Aksum changed A LOT in 5 years… This sleepy town, quite Off The Beaten Track 5 years ago, is now on the itinerary of all travel agencies, and you will meet large tour groups in all better hotels & restaurants in town. The good news is: there are so many things to do and see in and around Aksum that you will more often than not only see very few tourists during the day…
- Aksum’s Stelae
What has put Axum on the tourist radar goes beyond Christian times. Superbly carved Stelae from those times still point 35 meters into the sky. Then they marked the tombs of royalty and nobility. The biggest one toppled over, smashing some of the tombs dug into ground below. The broken pieces still lay there lined up, unmoved over all this time. What made it fall? Its base was too small to carry the 150 tons, but of course there is a local version of this disaster – Yodit, a vicious Jewish Queen, pushed it over after raiding Axum. Some of the tombs below are still intact and accessible, with vaulted passages and up to ten chambers. Sadly, all had been looted before archeologists discovered them.
- The Ark Of Covenant
When looking at the remains of a church from the 4th Century, our guide casually pointed at an elderly man in a short distance. He was leaning on a fence of a small compound surrounding what looked like a chapel. “This is the guardian of the Arc of Covenant,” he said without even blinking an eyelid. Then added: “He is elected from a college of 216 monks, serves until his death & never leaves the compound”.
How did this priceless treasure get to Axum? The Queen of Sheba returned pregnant with a son from a visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem. When their mutual son Menelik reached adulthood, he went to visit his father in the Holy Land. After three years he could not wait to return to his mother in Axum. A huge party accompanied him. This included the son of the high priest of Jerusalem, who viciously had taken the Ark of Covenant with him. And so it has been in Axum for over 2.000 years…
This has been the absolute truth for every Ethiopian over the Centuries, and no one expresses the slightest doubt about all this. So Indiana Jones must have been all wrong…
- On The Footsteps Of Queen Of Sheba
The ruins that can bee visited nowadays are from a Palace of the 6th Century AD, and are remains of the once huge and powerful Axumite Empire (100 BC and 700 AD). Very little historic evidence remains from those days. Nonetheless, it is believed that 8.5 meters below, there is a palace from the 10th Century BC, which is the time of the Queen of Sheba…
- Queen Of Sheba Pool
The Queen of Sheba Swimming Pool (not that the very queen ever did her laps here) is a huge basin full of rainwater that has always served the locals for washing clothes and bodies. At the end of the dry season the water was way down, making it even harder for the girls to carry it up the steep stairs. Once at the top, they tie the yellow canisters onto their backs with thin ropes or shawls and carry them home. What looks so effortless, makes you wince when you try yourself. We were not able carry such a canister even a few meters.
- Various Markets
There are several very interesting markets in and especially around Aksum. Saturday is obviously now the big market day… 5 years ago it was Thursday, so you better check before booking if you want to see the markets.
Colored Trays Market
Those nice Colored Trays are obviously the local specialty… But with a quickly developing tourism, these seem to be only sold by specialized shops who go for… “Tourist Prices”!
The most unexpected is often the best… We were visiting the Queen of Sheba Pool early morning to enjoy a soft light, and noticed endless caravans of farmers with their goats, cows, sheep and what not were passing by . Some walking with only one animal, others had small herds. To control the goats more easily, many were tied together around one leg, making them to move rather awkwardly. We quickly figured that it must cattle market day and joined the procession. Everybody stared at us, two foreigners walking with the cattle. Clueless of where we were we kept walking to what seemed way beyond Aksum. It was getting really hot and we had no more water, but since we had come so far we pushed on. Besides, the locals also carried no water, we kept telling ourselves. Far outside of Aksum, finally we reached the Cattle Market! A large open area, some parts fenced off by a high wall. We were surprised by the little action: no haggling, no bargaining, cattle and men were just standing around, waiting. The only activity came from kids selling ropes to take the animal home. Not even two “Farenjis” over-using their camera received much attention…