Aksum is an archeological site that covers the remains of an influential city of ancient Ethiopia. it is the seat of an Empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, had its own alphabet and notational system, constructed great engineering works and dams and which was reckoned in the 4th century to be one of the four great powers of the ancient world.
The ruins include stelae (the largest single pieces of stone erected anywhere in the world), tombs, castles and obelisks of kings. The city was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. The kingdom had its own written language called Ge’ez, and also developed a distinctive architecture exemplified by giant obelisks, the oldest of which (though much smaller) date from 5000–2000 BC. This kingdom was at its height under king Ezana, baptized as Abreha, in the 4th century AD (which was also when it officially embraced Christianity).
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant in which lie the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed. This same church was the site Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries until the reign of Fasilides, then again beginning with Yohannes IV until the end of the empire. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination of pilgrimages. ). A visit to Axum can be extended to take in the 800 BC pre-Axumite temple at Yeha, 55 km east of Axum, and a little further, the 7th century monastery at Debre Damo. Women are not allowed, and the only access is by rope.
- Axum Stelae Field
Dating from around 300-500 AD, the famous Axum stelae probably predate the arrival of Christianity. Their purpose is almost certainly religious, but the details are not known for certain.
- Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant
The biblical Ark of the Covenant mysteriously disappeared from Jerusalem sometime before Christ. But Ethiopians and some western theorists know exactly where it is: enshrined in this chapel in Axum.
- New Church of St. Mary of Zion
Emperor Haile Selassie founded this new Church of St. Mary of Zion next to the old one. It was completed in 1964. Unlike the original, the new St. Mary of Zion allows entrance to women.