What’s Axum?

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Aksum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Ethiopia, was the center of the Aksumite Empire and a major trading power in the Red Sea. It converted to Christianity in the 4th century and declined in the 7th century with the rise of Islam. The site contains architectural remains, obelisks, and is believed to be the possible site of the Ark of the Covenant. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is where Ethiopian emperors were crowned, and the Queen of Sheba’s Bath is also located in Aksum.

Aksum is a city in northern Ethiopia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1980. Historically Aksum was the center of the Kingdom of Aksum and the Aksumite Empire. The Aksum region has a stable population in the modern world of approximately 50,000 people, the majority of whom are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
The Aksum kingdom began to grow around the 4th century BC The Empire was a major trading power in the Red Sea, helping to connect the Roman Empire with the wealth of India. The kingdom of Aksum profited enormously from its location and used its wealth to expand its borders and conquer rival neighbours, such as the kingdom of Kush.

By the early 4th century, the kingdom of Aksum had converted to Christianity and was a major power in the old world. The Kingdom controlled much of northeastern Africa and parts of the Middle East. The kingdom of Aksum served as an important buffer between Byzantium and the Persian Empire and allied strongly with Byzantium. The kingdom of Aksum began a slow decline in the 7th century, coinciding with the rise of Islam and the control of the trade by Muslim mariners. By the 10th century the kingdom of Aksum had more or less collapsed, although it laid the foundations for what was to be Ethiopia.

The Aksum site contains many architectural remains of this great empire. It also contains historical relics that predate the Aksumite Empire itself. There are obelisks at Aksum dating back to perhaps 5,000 BC. One of these obelisks, erected in the 2nd century, was cut down by the Italians in the 20s and sent to Italy. This obelisk stood nearly 1930 feet (80m). In 24 the obelisk was finally returned to Aksum, and although it has not yet been reinstalled, preparations are underway for its reconstruction.

Aksum is also known to be a possible site for the Ark of the Covenant. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Ark was brought to the region by Menelik I returning from a meeting with King Solomon, his father. The Ark is said to be kept in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, and is guarded by a guardian appointed for life. No one but the keeper can see the Ark, and the keeper can never leave the chapel where the Ark is kept.

The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is also where the emperors of Ethiopia have historically been crowned. The church was originally erected in the 4th century and was rebuilt several times since.
Aksum also contains many large stelae, or slabs, thought to mark various notable tombs. The stelae are mostly found in Northern Stele Park, but are scattered throughout the site. Aksum also contains the historical site of the Queen of Sheba’s Bath, which is said to date back to when the Queen of Sheba lived in Aksum, although in reality the bath is a natural reservoir.

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