For those whose taste for adventure is inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones, Aksum is probably already on your travel to-do list. Now a tiny outpost on the northern border of Ethiopia, this UNESCO World Heritage Site earned its status by preserving millennia of mysteries.
The legends of Aksum stem largely from its connection to ancient biblical culture. As the seat of the Kingdom of Aksum, this was the home of the Queen of Sheba, mentioned in the Bible for her visit to King Solomon. From there, lore takes hold, including the commonly held belief that the son of Solomon and Sheba captured the Ark of the Covenant and brought it to Aksum, where it is said to remain even today.
Whether or not the Ark of the Covenant resides here, Aksum is considered one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, a pilgrimage site for many. Today it is known for the numerous monolithic obelisks or “stelae.”
The stelae date back at least 1,700 years. While some mystery surrounds their original purpose, they have become a national symbol for the people of Ethiopia. Some are more than 100 feet tall, and each bear carvings and many believe they marked significant grave sites, as some concentrations of stelae have been found amid tombs.
In addition to the stelae, Aksum is home to the old and new cathedrals of St. Mary of Zion. The old cathedral, rumored to have held the Ark of the Covenant, was destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout Ethiopia’s history. At its zenith, historians claim that it was a massive and opulent site. The new cathedral, which began construction in 1955 is a nationalist monument as well as a religious one, commemorating Ethiopia’s successful liberation from Fascist occupation.
As you explore the mysteries of Aksum, you will be glad to have your private Ker & Downey guide, explaining the intricate history and legend, helping you separate fact from fiction, and perhaps arriving at explanations of your own.