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10 Things That Make the Axum City of Ethiopia Historic

Named after the Aksum Kingdom, Axum city in northern Ethiopia near the River Tekeze symbolizes the wealth and essence of civilization in the ancient Aksumite empire. 

Axum, also called Axumis, is a ceremonial center and an international trading empire endowed with the monumental obelisk. 

It is indeed a historic capital of the Aksumite Empire, with notable achievements, but little did some people know about the city. 

However, we will unveil many tips about what made the city a historic one in this article writing, keep reading to discover.

1. The tall granite obelisk, King Ezana’s Stele in Stelae Park

In present-day Ethiopia, Axum, the ancient city, features an obelisk, a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument with a pyramid-like shape built in the 4th Century by King Ezana.

The one hundred and sixty (160) tone monument has stood for more than 1000 years, varying from practically plain slabs to complexly inscribed pillars. 

Some of the pillars have door-and window-like shapes carved into them to give it an outward show of slender buildings.  

One of the obelisks measuring 34 meters, although fallen, is known to be the tallest obelisk to be ever erected.

The function of the obelisk

The primary function of the obelisk is to serve as “markers” for underground burial chambers of the royal and lesser nobles. 

While the minor class will have smaller, less decorated obelisk, the royal nobles would have the largest grave makers decorated with false windows and doors.

Features of the obelisk in Axum

The obelisk has ornamented false doors and windows, layers of varying designs, decorated slithering up the tower, and a semi-circular domed top. 

It measures 24 meters (79 feet), with metal frames enclosures likely for holding icons or symbolic images.

 2. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion

One of the many reasons Axum is a historic city is its Orthodox Tewahedo Church claimed to contain the Ark of the Covenant.

It is in Axum, Tigray, close to the grounds of Obelisks of Axum.

Strictly for men, the church was a traditional place built by Emperor Fasilides in 1665 for crowning and endorsing tilted Ethiopian emperors.

It was twice destroyed by Queen Gudit and Ahmad ibn in the 10th Century and 16 Century respectively, before its expansion in the 17th Century by Fasilides.  

In 1950, Emperor Haile Selassie built a new cathedral adjacent to the old one, opened to males and females.  

Due to divine ‘heat’ from the Tablets cracking the stones of the former sanctum, the people of Axum moved the ark to the new chapel named Chapel of the Tablet

The church’s great significance 

– It’s the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church containing the Ark of the Covenant.

– It holds the Ten Commandments.

– It’s an important pilgrimage center that draws more than hundreds of pilgrims each year

– Only appointed virgin monks can protect the ark 

How the Ark came to Ethiopia 

The Ark of Covenant, according to tradition, came to Ethiopia with Menelik I after he visited his father, King Solomon. 

3. The archaeological and ethnographic museums

Another reason the city of Axum is historic is that archeological museum with fine ethnographic artefacts.

The city of Axum is a living museum reflecting the connection between material culture and archeology.

It does not just play a social role in society but also historical and economic functions.

The museum collects, conserves documents, and exhibits ethnographic antiquities, contributing significantly to tourism development. 

Axum, a center of Christianity and civilization, has an archeological museum that reveals historical material.

Purpose and function of the museum

Apart from showing ancient artifacts, its primary function is to clarify the process of archeology.

It also gives room for cultural activities in the society, enlightening resources for schools and educational establishments.

Generally, the museum entertains, attracts, and arouses visitors’ curiosity, promoting learning from asked and answered questions.  

Contents of the archeological museum

The historic archeological museum contains incense burners, inscriptions on the Sabaean language, Aksumite coins, and terracotta utensils.

Other contents of the museum are lion gargoyles, lamps, bronze objects, and a pleasant pot shaped like a three-legged bird.   

4. The Ezana Stone in Axum 

Discussing why the Axum city is historical, the list won’t be complete without mentioning the Ezana Stone, an ancient Stele at the center of Axum city still standing today.

It’s a triangular monument resembling the ‘Rosetta Stone’ dating from the 4th Century as it documents King Ezana’s conversion to Christianity and his defeat of various neighboring areas, inclusive of Meroë. 

Practically, the length and width of the Ezana monument stone vary as it comes in different sizes. 

Ezana Stone Inscription

The inscription on Ezana stone immortalizes some of Ezana’s victories in battle and his conversion to Christianity, written in three languages viz; Greek, Ge’ez, and Sabaean.

The Ge’ez is an ancient Ethiopian language, while Sabaean is a South Arabian. 

5. King Bazen’s Tomb

King Bazen’s Tomb is a large stone (Megalith) of historical significant used to construct a monument – one of the earliest structures in Axum.  

Although the tomb is among the crudest and almost hewn, it still gives a magical feel.  

According to local beliefs, king Bazen did not just reign at christ’s birth but was Balthazar who carried the news of the birth of Christ to Ethiopia. 

Location of the tomb

King Bazen’s tomb, a memorial in modern-day Ethiopia, is near AB Restaurant, close to International Bar and Café.  

6. Queen of Sheba’s Bath

Axum city houses the historic and iconic Queen of Sheba’s Bath, a large reservoir and ancient swimming pool with a stone staircase that directs guests to the water. 

Mai Shum, which means chieftain’s water, the antique Queen of Sheba’s pool or bath, partly hewn built around the May Qoho. 

Queen of Sheba’s Bath is the main focus of Axum in January, during the annual Epiphany celebration.

Ways to explore Queen Sheba bath

  • Five (5) days tour on North Ethiopia
  • Tigray Churches Tour (5D and 4N) 
  • Two Days Tigray Churches Trip
  • Full-Day trip to Axum
  • Day Trip in Axum
  • Private Trekking in Simien Mountains 
  • Ultimate Historical Exploration of North Ethiopia

7. The 4th-Century Ta’akha Maryam, The Royal Palace

Another monumental architecture of the Axum empire is the Ta’akha Maryam, a noble palace constructed around the 4th Century as one of the biggest in the kingdom.

The Gudit destroyed the place when she sacked Aksum in the 10th Century. 

Then again, the Italians struggled to take over Ethiopia during the early 20th Century, causing another destruction in the palace, but later reconstructed.

The great palace covers 120 meters by 80 meters and would have been bigger than medieval European palaces.  

8. 6th-Century Dungur Palace

Dungur, also called Dungur Addi Kiltie, is another significant ancient mansion in Axum, Ethiopia, contributing to its historic achievement. 

The Dungur House is locally and commonly known as the palace of the Queen of Sheba.

It contains just about 50 rooms, a kitchen, a bathing area, and a throne room. 

The nickname of the 6th-Century Mansion, the palace of the Queen of Sheba, is “wishing thinking.” 

Description of the palace 

  • It has uncovered stones and stockades recessed at intervals and strangely tapering with height.  
  • Looking from a tower behind the site gives more than a 50-room layout outlook. 
  • The Dungur palace comprises hidden fortune rooms, a kitchen with a brick oven, and a private bathing spot.
  • Its fresh-looking flagstone floor supposedly belongs to the throne room and a staircase that implies the existence of an upper story.

9. Pentalewon Monastery

Another reason why Axum city is historic is its Pentelewon Monastery atop a tall narrow peak, high above Axum. 

The monastery, founded by Abba Pentelewon (470- 522) after his return to Axum in 480 AD, sits on top of Mai Qoho Hill northwest Axum Tigray.

He is a Christian monk and one of the members of the group who escaped the imposition of the Chalcedonian council. 

Abba and the group named Nine Saints contributed wholly to the increase and success of Ethiopian Christianity.  

They built churches in different parts of early Ethiopia, learned the Ge’ez language, organized Christian centers, and translated the bible into Ge’ez. 

Notable facts about Pentelewon Monastery

  • The monastery sits on top of a tall thin peak in Axum. 
  • One of the Nine Saints who prayed 40 years nonstop by Abba Pentelewon constructed the Monastery.
  •  It is where King Kaleb gave up work after abandoning his throne.  
  • The place of the monastery was holy to pagans as the foundation would boost Christianity and eliminate paganism.
  • One can attain the peak of the monastery through a sheer path on foot, and women can only view particular parts of the building.

10. Abba Liqanos

Abba Liqanos is one of the Nine Saints that helped spread the orthodox faith in Axum.  

Liqanos, who came from Constantinople moved to modern Adwa and established a monastery.

The monastery dubbed Monastery of Debre Qwenasel, founded after Liqanos learned the Ge’ze language.

Interesting facts about Axum you need to know

Apart from the reasons why Axum is a historic city, there are interesting facts about the city, which include;

  • It’s the first sub-Saharan African state to issue its currency though in coins. 
  • The people of Axum are the first to accept Christianity formally. 
  • The Axum city created a written script and its own language Ge’ze which still exists in present-day Ethiopia. 
  • Axumite coins were the first to bear the cross to signify the ruler’s dedication to Christianity. 
  • The Axum city or kingdom started issuing the silver and bronze coins around AD 270. 
  • Regarded as the holiest city in Ethiopia and an important pilgrimage destination. 
  • The Christian cathedral of St. Mary of Zion came into existence in 340 AD.
  • Monuments, especially the obelisk that Ezana, serve as an homage to the kingdom’s new faith. 
  • It’s a prominent spot for international trade as it traded in gold, unusual animal skins, and ivory.

Why is Axum Ethiopia a historically significant city?

Axum became an important historical city because of its monumental obelisk and an early hub of Christianity in Africa.

What are some essential characteristics of the kingdom of Axum Ethiopia?

The primary characteristic of the city is that it reached its peak power between the third and sixth centuries.

The city was also prosperous and stratified with divisions from nobles, elite class, lower status, and ordinary folks. 

What are essential things about the Axum Empire?

The city was among the advanced cultures of ancient Africa that developed a written language and minted their coins. 

They also farmed on the slopes of mountains by developing terraced farming and irrigation.  


The Ethiopian city of Axum has numerous historical sites and breathtaking landscapes, extending over 1.2 square km with churches, splendid monuments, and lots of other historical achievements. 

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