The next day we flew to Axum a town close to Ethiopia's northern border. Between the 1st and 8th centuries AD, the Axumite kingdom controlled most of present-day Ethiopia including territories in the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The achievements of this culture are still visible in the remarkable obelisks or stelae in Axum. Many scholars believe the obelisks are the tallest single pieces of stone ever quarried and erected in the ancient world. The tallest, over 33 metres tall lies fallen and broken into six massive pieces. Some theorize that it may have fallen during the process of erection. The tallest obelisk still standing at Azum is 23 metres tall. Dad had visited this site before but hadn't seen one of the obelisks which had been removed and taken to Rome during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. It was returned to Axum in 2005 and re-erected in 2008.
Our afternoon was spent visiting a church complex featuring the old and new cathedrals of St. Mary of Zion. The two cathedrals are considered one of the holiest sites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the new cathedral we were shown a 5th century goat-skin Bible and listened to a group of priests and deacons chanting.
Between the two cathedrals is a small chapel known as The Chapel of the Tablet which is said to hold the original ark of the covenant. Admittance to the chapel is closed to all but a guardian monk, so we are none the wiser after visiting.
One of the most fascinating parts of the afternoon was seeing the crowns and royal robes which are housed in a 'museum.' In old dusty cupboards, some with cracked glass, were crowns worn by emperors from long ago.
Today they don't allow you to photograph the crowns and robes. Forty years ago women were not even allowed into the church to see them. When Dad and Mum and some other women visited over forty years ago, a priest kindly brought out the crowns for the women to see and so the photos posted are Dad's slides from years ago.