Photos of Aksum, centre of the ancient Kingdom, Ethiopia

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Aksum, centre of the ancient Kingdom

In the Tigray region in the north of Ethiopia, Aksum or Axum is situated at 2,130 metres above sea level. It was the centre of the Empire of Aksum, established in the First Century CE and considered the cradle of Ethiopian civilisation. In its heyday (3rd-6th Century CE), it occupied lands now in Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, parts of Sudan and Djibouti. Aksumite emperors built impressive fortresses, palaces, monuments, and 126 tall granite stelae, standing or lying broken in the central square.

Landing in Aksum
View to the new church
Bath of the Queen of Sheba
Fallen Stele
Stelae of Aksum
View to St. Mary of Zion
King Ezana's Stele
The Great Stele
New Church of St. Mary of Zion
Church of St. Mary of Zion
Chapel of the Tablet
Churchyard, Aksum
Aksum market
Outskirts, Aksum
Children of Aksum
Interior, St. Mary of Zion
Farm near Aksum
Church near Aksum

The Great Stele, measuring 33 metres, now fallen, is the tallest one ever erected, although it seems it broke straight away. These stelae range from nearly plain slabs to intricately inscribed pillars and are believed to mark graves; they would have had cast metal discs affixed to their sides, carved with architectural designs. In 1980 UNESCO added Aksum’s archaeological sites to its list of World Heritage Sites.

In the third Century, Emperor Ezana was converted to Christianity by Frumentus, a Syrian captive, who later became the first bishop of the Aksumite empire. Ezana made Christianity the state religion of the kingdom. According to tradition, Aksum is a holy city for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the Church of Our Virgin Mary of Zion contains the Ark of the Covenant. It is claimed to have been transferred from Jerusalem to Aksum in 1000 BCE, before the destruction of Solomon’s temple, by Emperor Menelik I, the legendary son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Since then, the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times; the present structure was built in 1665 by Emperor Fasilides. However, it is said the Ark was moved to the Chapel of the Tablet adjacent to the old church because a divine ‘heat’ from the Tablets had cracked the stones of its previous sanctum.

Nearby, the new Basilica of St. Mary of Zion was built in 1965 by Emperor Haile Selassie I. It has a bell tower built in the same style as the ancient stelae, and its treasury contains a display of crowns of the ancient kings. Although the city of Aksum has lost much of its glory, many of the stelae are still standing. The tallest standing is King Ezana’s Stele, almost 24 metres high. Many carved stone thrones have been unearthed in the overgrown ruins of the ancient palace, all symbols of past glory when Aksum was an important trading centre with its port of Adulis, near the present Eritrean port of Mitsiwa (Massawa).