Ethiopia: Axum

Founded 500 years BCE, Abyssinia’s capital until the 10th century, Axum, ruled over one of the ancient world’s great empires encompassing parts of the Arabian peninsula, of the Sudan and Somalia. The Axumite empire traded with the Romans, the Indians, the Persians and the Arabs. Pagans who worshipped the Moon and the Sun, the Axumites were converted to Christianity by Byzantine and Syrian monks in the 4th century CE.

The stelae erected by the Axumite kings from the first to the 4th century CE are impressive reminders of their sophisticated civilization – strange towers with mock doors and windows built to commemorate their reign.

the main stelae field
The 24m tall King Ezana stele, the last to be built, in the 4th century, and still standing.
The Gudit stelae field. Possibly used to commemorate lesser nobles and officials.

Today, the church of Maryam Tsion in Axum holds the original Ark of the Covenant (according to the universal belief of Ethiopians), making Axum the holiest city in the country. The Ark is kept there in complete isolation with only one priest appointed to look after it and locked up with it at all times. Upon his death a new priest is appointed to replace him. So only one person in Ethiopia really ever knows whether the Ark is actually there or not!

church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, said to contain the Ark of the Covenant.