Axum contains some of the most mysterious monuments in the world, and is reputed to have been the ancient capital of Sheba around the 10th Century BC. There is evidence of a once great civilisation here. By the 1st Century AD, Axum was known by the traders of Greece as a great city and the political and religious centre of the Axumite Empire, which dominated the trade routes between Asia and Africa for nearly a thousand years.
The huge granite stellae in the Park of the Stellae are the most famous feature of Axum. Originally seven in number, the largest of these stellae measured 33 metres (108 ft) and weighed about 500 tons, but it fell centuries ago and lies in pieces next to the remaining stellae. The second largest (24m, 79ft) fell earlier this century, and was taken to Rome in 1937. The third largest (23m, 75ft) still stands in Axum. All the stellae share the same decoration, in the form of a house, many storeys up, with representations of doors and windows.
The biggest mystery of Axum is the claim that it is the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. According to Ethiopian legend, Menelik brought the Ark here 3000 years ago and founded the Solomonic Dynasty, of which Haile Selassie was the last emperor. The chapel sanctuary of the ark is well guarded, and visitors can approach but not enter. However, during the Festival of Timkat (Epiphany), a replica of the ark is carried in a procession to the nearby Queen of Sheba’s Baths, a huge water reservoir, carved into solid rock.
Axum also has a museum that is well worth a visit.