Ethiopia – Day 4 – Axum

From 400 to 700AD Axum was the seat of an empire which extended from the Red Sea to Arabia.  It is now an unassuming town on the surface but is home to the most unbeliveable treasures.  After dumping our bags in the Sabean hotel (a pretty non descript town hotel….I would recommend staying in the Yeha hotel instead!) we were met by the Archaeologist Sam Walker who was to be our guide for the day.  Sam works for Axum University and has the challenging job of helping to uncover new finds whilst also ensuring that those that are already known about are protected properly.  He was a few minutes late meeting us as he had just come from showing George Bush around the sights of Axum……having us lot must have been quite a come down after the heady heights of GW Bush!
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First stop was the St Mariam church which Haile Sellasie built in the 60s.  Daily prayers were being sung when we were looking around and it was glorious to experience filled with the sound of mesmerising singing.
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The priests very kindly carefully unveiled a manuscript which was 500 years old for us to see.  It was in amazing condition considering it was used daily.
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Sam then showed us the Mariam Tsion Church which was said to house the Arc of the Covenant, the original holy tablets.  Unfortunately you are forbiddden to go inside so we weren’t able to see if this was true or not.  However, we were to witness our own miracle when Sam took us downstairs beneath the church to a modest room which housed the most unbelievable treasures.  There were coronation crowns from most of the Ethiopian kings, their robes & other gold & silver ornaments and many ancient manuscripts covered in dust. We were all flabbergasted that all these treasures were just thrown casually into glass cabinets with very little security, order or seeming care!!  This one room housed far more interesting artefacts than the entire national Museum in Addis.   The most mind boggling aspect was that normally it was not open to the public but unfortunately they didn’t allow any photos. We couldn’t believe that all these treasures aren’t  even seen by those who come to Axum.
We refuelled at the Yeha Hotel for lunch which is well worth a visit….not for the hotel itself but for the view over Axum.  Sam showed us around the Stelae, huge monuments on top of tombs.   They were erected in 350AD and are still standing tall today……apart from one that fell over when they were trying to erect it.  I can’t imagine how upset they must have been to have spent all that time creating it and carving the monument from one piece of rock, then transporting it the 6km from the quarry only for it to fall at the last hurdle! As if to make matters worse it fell onto another tomb destroying that too!
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Next stop was the hill top tomb of Kaleb and his son.  The tombs were on top of a hill which had views all the way to Eriteria.  Sam had discovered signs of a palace from around 400AD being on the site and he had applied for permission to excavate it which will undoubtedly bring up more fascinating finds.
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We were shadowed around the site by the most beautiful group of children who loved modelling for us and seeing the results of their work!
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Our final stop was at the ruins of the Palace of the Queen of Sheba which was again brought to life in a gripping way by Sam.  The team were so impressed by Sam and the way he explained the fascinating history and archaeology in such a simple but absorbing way.  No wonder he had hosted so many dignitaries such as G W Bush….and our fam trip group!
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