Axum

Axum or Aksum is a city in northern Ethiopia which was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. Axum was a naval and trading power that ruled the region from 400 BC into the 10th century.

These obelisks, also called stelae, are known to be the tallest single pieces of stone ever quarried and erected in the ancient world. Their age and use is a complete mystery. Some scholars, extrapolating from ancient coins found at the base of the giant pillars, suggest that they may have been carved and erected around the beginning of the 4th century AD. Due to their proximity to nearby tombs, the obelisks may possibly have been used as memorials to deceased kings and queens, but this is only a speculation. The tallest of the monoliths, now fallen and broken into six massive pieces, was 33.3 meters tall and weighed an estimated five tons. The tallest obelisk still standing at Axum today is 23 meters. Precisely carved upon its sides (and upon the sides of many other nearby stelae) are what seem to be representations of multiple storey’s with floors between them. Each storey features several window-like carvings and, at the base of the obelisks, what appear to be false doors complete with knockers and locks. Are these carvings merely artistic ornamentations or did they have some deeper function? It is still mystery.

An even greater mystery surrounds the ancient city of Axum. A few hundred meters from the cluster of towering obelisks is a large walled compound surrounding two churches. Between these two churches, both dedicated to St. Mary of Zion, are the foundational remains of an ancient church and a strange looking, fenced off and heavily guarded “treasury” said to contain the true Arc of the Covenant.

The Arc of the Covenant and its supposedly divine contents are one of the great mysteries of antiquity.

Ethiopian legends say that when the Queen of Sheba made her famous journey to Jerusalem she was impregnated by King Solomon and bore him a son - a royal prince. The name of the prince was Menelik, which means "the son of the wise man". Although he was conceived in Jerusalem, he was born in Ethiopia where the Queen of Sheba had returned after discovering that she was carrying Solomon's child. When he had reached the age of twenty, Menelik himself traveled from Ethiopia to Israel and arrived at his father's court. There he was instantly recognized and accorded great honor. After a year had passed, however, the elders of the land became jealous of him. They complained that Solomon showed him too much favor and they insisted that he must go back to Ethiopia. This the king accepted on the condition that the first-born sons of all the elders should also be sent to accompany him. Amongst these latter was Azarius, son of Zadok the High Priest of Israel, and it was Azarius, not Menelik, who stole the Ark of the Covenant from its place in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The group of young men did not reveal the theft to Prince Menelik until they were far away from Jerusalem. When at last they told him what they had done he asserted that they could not have succeeded in so bold a venture unless God had willed its outcome. Therefore he agreed that the Ark should remain with them. Thus Menelik brought the Arc to Ethiopia, to the sacred city of Axum, where it has remained ever since.

The Arc remained in this church, called Maryam Tsion Cathedral, until1965 when Haile Selassie (said to be the two hundred and twenty-fifth direct-line descendant of Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon) had it transferred to a more secure chapel, the so-called treasury, ten meters away from the northeast corner of the old church.