Axum

Axum/Aksum

Axum, / Aksum/, is a city in Tigray , northern Ethiopia, located at 14°07.475'N 38°43.975'E near the base of the Adoua mountains. It was the center of the Axumite Kingdom , which emerged around the time of the birth of Jesus and declined (after about 1000 years of dominion ) due to the shift of the power center of the Ethiopian Empire further south.

Axum was agreat commerical center trading with distand lands,among them Egypt,Arbia,Persia ,India and Ceylon. To counties such as these the ancient Aksmits exported gold Ivoty, rhinoceros-horn,hippopotamus hide ,salves, and Imported all kinds of textiels- cottons and silks, as well as knives,Swords and drinking cups,Metal for local manifature into all sorts of abjects, and numerous luxury goods,including gold and silver plat,militry cloacks for the nobility and olive oil. 

Testymony to the importance of this trade is to be seen in the Aksumite currency, in gold, silver, and bronze,which was inscribed ether in Greek or Ge'ez, and issued for serveral handerd years by over twinty differnt Aksumit kings.
At the momment ,seventy-five percent of the people in the city are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The remainder of the population is Sunni Muslim and P'ent'ay. 
Axum, as the site of Ethiopia’s most ancient city, is a World heritage site !. The small town’s 16th century Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion is built on the site of a much older church dating from the fourth century AD. Only a platform and the wide stone steps remain from the earlier structure. The Cathedral is a repository for crowns belonging to some of Ethiopia’s former emperors. According to legend, it also houses the original Ark of the Covenant – thus making St. Mary’s the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia.

This same church was the site Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries until the reign of Fasiledes, then again beginning with Yohannes IV until the end of the empire. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination of pilgrimages. Significant religious festivals are the T'imk'et Festival (known as the Epiphany in western Christianity) on 7th January and the Festival of Maryam Zion in late November. 

The most striking relics of Axum are its obelisks or stelae . They are made from single blocks of granite carved to represent multi-storey buildings. The tallest, now fallen, once stood more than 33 meters high and numbered 13 storeys. The highest obelisk still standing is 10 storeys and 24 meters tall. The carving is deep and precise, showing the beams for each floor and the windows.Another stele looted by the Italian army was only returned to Ethiopia in 2005 and is due for reinstallation
Other local historical sites include the graves of king Kaleb and king Gabre Meskel , the Bath of the Queen of Sheba , and the ruins of the vast Royal palace ,the Archaeological museum ,Ezana Garden ,King Bazen's Tomb ,King Ezana's Inscription .
Aksum was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980

Tigray

Tigray is the northern-most of the nine ethnic regions (kililoch) of Ethiopia inhabited mostly by Tigray people. It was formerly known as Region 1. Its capital is Mek'ele. Other major towns and cities in Tigray include Abiy Adi, Adigrat, Adwa, Aksum, Himora, Inda Selassie, Korem, Maychew, Wukro and Zalambessa. The region borders Eritrea to the north (independent from Ethiopia since 1993), Sudan to the west, the Ethiopian region of Afar to the east and the Ethiopian region of Amhara to the south. Covering 50,286 km2, its population (as of 1999) is 3,593,000.

The predominent language of this region is Tigrigna, which is related to Ge'ez.

A distinctive feature of Tigray are its rock-hewn churches. Similar in design to those of Lalibela.These churches are found in four or five clusters -- Gheralta, Takatisfi, Atsbi and Tembien -- with Wukro sometimes included. Some of the churches are considered earlier than those of Lalibela, perhaps dating from the eighth century. Mostly monolithic, with designs partly inspired by classical architecture, they are often located at the top of cliffs or steep hills, for security. For example, Tigray's ancient Debre Damo monastery is accessible only by climbing a rope 25 meters up a sheer cliff.

Kingdom of Aksum

The Kingdom of Aksum at its height extended across portions of present-day Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, Yemen, and northern Sudan. The capital city of the kingdom was Aksum, now in northern Ethiopia. Other important cities included Adulis, Matara and Qohaito, all of which are now in Eritrea.

The Aksumite people represented a mix of Cushitic and Semitic speaking people in Ethiopia and southern Arabia. The Aksumite kings had the official title negusa nagast - King of Kings. Aksumite kings traced their lineage to David, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This royal heritage was claimed by all emperors of Ethiopia. 

Aksum traded with India and Rome (later Byzantium, a strong cultural influence on Aksum), exporting ivory, tortoise shell, gold and emeralds, and importing silk and spices. Aksum's access to both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile enabled its strong navy to profit in trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states.

In the 2nd century AD, Aksum acquired tributary states on the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea, and conquered northern Ethiopia. In 350 AD, they conquered the Kingdom of Kush.

Aksum remained a strong empire and trading power until the rise of Islam in the seventh century AD. However, because the Axumites had sheltered Muhammad's first followers, the Muslims never attempted to overthrow Aksum as they spread across the face of Africa.

Eventually, the Islamic Empire took control of the Red Sea and most of the Nile, forcing Aksum into economic isolation. However, it still had relatively good relations with all of its Muslim neighbors. Two Christian states northwest of Axum (in modern day Sudan), Maqurra and Alwa, survived until the thirteenth century when they were finally forced by Muslim migration to become Islamic. Aksum, however, remained untouched by the Islamic movements across Africa.

World heritage site

Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List:
Cultural 
Aksum (1980) 
Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region (1979) 
Lower Valley of the Awash (1980) 
Lower Valley of the Omo (1980) 
Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (1978) 
Tiya (1980) 
Natural 
Simien National Park (1978)

Axum Zion Church/ St. Mary Church of Zion

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (“Igzi’itne Maryam S’iyon Yeityop'iya Ortodoks Baytekristiyan” in the languages of Ethiopia) of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most important and one of the oldest churches of Ethiopia.

As you stand in the park of the stelae, you would see, across the road , a spacious walled compound containing two churches - one old and the other recent. The new one, which had a domed roof and a lofty bell- tower in the shape of an obelisk, had been built by Haile Selassie in the 1960s.

The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana,the first Orthodox Christian Emperor of Ethiopia, during the 4th Century AD.Since its founding during the Episcopacy of Frumentius (Known in Ethiopia as Abune Selama Kesaty Birhan or Our father of peace and revealer of light ) The church of St Mary of Zion has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice.

Its first destruction occurred at the hands of Queen Gudit during the 11th century. The second destruction occurred several centuries later at the hands of the great Muslim warrior of Harar, Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim Al-Ghazi who , threatened the complete extinction of Ethiopian .after that it was rebuilt in the mid-seventeenth century by Emperor Fasiledes who, like so many Ethiopian monarch had been crowned in Axum .

As you study the interior of the old church you would notice several striking murals including one depicting the story of the life of Mary, another that of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and a third the legend of Saint Yared - the supposed inventor of Ethiopia's church music still applied in the present Orthodox church.

Not far from the old church were the ruins of a building whose only foundations are visible. Only a platform and the wide stone steps remain from the earlier structure. The start of construction works is believed to be at AD 372 - which meant that this was quite possibly among the earliest Christian church in Africa. Shortly before its destruction, by the Muslim warior this - the now ruined -church was visited by Portuguese visitor named Francisco Alvarez. Here is a piece from his description of what he saw:

“It is very large and has five naves of a good width and of a great length, vaulted above, and all the vaults are covered up, and the ceiling and sides are all painted; it also has a choir after our fashion ... This noble church has a very large circuit, paved with flagstones, like gravestones, and it has a large enclosure, and is surrounded by another large enclosure like the wall of a large town or city. “

The church was regarded as the most sacred place in all Ethiopia. This was so because it was built to house the Ark of the Covenant- which, according to some researchers, must have arrived in the country long before the birth of Christ .When Alvarez visited this place in the 1520s the Ark was still in the Holy of Holies of the ancient church. It did not stay there for very much longer, however. In the early 1530s, with the invading armies of Ahmed Gragn drawing ever closer, the sacred relic escaped the destruction by being removed to some other secret place A hundred years later the Ark was brought back and installed in the second Saint Mary's - built by Fasilidas. It stayed there until 1965 when Haile Selassie had it moved to the new building.

The Ark remains a significant center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians ,especially during the main festival of Maryam Zion on 30 November (21 Hidar on the Ethiopian calendar.

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant is described in the Hebrew Bible as a sacred container built at the command of Moses, wherein rested the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum, Ethiopia claims to still possess the Ark of the Covenant. Local tradition maintains that it was brought to Ethiopia by Menelik I following a visit to his father King Solomon. Although it was once paraded before the town once each year, it is now kept under constant guard in a "treasury" near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, and only the head priest of the church is allowed to view it. Most Western historians are skeptical of this claim.

Dr Bernard Leeman, in his 2005 book "Queen of Sheba and Biblical Scholarship" (Queensland Academic Press) accepts the Ethiopian traditions. He argues that the Ge'ez narrative of the Sheba-Menelik Cycle of the Kebra Nagast supports the case that ancient Judah was in west Arabia not Palestine and that Menelik's escape with the Ark follows landmarks and place names in Asir,Yemen, and Eritrea. Secondly Leeman draws attention to the Ark culture of Arabia (detailed in Munro-Hay and Grierson's works), the "Hebrewisms" in the Ancient West Arabian language, the word for Ark in Ge'ez (which is taken from pre-Babylonian captivity Hebrew), inscriptions in Sabaean near Mekele that speak of Hebrew resident there ca. 800 BCE ruled by three queens of Sheba, and the continued presence in the region of a Hebraic remnant group, the Ibro (or Yibir) of northern Somalia.

Aksum's Stelae

We seem to have before us the highly perfected form of stone worship, Associated with sarifices to the sun..., from the early rude monument to the exquisitely decorated monolith, leading up in architectural symbolisem to the home the great God above.
An observation by the Britsh Archaeologist Theodore Bent after a visit to Aksum in 1893.

Egypt's pyramids were like great advertboards announcing to the world the authority, power and prominence of the ruling families. And probably the Aksum's astounding stelae had the same purpose.

From among the many that you see in Aksum, particularly six of the stelae were carved in the likeness of the multistoried buildings complete with windows, doors and sometimes door handles and locks. The design and carvings follow the traditional Aksumite Architectural style.

In 1996 a broken plate that perfectly matched the rivet holes at the top of the stelae were excavated, strengthening the idea that in the former times ,metal plates, perhaps in the form of a crescent moon and disc, are thought to have been engrossed to the top of the stelae both at the front and back. The excavated plates bore the effigy of a face perhaps that of the ruler to whom the stele was dedicated.

At the base of the stelae you would find a stone platform. The platform is believed to have served as an altar where sacrificial offerings were held.

Among the mystery about these stelae are; why were they designed in this way? How were they transported (because, from among them, some weigh about 500 tones)? How were they erected? Archaeologists believe that the earthly forces of elephants ,rollers and winches were probably applied.

The Northern stelae Park

The Northern stelae Park is situated in the North Eastern part of the town. It is the most important stelae field in Aksum because it contains over 120 stelae which range between 1 meter and 30 meters in height.

The great stele, which is believed to be the largest one block of stone that humans have ever attempted to erect, measures 33 meters. It has now fallen down probably in the process of resection or as a result of war.

King Ezana’s stele (24 meter in height) is now the tallest still standing. The British traveler by the name Henry Salt who visited it 1805 says “the most admirable and perfect monument of its kind.”

Among the various other stelae, the one that measure 9 meters and lies on the ground 200m to the North of King ezana’s stele, has got a unique decoration. Near the top of the stele a small house like object is carved in relief , formed by a rectangle surmounted by a triangle and this is claimed by some to be proof of Aksum’s claim to house the original Ark of the Covenant

The Looted Obelisk

The second-largest Stele ,25 m high , was shiped to Italy in 1937 during the Ethio-Italy war on the personal orders of Mussolini and taken to Rome to stand in front of the Ministry for Italian Africa (later the headquarters of the United Nations's Food and Agriculture Organization). In a 1947 UN agreement, Italy agreed to return the obelisk.

After years of pressure, the Italian government agreed, in April 1997 to return it; the first steps in dismantling the obelisk and shipping it home were taken in November 2003, with the intent to ship the obelisk back to Ethiopia in March 2004.

However, the repatriation project encountered a series of obstacles: the runway at Axum airport was considered too short for a cargo plane carrying even one of the thirds into which the obelisk had been cut; the roads and bridges between Addis Ababa and Axum were thought to be not up to the task of road transport; and access through the nearby Eritrean port of Massawa – which was how the obelisk originally left Africa – was impossible due to the strained state of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The runway at Axum airport was then upgraded especially to facilitate the return of the obelisk, the heaviest object to ever be transported by air. The dismantled obelisk remained sitting in a warehouse near Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport, until Tuesday, 19 April 2005 when the middle piece was repatriated by use of Antonov An-124, amidst much local celebration. The second piece was returned on Friday, 22 April 2005, with the final piece returned on Monday, 25 April 2005. As of January 10, 2006 [1], the obelisk is in storage as Ethiopia decides how to reconstruct it without distubing other ancient treasures still in the area.

A Recent Further Archaeological Discoveries in Aksum

Major archaeological vestiges have been discovered at the World Heritage site of Aksum (Ethiopia) by the experts UNESCO sent to Aksum (Ethiopia) to survey the World Heritage Site in April,2005. They were sent to prepare for the elevation of the Aksum Obelisk at its original location.

Underground chambers and arcades have been found in the vicinity of the original location of the obelisk.Geo-radar and electrotomographic prospection – the most advanced technologies for underground observation – revealed the existence of several vast funerary chambers under the site’s parking ground.

According to the experts, the site is a royal necropolis used by several dynasties before the Christian era. It stretches considerably beyond the perimeter of the present archaeological site, at the foot of Mount Saint George and Mount Mariam.

Tombs of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskel

After driving through the tef fields (Cereal grass), one would reach (after about 2Kms) on a small hill. On the top lie two subterranean tombs built side by side. These tombs are attributed to the 6th century King Kaleb and his son King Gebre Meslkel. King Kaleb is one of Aksum’s most important rulers who succeeded in bringing south Arabia under Aksumite dominion.

Both tombs have similarity in design. They can be taken as good examples of the portrayal of the building techniques and sophistication of Aksumite Architecture. These polished blocks and building styles are compared ( by a 19th century British traveler Theodore Bent ) to one of the best sites in Greece. .

One is led in to the interior of the tomb by a steep stairway that is constructed using massive and refined blocks of stones that fit perfectly with each other. .

The tomb of King Gebre Meskel, which consists of one chamber and five rooms, is a little more sophisticated and better preserved. A remarkably carved portal leads in to one room which contains coffins. .

There are also relief carvings of crosses inside the tomb, which have similarity with Christian crosses that one finds on Aksumite coins. These may give clues regarding the construction dates of the tombs.

On the surface the two tombs are combined by a kind of raised “courtyard”. According to some scholars a palace or two parallel churches of a basilica plan stand there. .

The local sources believe that around 5000 elephants have participated in the process of construction.

Standing on top of that hill one can see the mountains of Adwa to the east, Eritrea to the North, and Aksum city to the south.

The Bath of Queen of Sheba

The bowl-shaped Bath of Queen of Sheba, hewn out of solid rock is believed to postdate the queen by at least a millennium. Though some part of it is recently cemented, it still remains an outstanding piece of ancient engineering.

For the ancient Aksumites, it was an important source of water. Today local women come to fetch water and wash their clothes. Further, it is used for celebrating the Epiphany by the local priests.

Queen of Sheba's Palace

The Structure at Dungur , popularly known as the Queen of Sheba palace , is similar to Ta'akha Maryam palace. The architectural style -the small undressed stones set in a timber framework with the walls recessed at intervals and tapering with height -are typically Aksumite. The stairways suggest the existence of at least one upper story. The well-preserved flagstone floor is thought to have belonged to a throne room. The palace also contains a private bathing area and a kitchen, where two large brick ovens can still be seen.

The Archaeological Museum

In the archaeological museum are contained fine and well-preserved ancient sabaean and early geez inscriptions and quite interesting variety of objects discovered in tombs-ranging from ordinary household objects such as drinking cup,lamps and insense burners, to sophisticated glassware including perfume bottles.

Particularly the collection of Aksumite coins dating from the 4th to 6th century AD and the beautiful lion gargoyles plus the charming pot which is shaped like a three leged bird , are very interesting.

Ezana Garden

In the centre of Aksum you can find the Ezana Garden. It's a lovely green place to spend some time during the hottest time of the day. In the garden are some arbours, where you can sit in the shade and order a drink. In the garden stands also the famous stone of king Ezana (4th century).

The inscriptions on this stone record the titles and victories of the king over his enemies and rebels and are written in three ancient scripts (Greek, Sabaean and Ge'ez).Ezana's kingdom streched from eastern Sudan all the way to modern-day Yemen across the Red sea.

Tomb of King Bazen

Of archaeological importance near Ezana Gaden is a tomb believed to be that of Emperor Zäbe'esi Bazén , who is said to have reigned at Aksum at the time of the birth of Christ. Near the cathedral is a stone on which is written in Ge`ez `This is the sepulchral stone of Bazén'.

Different from the beautifully dressed blocks used to construct the tombs of the Kings in other field,King Bazen's tomb is hewn out of solid rock.Sixteen rock -hewn steps lead down towards an arched door way. Around the central room there are four main burrial chambers.

Near the enterance to the tomb , there are rock-hewn rectangular pit containing row of smaller burrial chambers.

King Ezana's Inscription

As you drive to the tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel,you will pass a little house containing this remarkeable finding-King Ezana's Inscription, which is almost identical to the inscription in King Ezana's Garden.It dates from between 330 AD and 350 AD.

This Inscription is a trilingual inscription that gives thanks to God for conquests in Saudi Arabia and it is believed to be from the time of King Ezana. A curse is contained within the inscription "the person who moves this stone will meet an untimely death" and so it remains exactly where it was found by a farmer in the 1980s.

 

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