Once the centre of a far-reaching empire, Axum is known for its extraordinary stelae and for the Mariamtsion Church, said to house the Ark of the Covenant.

From around 200 BC to 700 AD, Axum was the seat of an empire that reached across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, had its own alphabet, constructed great engineering works and which, in the 4th century, was one of the four great powers of the ancient world.

Today, you can see the remarkable stelae or obelisks - the largest single pieces of stone standing anywhere on the world. It is still not understood how they were transported from the quarry and erected.

There are also tombs and castles of former monarchs and the Axum Museum. The Mariamtsion Church is built on the site of Ethiopia's first church. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe that a chapel within the church compound houses the Ark of the Covenant, the original tablets of Moses.

A visit to Axum generally starts with a visit to the town museum and the stelae. Afterwards, you ascend a hill to see the castle of King Kalab, passing Mai Shum (the bath of the Queen of Sheba) on the way. On the way back, you see the tomb of King Basen, visit the small museum inside the church grounds (the priests usually bring out some crowns of kings for visitors to see), and end the day with a visit to the site known locally as 'Queen Sheba's Palace'.

A second day in Axum is dedicated to the 55-km trip to Yeha, Ethiopia's first city. The area was settled over 2800 years ago. At Yeha, visit the remains of a temple dedicated to Ilmuqeh, the moon god. Next to the temple is the church of Abune Aftse, one of the "9 Saints" who did much to spread Christianity in Ethiopia.

Derek Schuurman

Travel Specialist

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