Axum is a town of Legends offering a glimpse to a truly remarkable past. It’s littered with the ruins of palaces, underground tombs, mysterious monolithic steals, which are the largest in the world and carved from single piece of granite, inscriptions and many historical relics.
The legacy of the Queen of Sheba lies just below the shifting sands, and churches hewn out of sheer rock attract wide-eyed tourists. The African nation’s historic route begins in the ancient city of Axum, which dates to about 100 B.C. This capital city was the first place in Ethiopia to adopt a new religion — Christianity. According to the Old Testament, The Queen of Sheba was born in Axum, but travelled to Israel to meet King Solomon. They had a son named Menelik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia. Menelik brought the original Arc of the Covenant back to Ethiopia from Israel. Today, the Arc, which once housed the Ten Commandments, remains well hidden in Axum. It is guarded by a select group of monks, whose sole commitment is to protect the sacred vessel. Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculptures that are more than two thousand years old. Their significance is still under investigation by archaeologists.
All that remains now of Axum’s past glories are the huge granite stelae (pillars), some fallen and some still perpendicular. Made of single blocks of granite, the tallest stood over 33 metres high – the largest monolith in the world. The biggest now standing is 23 metres high.
All three section of the 1,700-year old Axum obelisk has arrived back in Ethiopia, 68 years after it was looted by Italian fascists. Many Ethiopians see the obelisk as an important national symbol – its return has been subject to great national anticipation and excitement. Seized back in 1937 by Italian troops, it was taken to Rome where it remained, despite a 1947 UN agreement to return it to Ethiopia. It was eventually dismantled into three pieces in 2004 in preparation for its journey home, an operation which is costing Italy an estimated 6 million euros (£4.1 million). The monument is due to be re-erected after the rainy season.