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Some 365 km northeast of Gondar lies the town of Axum, site of Ethiopia’s oldest city. Axum dates back some 2000 years to when it was the hub of the Axumite Empire and the capital of one of the four world powers. The half-buried ruins of palaces and fortresses make Axum one of Ethiopia’s most important historical sites, and ongoing archaeological excavations and discoveries will help increase our understanding of its importance in the ancient world. The Queen of Sheba (called Makada in Ethiopia) made it her capital 1000 years before Christ.
Evidence of past glories include huge monolithic granite obelisks or stelae (pillars), some fallen and some still perpendicular, grouped together in the northeast of the town. Made of single blocks of granite, the tallest stood over 33 m high and weighs approximately 500 tonnes and is the largest monolith in the world. The four sides of this pillar are highly decorated and represent the front of a 12-storey building. The stelae were probably quarried in the granite mountains close by, but the method of transportation and techniques used to erect them are open to speculation.Read more
Also of interest is the 16th-century Cathedral of St Mary of Zion, which was built in 1665 and was recently renovated. Believed to be built over the remains of a much older church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded here in the fourth century. Ethiopians believe that St Mary’s is the repository of the original Ark of the Covenant - a sacred gold-covered chest from Old Testament times, containing the tables on which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments. Unsurprisingly, the temple is closely guarded at all times. Axum remains the holiest city of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is an important pilgrimage site.