The Ancient Kingdom
Axum is Ethiopian oldest urban settlement. The Axumite kingdom was one of the greatest African civilizations after Egypt and Meroe; it was flourished in the first millennia BC. Axum was the capital and major religion center; it remains the site of many remarkable antiquities, including the famous monolithic obelisks, or stelae, Ancient stone inscriptions, the ruins of very old palace of Queen of Sheba and graves of Axumite kings and ancient gold, silver and bronze coins. Axum, in its heyday, was a great commercial centre, issuing its own currency, and trading with Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, and even Ceylon.
The three giant monolithic stelae are carved to represent multistoried buildings with a pseudo-door, different type of windows and the so-called ‘monkey-heads’ in Axumite architectural style. The largest obelisk, which was 32.6 meters long and weighed 517 tons, is the biggest piece of stone ever hewn out by man from the quarries of the ancient world.
Church of St Mary of Zion
Axum is also famous for its St. Mary of Zion Church, is the oldest of all churches in Ethiopia, rich for its historic and ecclesiastical relics as well as the original Ark of the Covenant is housed in. The Ethiopian epic, the Kibre Negest (Glory of the Kings) tells us that Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the original Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum and thereby established one of the world’s longest known and uninterrupted monarchical dynasties. Impressive ruins, monuments and archaeological artifacts abound in and around Axum attesting to the solid, articulate, confident, literate and resourceful strength of this civilization.
The Ark of the Covenant is believed still to be kept in the Church of St. Mary of Zion erected on the original location of the oldest church of Ethiopia. The Axumite Kingdom's conversion to Christianity in the 4th century makes Ethiopia, after Armenia and Georgia, the third oldest Christian country.