Ruins of Aksum (World Heritage)

By | August 5, 2021

According to listofusnewspapers, Aksum is considered the “cradle of Ethiopian civilization”. The holy city was founded around 500 BC. Founded in the 4th century BC and advanced to the Christian center of a wide-ranging empire in the 4th to the 9th century. The Jewish Ark of the Covenant is said to be in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The function of the imposing stone stelae from pre-Christian times, up to 30 m high, has not yet been fully clarified.

Aksum Ruins: Facts

Official title: Ruins of Aksum
Cultural monument: “Holy City”, supposedly the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept; In addition to numerous steles in relief, originally seven floor steles with bowl-shaped cavities, the largest of them 33 m high and 500 t in weight, but broken; the third largest, 23 m high stele still in place
Continent: Africa
Country: Ethiopia, Tigray
Location: Aksum, north of Addis Ababa
Appointment: 1980
Meaning: “Cradle of Ethiopian civilization” and a reflection of the political power of the Kingdom of Aksum

Ruins of Aksum: History

1st century AD Independent Kingdom of Aksum with its own coin
4th century AD Spread of Coptic Christianity
7th to 9th century Loss of importance of the Aksumite kingdom and expansion of Islam
17th century Construction of the second Church of St. Mary of Zion
1896 Victory of the troops of Emperor Menelik II (1844-1913) over Italian invasion troops
1905 German Aksum expedition
1937 Transport of the second largest, 23 m high floor stele to Rome
1965 Consecration of the modern chapel of St. Mary of Zion, allegedly the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept

The kingdom of the Queen of Sheba

Little is known of that mysterious kingdom, whose huge monolithic stone pillars stretch out into the blue sky like stone memorials. The earliest reports about a kingdom of Aksum go back to the famous seafarers’ manual “Periplus maris Erythraei” from the 1st century AD. The author, probably a Greek navigator, gives a detailed account of the trade at the various ports on the Ethiopian coast. India, Rome, Greece and Egypt – goods and commercial goods were imported from all over the world. Aksum’s population was strange to Africa. It was the result of the intermingling of South Arab immigrants with the local Cushitic-Ethiopian tribes. The capital of the same name was about ten days’ walk from the coast.

But much is still hidden today in the dark realm of myths and legends. One of these ancient traditions is about a woman: According to Ethiopian legend, Aksum is the capital of the Queen of Sheba. A rich treasure trove of legends revolves around this mysterious queen and her visit to Solomon, the mighty king of the Jews. In Ethiopian and Islamic tradition, the Queen of Sheba also begat a son named who is said to have stolen the mythical Ark of the Covenant and brought it to Ethiopia. It is said to be kept in the treasury of the Maria Zion Cathedral in Aksum today. Menelik’s successors ruled as kings of Aksum and later as Ethiopian emperors. The rulers of Aksum, regardless of whether there actually was a Queen of Sheba or not, succeeded to build an unprecedented state structure in this part of Africa. Based on the lucrative sea and long-distance trade between Asia, Africa and Europe, the first cradle of an African high culture with a magnificent capital was born. With the »géez«, the Aksumites introduced a scholarly script that is still valid today; thus Ethiopia has one of the oldest continuous writing traditions in Africa. Until the fourth century AD, Aksum was heavily influenced by its southern Arab neighbors. The world of gods was shared with the Sabaeans and Mineans of Yemen: they prayed to “almaqah”, the moon god, to Venus or to the sun.

In honor of the old gods, huge monolithic stone pillars were erected, the longest of which was 33.30 meters. Some of these impressive, sky-storming monoliths are still standing, the longest column protrudes a stately 23 meters from the ground – and has been for more than 2000 years. Most of these steles indicate a multi-storey building with an entrance door, door handle, windows and floors. At the top, the symbols of the moon god shone as metal plates in the glowing sun. What were these masterpieces used for? Was it floor stelae that had only one purpose to appease the gods? Or did they serve a distinctive grave cult? Sacrificial sites and underground chambers suggest this interpretation. But so far, almost nothing is known about these imposing structures. A few kilometers away is the supposed palace of the Queen of Sheba, which was uncovered in 1973. Wide staircases led up to a stone platform. An almost square core structure, reinforced with towers at the four corners, formed the center of the complex. Other mysterious relics and buildings, burial chambers and inscriptions tell of that legendary era. Most of it, however, is still hidden in the dust of the Ethiopian earth.

With the Aksumite king Ezana, Aksum should profess Christianity in the 4th century. He founded the long Christian tradition of Ethiopia. With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the decline of Aksum began. Its dramatic end was the conquest by the Jewish Queen Yodit, who came from the Simien Mountains region. She and her troops destroyed Akum in the 10th century and killed the Aksumite king. Ethiopia was to sink into utter insignificance for more than 200 years.

Even if the Aksumite empire fell a long time ago, its history is not yet finished. For more than fifty years now, a dark shadow has hung over the stelae of Aksum. In 1937 the longest standing column was transported to Rome by order of Mussolini and erected there. Although the return was promised in 1947, Aksum is still waiting in vain for the missing stele. A hole for the foundation has long been dug. It shouldn’t be that.

Ruins of Aksum (World Heritage)