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Project Ethiopia/Eritrea: Peace in the Horn of Africa

Ancient city holds relics of past glory

by Barbra Lukunka

The 32 ft. tall fallen obelisk in Axum was the tallest  created in Ethiopia.
The 32 ft. tall fallen obelisk in Axum was the tallest
created in Ethiopia. Two other obelisks were erected
in Axum. One still stands today, and the other was
taken to Rome.

After visiting the city of Mekelle, I traveled further north to a town near the border called Axum. Axum is a small town that is hardly developed but contains the historical splendor of Ethiopia and the Tigray region.

I stayed in a hotel that was built on a hill and overlooks the city of Axum. From the hotel I could see the great obelisks, which are the signature of the town of Axum. They were erected more than 1,000 years ago, and nobody knows why. They were all carved out of one single stone each, which is fascinating because of their size. The one that remains erect in Axum is 23 ft tall; the second largest was stolen by the Italians and is in Rome; it is 28 ft tall. The largest one is 32 ft tall; however, it fell to the ground next to the one that remains standing.

These structures portray a creative and flourishing civilization. Much like other historic Ethiopian cities, Axum is considered a holy city. The locals live in tranquility as they enjoy their simple lives centered on religion.

Ethiopia was initially a confederation of kingdoms ruled by the Amhara tribe in the central highlands, the Oromo in the South, and the Tigray in the North into Eritrea. The Axumite Kingdom within the Tigray region was one of the most prosperous because it extended not only into Eritrea, but to Yemen as well. The region was fully engaged in trade with Egypt, Arabia, Persia and India.

While in Axum, I had a guide who drove me around to all the historical sites. He took me to see remains of palaces of some of the Great Kings of Ethiopia. We looked at the ruins of palaces more than 1,000 years old. The palaces were made of stone. My guide said stone was widely used in the kingdom, and elephants were used to transport the stones from the mountains to the town.

He took me to Queen Sheba's palace. She is mentioned in the Bible as well as the Quran as a powerful Queen. Many Ethiopians believe she is the link between the Felashas (Ethiopian Jews) and Israel. The Felashas have often considered themselves the lost tribe of Israel in Diaspora, and many of them have returned home to Israel. Queen Sheba has many names, the Ethiopians call her Makeda, and in the Quran, she is called Bilgis. Her story is known to many. Many believed she traveled to Israel to visit King Solomon of Israel. The King immediately fell in love with her and tricked her into sleeping with him. She left Israel pregnant with his child, Menelik. When she left, the elders of Israel left with Sheba as ordered by the King, and they secretly took the Ark of the Covenant with them.

There is a church in Axum that is said to harbor the Ark of the Covenant. The ark is locked in a room by a priest who has vowed to keep the door closed. Many people have tried talking to the priest to persuade him to open the door, but he has never relented. My guide told me about a few Israelis who went to Axum and tried to steal the Ark of the Covenant. They were imprisoned for trying to steal it and deported back to Israel.

I went to the town museum. It is a very small museum that has many ruins of pottery work that are being put together. There are many statues carved from stone in the museum, but most impressive are the bronze and gold coins used by the ancient kings. Many of the coins have inscriptions on them written in Greek or Ge'ez, the ancient language from which many of the languages in Ethiopia are derived. I was fascinated by what I found in Axum. The city of Axum is backward in regards to modern times, but it is a city that has a glorious history.

Ethiopia may be one of the poorest countries in Africa today; however, in the past it was one of the richest. The Ethiopians are a proud people who have held on to their history. Their history plays an enormous role in their self-identification. Some African countries are unable to trace their histories before the colonial era; thus producing a certain crisis of self-identity.

Peace in the Horn of Africa is imperative, not only to promote stability, but to preserve the remains of a truly authentic African history.

Visiting Axum was a perfect way for me to end my stay in Ethiopia.

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