Axum & its surrounds

  • Was one of the most important and technologically advanced civilizations of its time between the 1st and 7th C AD. According to the archeological findings of Neville Chittick and the report of Munro-Hays the Ancient Axumite were literate who developed a unique language called Geez and that they were skilled masons. The most impressive technological achievement of the Axumite was the erection of Several Solid Granite Stelae.
  • Axum is one of the country’s star attractions offering opportunities of exploring ruins of palaces, underground tombs, stelea and stone inscriptions. According to Dr.Neville Chittick Axum is “the last of the great civilizations of antiquity to be revealed to modern knowledge” Axum is to sub-Saharan Africa what the pyramids are to North Africa.
  • The obelisks of Axum are registered in the world heritage list of the UNESCO

What to see

Stelae field

Axum’s astonishing stelae consisting of some 75 or more are striking for
Their huge size, various shapes, & their incredible, almost pristine, state of preservation.

Axum – Stelae field

  • Six of the stelae imitate multi storey buildings complete with little windows, doors and sometimes with door handles and locks
  • The architectural style mirrors the Axumite house and palace constructions
  • The stelae were like great billboards announcing to the world the authority power & greatness of the ruling families.
  • Remhai stele The largest of Axum stele is credited by tradition to the 3rd C Axumite king Remhai now lies shattered on the ground. Its collapse is linked by tradition to the Felasha queen Yodit Gudit. But Scholars assume that it feel while it was being erected or soon afterwards. Remhai stele still lies where it fell. It weighs 500 tons and would be over 33m high were it standing. It is decorated with a door and 12 windows.
  • Second largest stele Was shipped to Italy in 1937 during the Italian occupation. Many years of negotiations between the two governments have culminated with the return of the looted to its rightful home. Now it is re erected and stands 26m high.
  • Ezana Stele is the 3rd largest ever erected at Axum. Ezana was the first Christian ruler of Axum. This engraved block of solid granite which stands 23M high was transported from a quarry 4kms distant most probably by elephants or according to tradition the mysterious work of the Ark of the Covenant. Ezana stele is curved with a door and nine windows symbolizing the door and nine chambers of Ezana’s tomb.
  • Tombs of Remhai consists of 12 underground vaults that are high enough to walk through. The precision of its masonry which consists of blocks of granite held together by metal pins is one of the most striking features of the tomb. Remhai’s sealed stone coffin lies at the back vault.

Axum Museum

displays a selection of ancient rock tablets inscribed in a variety of languages including a form of sabean that preceded the geez of Axum. The museum also contains an array of Axumite household artifacts, collection of Axumite coins, etc

Mai Shum

often referred as the queen of Sheba’s swimming pool, it is a small reservoir hewn out of a solid rock remains a great piece of ancient engineering. It is situated along side the northern end of the stelae field. Today Mia Shum is being used as a convenient place to celebrate Timkat (epiphany) in Axum.

The Tombs of Kaleb and Gebremeskel

the tombs (palaces) of Caleb and Gebremeskel are situated some 2km north of the town of Axum. According to local tradition these palaces and tombs belong to the 6th C emperors Caleb and his son and successor Gebremeskel who were also entombed here.

Dongur (queen Sheba’s Palace) and Gudit stelae

Dongur (queen Sheba’s Palace) and Gudit stelae

Dongur was excavated in 1952 by the French Archeologist Francis Anfrey but never published the work of his findings. Anfrey concluded that the palace is most probably constructed in the 7th C AD. Therefore though this palace is popularly known as queen Sheba palace it is unlikely to have anything to do with this queen. Its intact floor plan, entrance stairs, elaborate drainage system, more than 50 rooms, confirm that it was probably the most impressive palace in Axum. On the opposite side of the road to the palace is a field of hundreds of small and unadorned stelae. This is referred to locally as the Gudit Stelae field (Yodit) the Felasha queen traditionally said to have razed much of ancient Axum.

St.Maryam of Zion Church

St.Maryam of Zion Church

Situated opposite the main stelae field in a walled compound lie the two churches of St. Mary Zion. The original church was constructed above an old pagan shrine by king Ezana in the 4th C. Ethiopia’s first Orthodox Church and the original St.Maryam Zion church which consisted of 12 temples has been destroyed most probably by the 16th C Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn.
The oldest functioning church in the compound imitates the castle of Gondar as it was
Built by the Gondarine emperor Fasil. Axum’s most famous religious artifact the Tabot
(Ark of the Covenant) is kept in the sanctified outbuilding within the compound.

Church museum

displays an unsurpassed collections of crowns belonging to former Ethiopian monarchs including the crown of the first Ethiopian patriarch Abuna Selam, crosses and chalices of different designs and sizes, illuminated parchment books, and many other church treasures. It worth to visit this museum as it houses many artifacts discovered from the original church ruins and collections of gifts from medieval emperors.

Other excursions from Axum

some of the important sites such as king Ezana’s park and king Bazen’s tomb, Penteleon monastery, Debre liqanos, Gobedra lioness etc can be explored either on foot or in a rental vehicle.

Temple of Yeha

Temple of Yeha

The journey to Yeha situated 58 kms north east of Adwa takes you through some attractive highland scenery. Is one of the major pre Axumite sites in northern Ethiopia considered to be one of the birthplaces of the country’s earliest civilization

What to see

  • A large well preserved stone temple estimated to be at least 2500 years old. The temple is a remarkable huge stone structure believed to have been dedicated to the south Arabian moon god “Amuqah”
  • The sandstone building blocks of the temple measure over 3m long are so perfectly dressed and fitted together with out the use of mortar. The roof and the west wall are both missing, but several square holes in the remaining walls toward the east of the structure indicate where partitions, probably of wood, once stood.
  • Proves strong religious and cultural links with the sabean kingdom in modern day Yemen
  • Was first described in the early 16th C by the Portuguese traveler Francisco Alvarez. He described it as “a very long and hand some tower, both for its height and the good workmanship of its walls”.
  • Near the temple there is the modern church of Abuna Afste: one of the nine saints. This church has an outstanding collections of beautifully incised ancient sabean inscriptions, manuscripts, crosses and religious paintings
  • Yeha can be explored from Axum in a half day trips

Read our itinerary option and Discover Yeha with Eureka Tours

Aduwa

Lies between Axum and Adigrat and is a more important center of Industrial and population growth and has an attractive setting. For Ethiopians the town holds huge significance. It was in the hills surrounding Aduwa that the Emperor Menelik II inflicted a humiliating Defeat on Italian Army on March 1, 1896, there by ensuring that his empire would be the only African state to enter the 20th C as a fully independent entity. The main point of interest for tourists in Aduwa is the church of Aduwa inda Silassie built by emperor Yohannes IV and is decorated with some superb 19th C murals.

Down fall of Axum externally because of the rise to power and expansion of Islam in the Red sea region and coupled with internal economic and social problems Axum became slowly isolated and ceased to be an economic and political power in the region. The center of social, economic and political power once again shifted further south to the Agaws; founder of the Zagwe Dynasty