Photo by Els Slots.

Aksum is an archaeological site that covers the remains of an influential city of ancient Ethiopia.

It was the capital of the powerful Axumite Kingdom (1st-8th centuries CE), which played an important role at the crossroads of Africa, Arabia and the Greco-Roman World. The site is especially known for its large monolithic carved stelae and obelisks. Furthermore, it is believed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Aksum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant.

Community Perspective: The stelae park is well worth the visit, while the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion gets mixed reviews. Females are forbidden to enter the latter.

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Wojciech Fedoruk

Poland - 25-Jan-24 -

Aksum by Wojciech Fedoruk

Site visited in January 2024. Aksum is well covered by the previous reviewers, but since 8 years have passed since the latest review, I decided to add a new one.

Aksum is treated as the true cradle of Ethiopia, both in terms of state and religious power. State, because it was the first great kingdom in these areas, stretching from today's eastern Sudan to the footholds on the Arabian Peninsula. Religious, because Aksum in the 4th century adopted Christianity, which is still the dominant religion in Ethiopia. Aksum is home to the most important church in Ethiopia - the Church of Our Lady of Zion. In fact, there are two churches of this name - the old one, from the 17th century, and the new one, built on the orders of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1965. The old one is located within the monastery, so only men can enter it. The new one is available for women and men. In the Chapel of Tablets built between them, according to the Ethiopian tradition, there is the Ark of the Covenant, brought here supposedly by King Menelik I, son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. No one except monks can enter it. And right next to the Chapel of Tablets there are the ruins of the oldest temple, dating back to the 4th century.

Opposite the church there are monumental ruins with several stelae of incredible size. The largest one, weighing about 520 tons, collapsed (perhaps already at the time of construction, although our guide seemed to believe that it was deliberately destroyed), but the second largest one, 23 meters high and over a hundred tons, is still standing today. although for almost 70 years it resided elsewhere. It was stolen on Mussolini's orders during the short Italian occupation of Ethiopia and returned only in 2005.

Right next to it there is a third stele, slightly smaller than its predecessor, as well as the ruins of a royal tomb, once covered with a huge single block of stone weighing over 300 tons. As in the case of the Egyptian pyramids, scientists do not have a clear answer to the question of how such huge weights were transported and lifted up.

Completing the list of Aksum's monuments, it is worth mentioning the recently discovered royal tomb, which contains a sarcophagus that has not been opened until today, as well as the Dungur Palace, also called the palace of the Queen of Sheba - a monumental structure from the 3rd century BC.

I visited Aksum just over a year after the bloody war in Tigray. It is surprising, but also comforting, that today Tigray is a region where traveling is much easier than in Afar or eastern Oromia. Unlike the latter, there are almost no checkpoints in Tigray. The conflict is still smoldering - Eritrea has not withdrawn from the areas occupied during the war, and the conflict with Amhara over the so-called Western Zone or Mi'irabawi. Despite everything, Tigray currently seems very safe, the only visible traces of the war at first glance are broken windows in some cities. As for Aksum, it suffered rather little damage in the war, only ancient coins were stolen from the local museum. The sacral museum with its magnificent artifacts remained untouched.

Gary Arndt

USA - 16-Nov-16 -

Aksum by Gary Arndt

I visited Aksum in March 2016 as part of a trip to Ethiopia. Aksum is the holiest place in Ethiopian Christianity. Every Ethiopian Coptic church has a replica of the Arc of the Covenant which is believed to reside in the city of Aksum. I was there during Lent which allowed me to view many of the processions around the church.

In addition to the holy areas, there are also several ancient obelisks dating back to the Aksum Empire of the 3rd and 4th Century.

Be warned that there is a church on the grounds which is only accessible to men.

Read more about Aksum on my website.

Tekle Hagos

Ethiopia - 14-Nov-15 -

I visited Aksun on several occasions and I always see new elements that broaden my perception about the miracles of ancient human creative genius.For this reason I found Aksum as the best tourist destination area in Ethiopia.

The landscape of Aksum preserve archaeological ruins dating from the early first century AD. The world heritage site of Aksum preserves over 1000 monolithic stelae that may have been tomb marks of the Aksumite elites and middle class Aksumites dating from the second up to the 4th centuries AD. the largest decorated and standing stelae are found in the Main Stelae Field that worth visiting by all. Aksum all preserves ancient palaces dating to the 6th and 7th centuries AD that are locate on the western part of the town. Remains of these palaces are still visible on the surface of the old Aksum town. These palaces are known as Ta'aka Mariam, Endasimon, Endamikael and Dingure palace. In addition there are underground built up and rock cut tombs that are found at the town of Aksum and its outskirts that worth visiting.The best tombs to be visited are the Mausoleum, the Tomb of the Brick Arches, the Tomb of the False Door located in the Main Stelae Field and the Tombs of Kaleb and Gebre Meskal located 2 km to the north of the town of Aksum.

The Hills that surround the town of Aksum are the best place to be visited. The Hill of Betegiorgis preserves over 1000 monolithic stelae both dressed and undressed ones. the earliest stelae dating to 5th century BC are found in this hill that I recommend every one to visit this site.It is half an hour walk to climb it and the best spot took the town of Aksum from Above. The Hill of Gobo Dura located 5 km to the west of the town of Aksum preserve an evidence of quarrying for the production of the largest stelae and an ancient road for transporting the unfinished stelae to the town of Aksum. If you go to the same place you witness the mystery of ancient humans how they carved and transported block of stones that weigh over 500 tons to a distance of over 5 km from the hill top to the plain.

David Rose

USA - 20-Jul-06 -

Aksum both surprised and disappointed me when I visited there in June of 2006.

First of all, we saw these tombs that were similar to the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, but without the hieroglyphics and ornate carvings. Still, very interesting.

The guide told me that 83% of Aksum was not yet surveyed because of poor funding. British and International archeologists are busy cleaning up sites, digging out tombs and preparing the way for tourists.

Three or four of the sites were not yet open to the public. One opened 2 weeks after I left.

The stelae park was well worth the visit, and in a few years (once again-funding), the stelae that the Italians stole and then gave back will be constructed just like it was in Rome.

Across the street was the church of St. Mary. It is a modern church, but I had the privelege of seeing their enormous 300 year old bible. Fantastic. David Lewis is right, the church where the ark is supposedly held is not so great. Though learning about the controversy is quite interesting. I have researched it and most scholars actually do trace the ark to Ethiopia...but then again, that's only if its still around.

The museum was interesting, but only at 10% capacity (they had about 20 tin sheds on the property chock full of ancient items from the area). The museum is being built behind stelae park.

Our guide took us to some shack far away from the city and inside was a type of "Rosetta" stone. A tablet with ancient greek (big hit with me), G'iz, and...something else. Tourists are apparently allowed to trace over it with paper if they wish. I wish I would have known about this place before I went, I would have brought something to copy it with(the tablet itself is hard to read).

Lastly, Queen Sheba's palace (if Sheba did indeed live there--our guide explained that many scholars doubt she ever existed) was like Hadrian's Wall in the UK. Various kinds of rocks stacked on top of one another and a few rock tiles. The guide told me that the locals had taken much of the property and want to sell the antiques back to the government. For example: Queen Sheba's throne. If the government tries to take the stuff back, the locals break it.

Aksum needs more funding for it to compete with the major sites in Egypt and Morocco. It has a lot to offer for allocentric tourists, but I was a bit disappointed.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 12-Dec-03 -

Aksum by Els Slots

The largest standing stele in Aksum I rate definitely as a world-class sight. In a way so simple and so pure. But also so mysterious: how is it possible that a civilization existed here 2000 years ago that was capable of constructing such great monuments?

In and around the center of Aksum, many more remains of the Axumite Empire can be found. It's a bit like walking around in Greece - ruins scattered here and there. There is the Queen of Sheba's Bath, King Ezana's stone, and King Kalebs Palace.

Another interesting thing to see in Aksum is the old St. Mary of Zion Church. Though not open to women, you can sit in the adjoining park and watch daily religious life go by.

David Lewis

Canada - 01-May-05 -

I visited Aksum in February of 2002, and found many wonderful historic sights that I had never heard of before going to Ethiopia. The Stallea park is very interesting and there are many differnt styles, but that is just the start.

Unless you happen to be in the north part of the country, the best way to get to Aksum is by flying. When I was there a flight would cost about 350 Birr, which at the time was less than 100 dollars Canadian (about 65 American Dollars). The flight is about 2 1/2 hours from Addis Abbaba, and as car rental is expensive it is very economical to fly. You can take a bus for about 100-150 Birr but it is a very long drive ( 16-20 hours minimum and very uncomfortable) however I did ride many buses in Ethiopia and you will always be very safe and you will meet many friendly people who love to chat with anyone forign.

Once you arrive at the Airport, you can get a lift into town with one of many hotels. The hotels offer a free shuttle into the town and since you will have to stay somewhere it is best to get a ride with the shuttle as Taxis are quite expensive 30-50 dollars Canadian.

The hotle I stayed at was the Africa hotel and Rooms were around 50 Birr a night which was around 10 Dollars Canadian (6-7 American) The Africa is quite a basic hotel but it is central, clean and has hot water (it is important to check because not hotels have hot water). The is also a very nice hotel called the Yehe which is very attractive, and has the most forign guests. The Yehe is pricy by Etiopian Standards but to Westerners 50 Dollars a night is not surprising and as it sits on a hilltop with a wonderful view it's well woth the extra money if you like creature comforts. I was travelling with family who were volunteers in Ethiopia and they were fine with budget hotels, so we didn't stay there but I chatted with many people and The Yehe is quite attractive.

The best way to see all Aksum has to offer is to go to the museum and find a guide. As you make your way through town you will be approached by many, many peolpe offering to be your guide. It is best to hold out for an official guide. The people who approch you in the street are quite frindly but their knowledge is often suspect. When you get to the museum you will again be approched by many guides. Some are actual archeologists and they will ask for about 400 Birr for the Day, but if you negotiate you can settle on a price of around 200 Birr which is a fair price. As an aside many people told me they got a better price, but since Ethiopia is a very poor country I didn't mind paying a little more. I will say be sure to ask questions of your guide and don't hesitate to ask for some credentials. The quality of guides really varries and a legit guide will be able to show you some identification. Since there is a lot to see a good guide is vital, and the njoyment you get is important. Also legit guides have keys to some sights that only they have access to and are really worth seeing. I can't say this enough spend the money on an experienced guide and your trip will be much better. You will also be wise to hire a taxi for the day since the days are very hot. Healthy people who don't mind a lot of walking may forgo a taxi, but if you want to see all the sights the 150 Birr for a taxi for the whole day is a good investment.

The Stellae park is not to be missed, and Queen Sheba's Palace is also a sight not to be missed . The Church of St. Mary's is said to house the Ark Of The Covenant, but it costs about 100 Birr for a "Donation" (required to enter) and Women are not allowed to enter, and I must say it is a very high cost for something that I didn't find very interesting, also you aren't actually shown the Ark Of the Covenent, just a building where it is housed. Besides all that most scholars don't believe the Ark even is in the building. I will say that I am not a religous person and some people I spoke with who were very relgious thought it was terrific, so if you are a devout Christian you may want to see the church.

Overall I would say that Aksum is one of the most intersting sights I visited in Ethiopia and it is well worth the trek. I would also suggest seeing the rock-hewn Churches of Lalibella and if you go by plane you can fly directly from one sight to the other. One of the nice things about both these sights is that Tourism is not very popular in Ethiopia so you can see everything at your leisure without fighting big crowds. I was very happy I went to Ethipia and I have seldom met nicer people anywhere in the world.

Site Info

Full Name
Unesco ID
1 4
Archaeological site - Civilizations of Sub-Saharan Africa

Site History

1980 Inscribed

1979 Deferred

Bureau meeting - info requested in 78 still not in place

1978 Deferred

Bureau meeting - info requested


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World Heritage Process