Axum between the 3rd and 6th Centuries. It also had connections with the Mediterranean Sea trade routes.

Axum is proud of its historical places the most sacred Ethiopian place is also here. Many stories were told about the Arc of the Convent and its mysterious disappearing.

For the Ethiopians a legend tells the story about King Solomon, Queen of Sheba and their son, the first emperor of Ethiopia, Menelik and serves as a foundation of the national and state ideology.

It also tells the story of how Menelik came to King Solomon, to meet his father and learn from him. Eventually Menelik decided not to stay in Jerusalem with his father, but return to his home-land Ethiopia.

However, Menelik decided to take, or rather to steal the Ark of the Convent and he successfully fulfilled his plan. On arriving in Axum he placed the Ark in a temple being a copy of the Jerusalem Temple, Maryam Tsion Church.

Maryam Tsion CathedralWhat only men can visit and experience in Aksum is Maryam Tsion Cathedral built in the 17th Century.

It was constructed on the place of the ancient temple. Here, until the 19th Century all the imperial coronations took place.

Today visitors (but only male visitors are allowed) can admire royal regalia.

Close by the old church, is the new one, built by Emperor Haile Sellasie in the 60’s of the 20th Century, is available for both men and woman. This one also bears the same name of Maryam Tsion Cathedral.

If one does not feel like staying longer in the ancient Kingdom of Aksum the rock churches of Tigre province can be visited in the eastern direction. The Simien mountains are also half-way toward Gonder in the southwest.

One can also fly to Addis, if you prefer not to spend four days on public transport, to get to the capital.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska has traveled extensively throughout Ethiopia and is a regular contributor to this blog.

She has specialized in modern history of Ethiopia and currently lectures at Warsaw University, Department of African Languages and Cultures.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska (Ph.D.)

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