Aksum is considered the holiest city in Ethiopia. Christianity was declared the national religion here in the fourth century by the ruler, Ezana, who constructed much of the monumental architecture and converted much of the Axumite Kingdom’s population to Christianity around 330 AD after his own conversion. Once a prosperous kingdom on the Tigray Plateau, it was close to the Blue Nile basin and the Afar depression and accessible to the port of Adulis on the Red Sea coast, which allowed it to maintain trade relations with many nations including Egypt. India, the Sudan and Arabia.

At its peak, Aksum controlled territories as far as southern Egypt, east to the Gulf of Aden, south to the Omo River and west to the Cushite Kingdom of Meroe. The South Arabian kingdom of the Himyarites was also under its power.

The modern city of Aksum is located in the north-eastern portion of what is now Ethiopia, on the horn of Africa. It lies high on a plateau 2,195 m (7,200 ft) above sea level. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Aksum is where the original Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments, is located. The Ark is supposed to be in the seventeenth-century church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. but only its guardian may look at it. The church’s museum has a small but impressive collection of bibles, crosses and crowns.

Just past the museum is Aksum’s ancient stelae field. These are enormous carved pillars made from single granite blocks, the highest of those still standing is a looming 24 m (79 ft) tall.

Just outside of town you will find the ruins of King Kaleb’s Tomb, the Queen of Sheba’s Palace and the Pentalewon Monastery. Women are not allowed inside the monastery, but the views from here are worth the somewhat arduous walk up the hill.