The cradle of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
36Trip End Mar 02, 2010
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Axum is a refreshing change from Gonder. It is much smaller - 50M vs. 200M poplulation. There are fewer vehicles so the air is cleaner and even though Gonder's streets are paved it always seemed dusty - not so here.
Axum is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is the birthplace of Eastern Orthodox Christianity which dates back to the 4th century AD. Most attribute the religion to King Kaleb in the 4th century and, of course, the legend of the Queen of Sheba thrives here. She is the mother of the first Solomonic King after her affair with King Soloman. This dynasty saw 260+ Kings of Ethiopia ending with the over throw and subsequent murder of Hailie Sellassie
Very interesing too, are the stelae fields here. They are varying sizes, some decorated and some not and they are all apparently tombstones. Surprising to me is there has been very little major archeological work done here. I am guessing that 20 years of revolution migh have had something to do with it. The little that has been explored and excavated reveals elaborate underground tombs, some with several rooms, likely meant to the final resting place for complete families. The largest stelae is 33 meters high and weighs over 500 tons. It is laying on the ground in 3 pieces and many believe it was the last stelae ever built. In the main field there are two decorated stelae still standing. One with the help of anchored cranes but one which had been taken to Rome by Mussolini was returned to Ethiopia in 2005 and had been broken but was restored by the Italians and is free standing. These decorated stelae have very interesting carved doors and windows and at the very top a rounded design that signifies the sun and the moon - pagan connection.
We have visited all three of the stelae fields. Two of them have mostly undecorated stelae and I can't help but think of Stonehenge when I see them
We also went to the tombs of King Kaleb and his son Meskel and the palace ruin that is believed to be built on top of the palace of the Queen of Sheba.
Of course, we visited St. Mary's Cathedral which is where the Ark is. The cathedral complex is quite large. There is an old monastery that looks very much like the castle in Gonder - from the outside - women are not allowed. The new cathedral was built by Hailie Salassie reportedly after a visit from Queen Elizabeth who was not happy that women were not allowed in the old church and suggested that he should build a church that women were allowed in - so he did.
The Ark is housed in a small building that sits between the old and the new churches. It is surrounded by a fence and that is as close as you get. I have lots of pictures.
There is quite an amazing, small museum here as well that houses ancient robes, crowns and other artifacts of many of the kings.
All this, and camels too! The proximity of Axum to much drier areas like Danikil makes camels much more popular here than donkeys. They can carry more and travel much farther. It is really cool to see them walking casually along a tree lined paved street with the odd vehicle going by.