HIGHLIGHTS Fri 9 Jan: Axum

Friday, January 09, 2015
Axum, Tigray, Ethiopia
Stelae Field

Axum and the first stop was the main stelae field.

Dating from around 300-500 AD, most the Axum stelae seem to predate the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia. Their purpose is almost certainly religious, but the details are not known for certain.

The stelae were most likely funeral monuments for Axum's ancient rulers, who may have been buried in tombs beneath them. Some have altars at the base with grooves cut into them to carry away blood from sacrifices.

The largest obelisk (108 feet long) has fallen and lies shattered across the ground, allowing a close-up inspection of the carvings. If it were still standing, it would be the tallest obelisk in the world. It may have fallen as soon as it was erected, representing the visible results of a trial-and-error in creating giant upright stele. According to legend, it covers the grave of the Queen of Sheba.

The tallest upright obelisk is the one recently returned from Rome which stands 82 feet in height.

Then underground into the catacombs. Patience rewarded me with the "no" people in my photos that I was able to take. Love the light streaming down the light shafts from above.





Cathedral of Tsion Maryam

Across the road was the Cathedral of Tsion Maryam complex.

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is the most important church in Ethiopia as it claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant.

In the 1950s the Emperor Haile Selassie built a new modern Cathedral that was open to both men and women next to the old Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion. The old church remains accessible only to men.




Men Only!!

The rectangular old church (men only) at the southern end of the complex is a remarkable example of traditional architecture built by the Emperor Fasiladas, the founder of Gonder, in 1665. Inside there are fine original murals, including a painting of the Nine Saints. The oldest functioning church looked like the castles of Gondar but remember Emperor Fasilidas built it.






Ezana Stone Inscription

The Erana Stone or also known as the Trilingual Tablet.

A remarkable find which three farmers stumbled upon in 1988: an Ethiopian version of the Rosetta Stone. The pillar, inscribed in Ge'ez (the ancient Eritrean/Ethiopian language), Sabaean (South Arabian) and Greek praising God for his victories. It dates from between AD 330 and AD 350 and records the honorary titles and military victories of the king over his 'enemies and rebels'.




Kaleb’s Palace

Further along the road were the ruins of Kaleb’s Palace.

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.



Queen of Sheba’s Swimming Pool - Mai Shum

Last stop on this side of Axum was to Mai Shum or more commonly known as the Queen of Sheba’s Swimming Pool. Whether she ever swam here is debatable! Anyway for the locals now it is a nice big pool to have a dip in or wash their clothes!

Throughout this afternoon, the local school children would run beside the Coaster. Being so rough and uphill, they were able to keep up. Yes, I did in the end buy from one of the girls her straw woven mat for 50 birr / NZ$3.30 / US$2.45. The Ethiopian flag colours of green yellow and red woven into the mat will be my reminder of this country.




Dungar Palace - Queen of Sheba’s Palace

Back into town and for some reason I was camera shutter trigger happy as we drove towards Dungar Palace on the other side of Axum ….

Only discovered in 1950, work is still be done to understand its role here. With what has been already uncovered, it was probably a very impressive palace with over 50 rooms boasting as well an elaborate drainage system.

Sitting on the steps it was time for a near full group photo. Plus I recorded Asta Wisalew, the love song that many of the group had learnt a few days ago.

With a few birrs left in my pocket, it was time to add a second woven straw item but deciding which one of the 6 that the local girls held up as I walked towards the viewing tower overlooking the site? Back at the bus and about to leave, I settled on one and in my mind had 200 birr which was non-negotiable. Didn’t even wanted to haggle down from the 300 birr that she had wanted initially. I got it for 200 birr / NZ$13.30 / US$9.80.

On the back to the hotel, we had a 30 minute stop by a few souvenir shops. In the end I settled on an Axum Cross similar to what Henry brought and paid 500 birr / NZ$33.30 / US$ 24.50 at the museum earlier in the day. With this in mind, I also stuck at 500 birr but my one had painted on it in the centre two colourful pictures. I do prefer one side than the other.

Our farewell group dinner was at a real local restaurant Atse Yohannis International Restaurant. Finally had the Amber Beer plus some more local wine. It was Olivia 21st shortly so we tried to sing an early Happy Birthday in Amharic.


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