Axum

Axum Church

Travel to Axum – Ancient City of Aksum

Axum, or Aksum, is a historical city in northern Ethiopia named after the long-lived Kingdom of Aksum, a naval and trading power that ruled from 400 BC to the 10th century.

The ruins of the Ancient City of Aksum are found close to Ethiopia’s northern border in the Tigray region near the base of the Adwa mountains. A UNESCO World Heritage site, they mark the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia, when the Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia.

The massive ruins, dating from between the 1st and the 13th century A.D., include monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles. Long after its political decline in the 10th century, Ethiopian emperors continued to be crowned in Aksum.

The city was the centre of the Christian marine trading power, the Aksumite Kingdom, which pre-dated the earliest mentions in Roman era writings (around the time of the birth of Jesus) in good correlation to the expansion of Rome into northern Africa, and later when it developed into the Christian kingdom, was a quasi-ally of Byzantium against the day’s Persian Empire. Direct historical matters are however little known, primary sources being in the main limited to ancient church records.

It is believed Axum began a long slow decline after the 7th century due partly to Islamic groups contesting trade routes. Eventually, it was cut off from its principal markets in Alexandria, Byzantium and Southern Europe and its trade share was captured by Arab traders of the era, which dovetails well with the Arab ethnic traditions and historical reputation as traders. The Kingdom of Aksum also quarrelled with Islamic groups over religion.

Visitors to Axum should not miss the city’s main monuments: the stelae (pillars), made of single blocks of granite and that are believed to mark graves. There is also the 16th century Church of St Mary of Zion, the holiest Christian sanctuary in Ethiopia that is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant; the Grave of King Kaleb and the Grave of King Gabre; the reputed Bath of the Queen of Sheba; Axum Ethnographic and Archeological Museums; the fourth-century Ta’akha Maryam and sixth-century Dungur Palaces; the monasteries of Abba Pentalewon and Abba Liqanos and the Lioness of Gobedra rock art; and the ruins that were once the Palace of Sheba.

  • See a myriad of ancient monuments in one of the Historic Route’s most important places of interest.

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