Axum, Ethiopia

From the 10th to the 1st centuries BC, Axum (also spelled Aksum) was the capital of the great Axumite Empire, which is considered one of the last of the great civilizations. It was a thriving hub of commerce with Red Sea and Indian Ocean ports and the earliest Christian kingdom in the world.

Modern Axum retains little of its former grandeur, but it is still the spiritual heart of the country. It is a deeply religious city (both Ethiopian Orthodox and Sunni Muslim) that houses the country's most sacred artifact, the reputed Ark of the Covenant.

Axum is where Christianity arrived in the fourth century and it is the holiest city of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Axum is also a delight to archaeologists, with ruins of ancient tombs, stelae, palaces and churches seen everywhere. Amazingly, 98 percent of the ancient city remains to be excavated. For all this historical and religious richness, the city of Axum has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant
The biblical Ark of the Covenant mysteriously disappeared from Jerusalem sometime before Christ. But Ethiopians and some western theorists know exactly where it is: enshrined in this chapel in Axum.
Axum Stelae Field
Dating from around 300-500 AD, the famous Axum stelae probably predate the arrival of Christianity. Their purpose is almost certainly religious, but the details are not known for certain.
New Church of St. Mary of Zion
Emperor Haile Selassie founded this new Church of St. Mary of Zion next to the old one. It was completed in 1964. Unlike the original, the new St. Mary of Zion allows entrance to women.