Aksum, believed to be founded in the 2nd century B.C, was once the capital city of one of the world’s four superpowers. One text is reported to have labeled Aksum as ”the royal throne of the king of Zion, mother of all lands, pride of the entire universe, jewel of kings.”
The famous Queen Sheba was one of Aksum’s famous rulers. Today, in the remains of the Queen’s palace, one can see, amongst others, the bathing rooms, a throne room and a large kitchen of brick ovens. The New Testament states that the Abyssinian Queen ”came from the ends of the earth to hear the Wisdom of Solomon.” Makeda, as the queen is known in her home country, conceived a son with King Solomon. Menelik I, one of the first Ethiopian Kings, was the product of that relationship. Legend has it that Menelik I, founder of the Solomonic Dynasty, traveled to Jerusalem to visit his father. Upon his return, he secretly brought the original Ark of the Covenant to Aksum. Early biblical teachings confer that God inscribed the Ten Commandments upon two stone tablets, and gave them to the Prophet Moses who placed them in the Ark. Since Menelik’s time, Ethiopia has explicitly and consistently made it clear to the world that the ark peacefully rests in “the sacred city of the Ethiopians.” However, it took the civilized world at least thirty centuries to reluctantly acknowledge the claim of the Ethiopians as the true guardians of the Ark of the Covenant of God.
Aksum’s glorious civilization is best symbolized today by its many monolithic obelisks. The largest, though fallen and broken, is more than 33 meters in height and about 500 tons in weight. Its four sides are richly decorated, and each represents a facade of a twelve storey buildings. The second largest stele was physically removed by the Italians during their unsuccessful attempt to colonize Ethiopia. It is now erected in Rome in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization near the site of the Circus Maximus. The third largest, still standing, is 23 meters high showing a facade of nine stories. Francis Anfray, a well-known French archaeologist, wrote ”…for their height, their massiveness, and decoration, their like can not be found in the world.” Stuart Munro-Hay, on his part, described them as ”among the largest single stones ever employed in ancient times”.
The colossal granite obelisks of Aksum provide striking opportunities for thought and speculation. Nobody knows for certain how, when or why they were erected and what mechanisms were deployed in carving and transporting them. Tradition states that the immense powers of elephants were used in moving the stones. ”The steles were erected with the aid of earthen ramps and tremendous human effort,” guesses Munro-Hay. Professor Richard Pankhurst and Graham Hancock helplessly but perhaps rightly conclude: ”There are no easy answers to such questions, and the visitor today will find his mind turning superstitiously to thoughts of magic, and of the mysterious intervention of the Gods in the affairs of men. ” Nonetheless, these great relics, many of them still standing, are living testimonies to the unparalleled status Aksum had once occupied in the world.
Aksum accepted Christianity as early as the 4th century AD, and almost immediately built the church of St. Mary of Tsion, the first in Sub-Saharan Africa. King Ezana and Frumentius, Ethiopis’s first Bishop, played the decisive role in the rapid Christianization of the country. Since then, Aksum has become the most revered Christian city of Ethiopia. For the majority of Ethiopians, Aksum is synonymous with Christianity and history.
Furthermore, Aksum was the only African state to mint its own currency in ancient times. According to Pankhurst and Hancock, Aksum, during the 9th or 10th century, had more than 500 types of coins 170 in gold, 18 in silver, and more than 300 in bronze.
The issue of coinage was a very important propaganda instrument for Aksum, because it was used to convey a message to its neighbors, foe and friend alike, that Aksum was a sovereign state. It also helped to simplify trade.
The city of Aksum was not only a capital and religious center but also a coronation site for Ethiopian kings. King Zara Yaqob (1434-68) was the first king to reintroduce the ancient coronation rites at Aksum.
A coronation ritual compiled by Munro-Hay reads as follows: ”As the king approached the cathedral, the priests, singing the chants composed by the legendary sixth-century musician Yared, declared ‘May you be blessed, O king of Israel.’ The ‘daughters of Zion’ (the Young women of Aksum) gathered in two rows on either side of the pathway near one of the Aksumite inscriptions to the east of the cathedral. The women stood to the left and right of the road holding a cord, with two older women holding swords. As the king’s horse approached, the women questioned arrogantly, ‘who are you, and of what tribe and family?’
The king answered, ” I am the son of David, the son of Solomon, the son of Ibn Hakim (Menelik)…. ”He then used his sword to cut the cord, while the older women Declaimed ”Truly, you are the king of Zion, the son of David, the son of Solomon. ‘Then the king was seated on the coronation throne, spread with precious clothes for the occasion, the throne was called ‘ the throne of David’. During the ceremonies the king also took on a new name, the throne name…”
Today, Aksum is eclipsed by its ancient history. The modernizations are all overshadowed by the, Mai Shum, Queen Sheba’s pleasure bath, the Queen’s ruined palace, King Kaleb’s tomb, and many other legacies of the age-old history, culture, and religion.
Aksum is also very much known for its colorful religious ceremonies. The commemerative day of St. Mary of Zion is among the notable. It occurs every year on the 21st of Hidar (9th of December in most years). The occasion is always accompanied with cultural rituals and dances. Aksum can be reached by plane and land from Mekelle and Addis Ababa.
The Mekelle-Aksum roads via Adigrat and Abbi Addi are accompanied by relics adorned with forked environments. As discussed earlier, the region possesses stupendous rock-hewn and mud constructed churches found perched on stone- pinnacles, flat-topped cliffs and mountain sides. The surrounding embraces the obelisks, stele, statues, palaces, thrones, tombs, artistically hewn holes, myths and other reverend places.
The environment is dotted with hilltop villages intervened with crop-fields and thread like footpaths. There are several accommodations that meet the needs of those in search of beauty.
The area provides an opportunity to share lives with peasants whose ancestors bequeathed the present generation with such wonders. The vicinity that also holds colorful annual religious festivals provides open air markets swathed with rustic charms.
Aksum can be approached from the capital city of the country via Gondar. The road that runs between these tourist destinations appears most appealing at around the Tekezze Bridge. The localities, in addition to the dense forest, hold historic relics. Rock-drawings found near the town of Amba Madre and the monastery of Debre Abay is also noteworthy.