AXUM: CITY of FAITH. PLACE of LEGEND
Axum was the eponymous capital of a substantial kingdom in ancient times, which flourished for many centuries – from the 1st to 7th centuries AD – and had a long pagan and then Christian history. It covered a territorythat include the present day the regional state of Tigrai in northern Ethiopia and the now independent country of Eritrea, as had earlier Da’amat. But its boundaries stretched further than those of its predecessor, encompassing peripheral lands to the south and west and, at times, even extending to territories across the Red Sea. To date little evidence has been uncovered for charting the rise of Axum – thought it seems to have evolved from an amalgamation of tribal chiefdomes, their roots going back to the earlier kingdom of Da’amat. Their language, Ge’ez, was written with script evolved from ancient Sabaean.
Axum was lay at heart of inland Africa trade route, one of of which crucially linked the lucrative Nile Valley with the west of continent. And once its port, Adulis (now Eritrea) was opened up it could further link these into the Red Sea trading route. Through Adulis the Axumite traded far and wide with lands at distant and diverse as India, Ceylon, South Arabia and the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire (including Syria, Palstine and Egypt), with this contact came not simply trade goods but also cultural, material and religious influences.
The Axumite route introduces the visitor to the significance of the city as the centre of one of the four great empires of the early 1st millennium AD. This is epitomized in the tablets inscribed in Greek and the local Sabaean and Ge’ez scripts describing the activities of its emperors, the monumental granite stelae and the extensive tombs, some of which have yielded grave goods that are testament to the luxury artifacts traded from China to Spain. The visitor should ideally set aside a full day to best appreciate this walking tour. It is best started in the early morning with a long lunch break, with the tour of stelae resuming in the later afternoon.