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Cross (Meskal) Shaped window of one of the 11 Rock Hewn Churches at Lalibela, Ethiopia
NOVEMBER 21, 2007

The Axumite's

Our reason for travelling to the far reaches of Ethiopia, and the Northern most point on the Historical Circuit, is a small town by the name of Axum. Bordering Eritrea, it's a region that has seen much turmoil, both recently, and throughout history. The Axumite Empire, of which modern day Axum was it's capital - was a major force sometime around 500 AD.

With only days left until our Sudan Visas expire - we made the tough decision to forgo visiting the surrounding Rock Hewn Church's of Tigrai, and the remote Monastery of Debra Damo, limiting our touristic activities to Axum, and it's immediate surrounds.

Partially recovered from the recent bout of Malaria, we set out on foot through Axum to first visit the Museum - a little background information makes the sight seeing more relevant. En route we were waylayed by some touts who - after realising we were not going to give them any money were kind enough to show us where the tourist office was to purchase tickets for the different areas - and to tell as that pretty much everything aside from the Stelae field had moved...

At the entrance to the Stelae we decided to pick up a guide for the day - finding the different sights was proving to be trickier than we previously anticipated. For a small fee we hired Fiseha Asfaw, who turned out to be a bit of a local celebrity after being mentioned (if not by name - at least in reference) in a book published recently on the area.

Yet again we have been foiled in our attempts to see the best bits, by those troublesome people at UNESCO. Every time we visit a sight worth seeing, we are barred from entering thanks to restorative works. This time around - while we were able to view the Stelae from the park - the biggest standing stelae, as well as several of the underground tombs, were all closed off. Thankfully after an hour or so in the park, Fiseha was able to show us down into one of the lesser tombs. Hidden under tonnes of dirt it had been partially excavated to allow access to the entrance. Like most relics of historical importance - it had been robbed clean by past generations - this time by the ancient egyptians.

The Stelae all are markers for tombs dug into the rock below. Of the Stelae - some are intricately carved with patterns and false doorways, others are plain, others still are works in progress, some massive granite rocks lie strewn around the grounds midway through being erected. Of the three largest Stelae, the largest lies in pieces on the ground where it crashed to earth hundreds of years ago, the 2nd largest was removed by the Italians during their occupation in the 1900's (this was the main cause for UNESCO's presence as they reassemble the stelae in place). The third largest stands proud above the grounds - spectacular amongst the barren rocky landscape that is Axum.

What makes Ethiopia so unique in sub saharan Africa is that it has so much 'Solid' history. Yet what is even more amazing is that thanks to a little civil war and some political unrest - most of the ruins have barely been examined archeologically. This was highlighted during our visit to the museum, a brand new building housing a handful of relics - with a nasty hole dug in the centre of a beautiful marble floor. Midway through construction they stumbled upon an undiscovered tomb...

From the Stelae field it's a few hundred metres out to the Queen of Sheba's swimming pool. Again this is Ethiopian history where fable rules over fact. The large pool resembles more of a dam that stone bathing pool - however back in the day it was a feat of engineering prowess.

I hate to say it, but after a few hours walking around town I was fairly knackered. We had lunch at the local government hotel in an effort to reinvigorate me - however after 10 minutes at the Tsion Maryam church I had had enough (especially after being told there was no way I would be allowed to see the Ark of the Covenant). I headed home leaving Donna in Fiseha's capable hands...

And after barely a few hours of sightseeing so ends my visit to Axum. Donna on the other hand went with asdfasd out into the hills to see various other artifacts lying around including a stone tablet, several tombs and in the centre of town, the thrown of King Ezna.

There is no organisation or structure here - everything lies out in the open - laid waste to by the elements and passing tourists. Yet because of this it still holds some romance - one can see the sights up close and personal - no velvet ropes to hold you back.

Click here to see the Axum Photo Gallery (21 photos)

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Being knackered tells you something. Find a salubrious and congenial spot and hole up for a good spell before the next vigorous expedition !!!!!!!

William - 12 December, 2007


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