This weekend I went to Axum, a town in the northern part of Ethiopia – Tigray. Probably the most famous things Axum are known for are allegedly housing the Ark of the Covenant in a local church, and its stelae, large funereal columns that dot several fields in the center of town.
Historically, Axum was an elite city during the early centuries of the Common Era, serving as a gateway from the Red Sea to the rest of Africa. It was on a major trade route, and, as such, it capitalized on its location by amassing riches. The city, which was reachable by a seven day journey from the Red Sea at that point in history, was filled with palaces and fortresses, and served an important part in history.
Traveling to Axum now, little of the city’s ancient and important history is discernable to a layperson’s eye. Gone are the ruins of palaces one might think to see, gone are the vestiges of Axumite wealth and elitism. Instead, as you walk down the cobblestone streets, you are besotted by beggar children, followed around (and licked – yes, it happened to me) by curious townspeople, as you dodge potholes,
camels, and donkeys loaded with goods.
Fortunately, I had the amazing opportunity to get a tour of the city from an archaeologist who works at Axum University. We walked the city for hours, as he showed us grave sites, newly discovered palace ruins, and signs of life thousands of years old.
As the day continued, I was more and more awestruck and fascinated by discovering the lives of people who had lived in that same space thousands of years ago. Near the end of our tour we stopped at a field to have a picnic dinner and enjoy some local music and dance. As we walked around the field, we found hundreds of pieces of ancient pottery, tools that dated from the 3rd century, and other remnants of people who had lived long ago. I love these experiences; they connect us to our past and our present, and remind us of the millions of people who have come before us who have contributed to the knowledge of the world we know today.
The trip was amazing. As soon as I can sort out my camera cord problem, I will upload some photos. It was a really special treat to be there,