As with many of countries residing in the continent of Africa, Ethiopia is perhaps best known for its natural beauty but did you know it actually plays host some significant manmade structures that tell tales of a great civilisation now lost to time? It is in the historic city of Axum that we can find relics and stories of a once significant empire that had connections to other cultures all across the ancient world and this city was that empires capitol.
Sitting in the North of Ethiopia, Axum was an excellent place to operate the marine trading that fuelled the Aksumite empire. It’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the entire continent, immerging in the 5th Century BCE around 2,400 years ago. Its earliest literary mentions were recorded in Roman writings, though it predates even those. Naturally due to its long-lived existence it has seen multiple faiths, though in 356 CE its ruler was converted to Christianity by Saint Frumentius who also became the Bishop of Axum shortly after. The city still holds the same faith to this day.
The Empire, sometimes called the Kingdom of Aksum, once covered the North of Ethiopia, what is now called Eritrea, as well as parts Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and even Egypt. The kingdom is thought to have existed up until around the 10th Century though it’s believed to have lost much of its influence far earlier around 600 CE, mainly due to Persians and Arabs contesting over Red Sea trade routes that would have massively dented the income of the Aksumite’s who relied on these.
Perhaps it’s most intriguing claim to fame is the housing of infamous holy relic, the Ark of the Covenant. For those that don’t know this gilded case is supposed to contain the original tablets in which the ten commandments were written on. It has been claimed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church that the Church of the Lady Mary Zion was home of the Ark, though it was later moved to the Chapel of the Tabled which sits adjacent to this church. This was apparently due to the “divine heat” given off of the tablets that caused the stone to crack. Supposedly Axum was the home of the Queen of Sheba who had gifted the Ark of the Covenant to King Solomon of Israel. Together they bore a child, Menelik I who became an Emperor of Ethiopia. After a visiting his father in Israel he returned with the Ark and it has remained here ever since.
As well as supposedly housing one of the most famous religious relics in history Axum is also home to a great number of ancient obelisks, grand structures that mark the passing of important figures in the city’s history. These stand impressively tall and are a sight to behold. Recently after a long and arduous case, Axum managed to retrieve it’s oldest one from Italy who had it housed in a museum. It’s over 1,700 years old and stands at 24 metres tall.
These are each a window into pre-Christian here in Axum and what’s amazing is that an estimated 95% of the city’s history is still waiting to be found beneath its soil so who knows what we may end up uncovering in the future? Watch this space!