Wordtravels

Wordtravels

Axum

John baptising Jesus © David Bjorgen
John baptising Jesus © David Bjorgen

Axum is a city in far northern Ethiopia. Its 16th-century Church of St Mary of Zion is said to house the Ark of the Covenant which visitors aren't permitted to see. Colossal stone obelisks dating back to 300 AD are remnants of the Kingdom of Aksum and are recognised as remarkable historical artefacts by UNESCO. In 2005 one such obelisk was returned to Ethiopia with great fanfare after having been looted by Italy in the early 20th century. The largest number of these impressive sculptures is in the Northern Stelae Park, and the tallest one that remains standing is King Ezana's Stele, which is over 78 feet (24m) tall and weighs 160 tonnes. Some tombs have been excavated under the giant stelae but the vast majority of this fascinating underground world has not yet been explored by archaeologists and the extent of the mysteries the obelisks guard is unknown. Axum is considered a holy city, commonly the destination of pilgrimages, which is certainly worth visiting for its historical riches. However, most visitors do not linger in the city's modern centre.