The holiest city in Ethiopia today, as well as an historical, architectural, and ethnographic heart of the ancient world, Axum was built between the first and thirteenth centuries. Axum was one of the first cities in the world to adopt Christianity (in 327 AD, preceded only by Constantinople in 312 AD) as a national religion. It is home to numerous inscribed stone obelisks and ancient churches, including Our Lady Mary of Zion, where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be kept.
A result of non-invasive archaeological studies by UNESCO, Axum is now known to have underground chambers used as a royal necropolis before the Christian era. It was designated as a World Heritage site in 1980.
A former center of trade in 100 BC, Axum was the first city in Africa to establish its own currency. It developed its own language (Ge’ez) and writing system, which are still in use today by priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Significant artifacts from ancient times are housed in various ethnographic and architectural museums in the city, including the Ezana stone written in Sabaean, Ge’ez, and ancient Greek, functioning much as did the ancient Egyptian Rosetta Stone used to decipher and translate hieroglyphics.
Evidence of the presence and importance of the Queen of Sheba can be found in religious texts sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, as well in various ruins in Axum. While legend and ancient documents differ in their explanations of Sheba’s relevance, one of the most popular stories attributes the birth of the first emperor of Ethiopia to her liaison with King Solomon in Israel.