Kaleb’s Palace

Friday, January 09, 2015
Axum, Tigray, Ethiopia
Further along the road were the ruins of Kaleb's Palace.

Set on a small hill 1.8km northeast of the Northern Stelae Field and offering views of the jagged mountains of Adwa, local tradition attributes these two tombs to the 6th-century King Kaleb and his son, King Gebre Meskel.

First up we stood above King Kaleb’s tomb. Local rumour has it that there’s a secret tunnel leading from here to the Red Sea.

Although the twin tombs’ architecture resembles the Tomb of the False Door, they show more sophistication, using irregular-shaped, self-locking stones that don’t require iron clamps. The 19th-century British traveller Theodore Bent exclaimed magnanimously that the tombs were 'built with a regularity which if found in Greece would at once make one assign them to a good period’!

The Gebre Meskel (south) tomb is the most refined. The precision of the joints between its stones is at a level unseen anywhere else in Aksum. The tomb consists of one chamber and five rooms, with one boasting an exceptionally finely carved portal leading into it. Inside that room are three sarcophagi, one adorned with a cross similar to Christian crosses found on Aksumite coins. This points towards an age around the 6th century, which, as seldom happens, corresponds with local tradition. Though the rest of the story has Meskel buried at Debre Damo.

Above ground, a kind of raised courtyard combines the two tombs. Some scholars have suggested that two parallel churches with a basilica plan lay here, probably postdating the tombs.


Kaleb (c. 520) is perhaps the best-documented, if not best-known, king of Axum situated in modern day Eritrea and Ethiopia. 

Axum also contains a pair of ruined structures, one said to be his tomb and its partner said to be the tomb of his son Gabra Masqal. (Tradition gives him a second son, Israel, whom it has been suggested is identical with the Axumite king Israel.) This structure was first examined as an archaeological subject by Henry Salt in the early 19th century; almost a century later, it was partially cleared and mapped out by the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition in 1906. The most recent excavation of this tomb was in 1973 by the British Institute in East Africa. Thanks Mr Wikipedia.

So it was down we went into King Gebre Meskel tomb. I was more interested in the stone work. Reminded me very much of the Aztec stone work that I saw in Peru’s Machu Picchu.


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