We needed our ride, our hotel room, showers and laundry – stat! (Bereket needed to be dipped completely into some 'large boy washing machine’ he was so dirty. It was as if he experienced three days to each of our one on the mountain).
After all this time of travelling, there is nothing quite as wonderful as seeing your name being held up on a piece of paper as you walk into the baggage area of the airport. Even if it’s spelled “Michell Quin”. Here was our ride – check! We don’t have to wait for bags and the airport is very close to the city of Axum, so we are at our lovely Consolar Hotel very quickly – check! They even showed us a few rooms so we could choose. Sadly the one with the soaker tub only came with one bed so we had to think of the children and where they would sleep (sigh!) and choose the room with two beds and the shower. It’s a very nice room though and quite large, so – check!
The next morning we had arranged for a guide to take us around Axum to show us the sites. It just happened to be the same guide that worked with the Danish/English family we met in Addis. We had planned on phoning him when we arrived but, as luck turned out, he worked for our hotel and was the man holding the sign with my name on it at the airport. Sadly he was a bit disappointed in us and our lack of interest in other larger tours. It’s difficult with a trip like we are taking. If we were just going to Ethiopia, we could do so much more but we have to think of all the other countries we are going to and budget accordingly. Adding to this, the kids are becoming very weary of tours. They've seen a lot and are reaching information overload. So we’re taking a step back and just hanging out a bit in Axum (and Gondar) to try and give them a break as well.
So, it wasn't too surprising when we saw him the next morning that our arranged guide introduced us to a different tour guide that would be our guide for that day. Our tour guide, Bekaylu, was a very nice man and walked with us through the new part of the city to the old part, pointing out various things before taking us to the main churches and the Stelae.
Let’s start with the Ark of the Covenant, shall we? Ethiopian historical records and tradition say that the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon and had a baby with him named Menelik. Menelik was raised in Ethiopia but went to visit his father in Jerusalem and stayed with him for many years. He returned with the Ark of the Covenant. It is being kept in a chapel at the Old St. Mary’s of Zion Church. The chapel where it is kept is not accessible to anyone, not even to Ethiopia’s many emperors throughout the years. One Priest stays with it at all times. David and Bereket were able to go into the outer church to look around while Eskedar and I sat on a bench outside. Men only since it’s a Monastery.
A Deacon showed us around the church and demonstrated the echoing properties of the round design. It would be amazingly loud when everyone is singing and chanting! He also showed us the Bible they read from that is 500 years old. It’s really unbelievable to see him just handling this 500 year old book that’s just on a lectern and letting us take photos. The book is so vibrant, even after all these years.
The biggest, measuring over 33m (108 ft) and weighing about 500 tonnes, fell somewhere around the 4th Century AD and now lies in broken fragments on the ground. Another, 24.8m (80 ft) high, fell while the tombs were being pillaged around the 10th Century AD. It was looted by the invading forces of Italy and taken to Rome, where it stood, from 1937 to 2005. It was returned to Axum and re-erected in 2008. The transportation company said that it was the largest and heaviest structure ever transported by air (it was transported in three pieces). It cost 6 million euros to ship!
Now, just ten months ago, this post would have been totally different. I would say that the local people have always had a tradition that this site was the site of the Palace of Queen of Sheba but, in the 1970’s when some French archaelogists were digging in the field and found the remains of a Palace, they dated it to only the 6th or 7th century AD. Long after the Queen of Sheba. Then everyone would think, ‘oh how quaint of the local people to still believe in that legend.’
But wait! You see, nine months ago, a German team of archaeologists started digging underneath this palace and they found the remains of another palace. That palace just happens to date to the Queen of Sheba’s time and they've already found a couple of amazing pieces that they have taken back for analysis. I love when the legend is right!
And today David walked a couple blocks down to get his and my Keen shoes sewn up at one of the many shoe stalls we noticed on our tour. As you might remember, we are only travelling carry-on and have just the shoes on our feet. David and I have noticed that our shoes are starting to come away a bit on the sides and they needed some attention. Luckily for us, we could get them done quickly and easily right near our hotel. David and Bereket walked down and the young man did a great job sewing them up with heavy-duty thread.
Our next post will be in Gondar. We fly from Axum to Gondar tomorrow morning. Until then, thank you, as always, for reading!