“The queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones” (I Kings 10:2). “Never again came such an abundance of spices” (10:10; II Chron. 9:1–9) as those she gave to Solomon. She came “to prove him with hard questions,” which Solomon answered to her satisfaction. They exchanged gifts, after which she returned to her land.”  You most likely remember the story from the Old Testament about the wise King Solomon and the exotic queen of Sheba. But do you know where did she come from? Here is the answer – she was a queen of the Ethiopians and her capital was Axum. The cradle of the Ethiopian civilisation.

She travelled far away to Jerusalem because she heard about the wisdom of King Salomon and wanted to know him. She learned from him many secrets and she brought the Christian faith with her back to Axum. That is exactly why the Ethiopians are Christians even though the live far away in the Horn of Africa.

 

Before she left, there was a great feast in the King’s palace. The Queen stayed in the palace overnight, after Solomon had sworn that he would not do her any harm, while she swore in return that she would not steal from him. As the meals had been spicy, Sheba awoke thirsty at night and went to drink some water. When Solomon appeared, reminding her of her oath, she answered: “Ignore your oath, just let me drink water.”

Let’s put a veil on what happened after that but on the next day Solomon gave Sheba a ring as a token of faith. On her way home, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Baina-leḥkem (“Son of the Wise Man”) who later became the famous Ethiopian king Menelik I.

When we were there, the obelisk was just about to arrive and great festivities were being prepared to commemorate this very unique event. The Ethiopians felt that finally historic justice is on their side.

Michal

Menelik I, when he grew up, went to visit his father in Jerusalem and stayed there for many years. When he was about to return, he took with him the most holy artefact that existed in Jerusalem – the Ark of Covenant containing the Ten Commandments Moses received from God. Three millennia have passed since then and the Ark is hidden till this day in a special church in Axum and a copy of it is in every church in Ethiopia.

I believe you know the famous old movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Well, Axum has kept exactly what Indiana Jones was looking for. Indiana Jones made a big mistake by not visiting this place. Next time you watch this movie – tell him to look elsewhere 🙂

 

But the ancient Ethiopians learned not only from the Jews. They learned from the ancient Egyptians too. One of the things they learned was the art of constructing steles (also known as obelisks), which were enormous stone carved columns invented by the Egyptians to show their power and technological advancement.

The Ethiopians decided to show that they are not a lesser civilisation and erected six of them in their capital Axum. The tallest one of them (33 meters) unfortunately collapsed and broke, but the second biggest one stood proud for centuries. Unfortunately, after standing peacefully for such a long time, it became a victim of Mussolini who, during the Abyssinian war and after conquering Axum, decided in 1937 to steal the stele and bring it to Rome. 

It took the Ethiopians over 70 years of negotiations and a United Nations resolution to finally get it back.

When we were there, the stele was just about to arrive and great festivities were being prepared to commemorate this very unique event. The Ethiopians felt that finally historic justice is on their side.

Axum is one of the great historic cities of Ethiopia. It is the one located furthest north, close to the Eritrean border. It is therefore considered as a not fully safe location, as incidents occur also sometimes to tourists due to the tensions between the two countries. We were lucky that nothing happened to us, but before you go there, please be aware and do not go unprepared.

Sources/bibliography & further read

It is always worth having a look at the UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated to Axum. You can also have a look at the Sacred Sites website, although some of the facts mentioned there are slightly exaggerated.

Gallery

Special thanks to the authors of some of the featured photos: Rafal Janas, Anna Banczyk and Tomasz Rados who participated in this trip.

Map

Where to look?

Music

Travel soundtrack

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Michal

Michal got addicted to travelling at the age of seven months, when he visited his grandparents in Egypt. Since then he visited nearly one hundred countries on five continents. Passionate about history, culture, international relations and diplomacy. Speaks fluently eight languages, and understands six more. Loves to organise trips for his friends, family and everyone who is interested. Loved to pilot planes until he met the love of his life. Works for the project he believes in – the European Union. When not travelling, not working, not spending time with his family – you can find him in the gym.

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