The Axumite Empire

Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
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Trip End Jun 24, 2006


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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday, Mar 31

Miles travelled: 64817

Ethiopia has a long history and its culture has been and still is heavily influenced by Judaism and Christianity. We are taking a 6-day excursion to the major historical sights of northern Ethiopia.
We've arrived in Axum, in the far north only 50 km from the Eritrean border, after a flight in a little prop-plane making 3 stops along the way. Addis was raining and cold when we left, but in Axum it is dry and sunny. Axum was the capital of a large empire, named, not surprisingly, the Axumite Empire from about 100 BC to 700 AD. This was one of the main kingdoms of the ancient world, and tradition has it that King Basen was one of the wise men who travelled to Israel to see the baby Jesus. "Tradition" is a key word here -- Ethiopia has many historical traditions and legends. The most prevalent is the Solomonic Dynasty and the Ark. Briefly, it says that the Queen of Sheba was from Ethiopia, visited King Solomon in Jerusalem in around 1000 BC (recorded in I Kings), and had a child by him, named Menelik. Years later, Menelik returned to visit Solomon in Jerusalem, and took the Ark of the Covenant back with him to Ethiopia. The line of Ethiopian emperors after that time are thus all descended from Solomon.

The original Ark of the Covenant is said to be in safekeeping at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum. The original St. Marys was built in the 4th century and was one of the largest churches in the world, but was destroyed by invaders in the 10th or 16th centuries, depending on who you believe. A special sanctuary chapel for the Ark was built in 1971, and supposedly the real Ark is still there, but only one monk, the "Guardian", is ever allowed inside to see it. We saw the outside of the chapel but decided against trying to break in.

Axum is also known for its pre-Christian stelae (similar to Egyptian obelisks) and burial tombs. The largest standing stelae is over 70 feet tall and carved from a single piece of granite. An even larger one has just been returned from Italy, where it has stood in Rome since being carried off by the Italians during their occupation in WWII. Unfortunately, it is now in 3 pieces, but the Ethiopian government is planning to re-install it in its original place. There is also a ruined structure which tradition says was the palace of the Queen of Sheba.
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