Aksum (ET)

Internet is still not working and tomorrow we will have a full day of driving, so if I can use it again it will be at the weekend when I can’t reach anyone I need to reach. Arggghh!


Today is the day that it occurred to me that going forward we will cramp in so much history that I may get historical mind overload. So far Africa hasn’t shown me much in terms of old buildings and the likes, the southern half of the continent primarily has beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Now it’s on and I wonder by when I will be sick of churches and Jesus talk. Maybe it’s not so bad that my Middle Eastern part of the trip will be canceled after all?! I had issues concentrating on what the guide said today as he was explaining the significance of the following sights (and I’m freely quoting from the Lonely Planet for a general summary):
We started at the Northern Stelae field which holds a bunch of huge monoliths that were used as gravestones over 1,800 years ago. They were sculpted from single pieces of granite and they are in pristine condition. Some have windows, doors and even doorknobs carved into them. When visiting the field you only see about 10 standing stelae, and a bunch of broken ones that are lying down, but supposedly there are over 120 of them here and 90% of them and their accompanying tombs have not been uncovered yet. They range from 1 to 33 meters in height, the three largest and most famous ones are Great Stele, King Ezana’s Stele and Rome Stele. Across the street is the St. Mary of Zion church which I skipped on this visit.


We checked out the museum and the Enda Iyesus church next to the Stelae, the latter has colorful paintings on all four walls telling the story of Jesus and other bible stuff.

Also closeby is the Queen of Sheba’s Bath, a large rock hewn water reservoir with rock steps leading to it and cows drinking from it next to women doing their laundry in the brown water. The Lonely Planet says that the Bath was built a millenium after the Queen of Sheba.

Yet another few yards up there is a shack that was built to protect the King Ezana’s inscription; a pillar inscribed in Sabaean, Ge’ez and Greek from 330 AD. It records the king’s Christian military campaigns in Ethiopia and southern Arabia, as well as his quest to return the Ark of the Covenant to Aksum from Lake Tana.

A bit further up from there are the Tombs of Kings Kaleb and Gebre Meskel. Kaleb ruled in the 6th century, he brought Arabia under Aksumite rule, and Meskel was his son. Both tombs are accessed via a long straight stairway, the Gebre Meskel tomb has one chamber and five rooms, finely carved portals, and three sarcophagi.

From this location you can see the hills of Adwa that we drove across in the pouring rain yesterday, and in the far distance you can also see Eritrea.


The Queen of Sheba’s palace, aka Dungur, is a bit further out in the middle of nowhere. These ruins also postdate the Queen by over 1,500 years or so. They are well preserved and fully excavated, a large structure with many rooms including a kitchen that still shows two large brick ovens.


This afternoon it is raining for the first time at a time I could use to walk around and do things. Whenever we had rain on this trip in the past it was in convenient times, i.e. at night or while we were driving. There are a million other ancient things to see here but I have to say that I’m not overly sad to miss them today.


Aksum was not as I expected it to be. This country surprises me every day. Aksum is historically so important that I expected plenty of tourists and therefore a fairly modern city. Neither was the case. It almost seemed as if the place hasn’t changed in the past century. Nobody yelled ‘farengi’ or asked for money, but unfortunately nobody spoke English either. At the internet cafe when I asked when they expect a connection the answer was ‘avocado or mango’. Huh. Thanks for nothing.


Acocado and mango juices are consumed everywhere here and the mix of both is delicious. They must use at least 10 of each to make it, it’s very rich and it has no additional ingredients. To replicate it at home I would have to spend a fortune but of course here the fruit costs nothing. Unfortunately it’s also the only fresh fruit you get along with bananas and limes. Available vegetables are tomatoes, onions and chili peppers, sometimes a cabbage.


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