Axum, at a glance

Axum is one of the most culturally significant places in Ethiopia. As with much of Ethiopia, exploring this town is to walk the tightrope between facts and legends, and no doubt the local guides will try and sway you towards the latter. That's all part of the fun. 

Axum is most famous for its Stelae field, where giant obelisks rise dozens of metres into the sky. These incredible structures became a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1980. They have fascinating history dating back to 400 BCE. 

Axum is less built up than many of the other towns in the north of Ethiopia, and the lack of quality hotels here mean most visits are kept to just one night. The Stelae and the nearby churches can be explored in an afternoon, and Axum is ideally located as a springboard for further explorations of Tigray and the Gheralta Mountains

Similarly, it's often placed right before or after an expedition into the Danakil Depression

Axum

Exploring the City

As the home to the Queen of Sheba and (as the story goes) the Ark of the Covenant – the storied artefact of Moses’ 10 commandments – Axum is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in northern African, dating back to 400 BC.

A quick trip to the north of the city reveals the Stelae field of various monuments that were carved and erected in the 4th century, known as the Obelisks of Axum. The proud pillars, each over 1,700 years old, 24 meters tall, made of solid granite and some weighing over 160 tons, are impressive sights to behold.

In the same area, researchers have uncovered a number of tombs in Axum since the 1970s, but sadly many had been plundered by tomb raiders and only one such grave, The Tomb of the False Door, is now open to visitors.

Do not miss the Church of Saint Mary of Zion. Locals will tell you it is one of the most sacred of places in the whole of Ethiopia, not only does it house the Ark of the Covenant, but also has a long history dating back some 1,700 years. 

This World Heritage site is often referred to as “Abyssinia” in medieval texts and is considered the heart of ancient Ethiopia. It is a marvel of obelisks, ruins of castles, undiscovered tombs, beautiful churches and other cultural treasures spanning several centuries and embracing different religions.

Axum

Towering stelae in Axum.

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Accommodation in Axum

Accommodation in Axum

Most visitors spend just a night in Axum, enough to visit the obelisks and churches before moving on. Accommodation options are not great here, so be prepared for more basic …

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Obelisk of Axum

Obelisk of Axum

Occupying prime position in the Axum skyline, the Obelisks of Axum have a history steeped in war, power, occupation and hope. Despite many years spent in relative disrepair, the …

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Ark of the Covenant

Ark of the Covenant

Famous world over for appearance in the Steven Spielberg classic, the legend surrounding the Ark of Covenant and its true powers is one steeped in ancient mystery. 

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