At first glance it looks somewhat unpromising but according to Paul this is where Ethiopia derives it name. ‘ Noah’s son Ham had Kush > he in turn sired Ethiopic from whom the name of the Ethiopia derived its name.
Present day history of Ethiopia begins with the history of the Aksumite Empire’. There is no camping so we book into a small hotel.
Some two hundred and ninety kilometres inland from the Red Sea Axum contains the most important symbols of Ethiopians civilization. It is the foundations of present day Ethiopian history. In short we are about to travelled 3000 years back through the history of Ethiopia to the glorious days of the Aksumites Empire’s.
After the fall of the Aksumite Empire, Ethiopia to a large extent remained isolated from the outside world for over a thousand years. We on the other hand remained after a long but fantastic drive dead to the world for the night.
Venturing out in the late morning the first think that strikes us is the obelisks or stelae’s (huge stone monoliths) of single blocks of granite scattered over a kilometre wide area. Ranging from 33 meters high to a few meters hardly any remain upright. They by some means deeply impart the tumbled power of a mysterious world. Carved with precision these tombstones are without question the most wondrous features of this ancient place. Represent multi-storeyed buildings with imitation wooden beams, windows, doorways with bolts and locks at their bases they lie splattered all over the place. Some of them had imitation viewing galleries at their top crowned by a high pediment with a burial chamber at their base.
One in particular took Mussolini fancy. He had the monolithic block of solid granite weighing one hundred and sixty tonnes nicked. It is no wonder that after humping it along the roads that his boys were wiped out. Till recently it stood in exile for 68 years in front of the Food and Agricultural Organisation headquarters in Rome. It Remaining a bone of contention between Italy and Ethiopia until last year or so when the world heritage people of UNESCO that look after 812 of the world heritage sites brokered a deal to have it transported back to Axum section by section.
The return journey required a few bridges to be reinforced along the way and apparently also the runway in Addis with the last section arriving in April 2005. Since then a geo-radar and eletrotornographic prospection of the site where the obelisk is to be re-erect revealed underground tombs that await examination to this day.
In present day modern Axum centre is a 17th century church called Mariam Zion ( standing alongside it is St Mary of Zion built Haile Sallassie I and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965) the mother church of all twenty-two thousand Orthodox Ethiopian churches with 250,000 clergy. In its Holy of Holies is now where the Ark of the Covenant lives not that anyone has ever seen it. First built-in 321 AD by Emperor Ezana the greatest of Aksumite Emperors (307AD-333AD) it was burnt down by Queen Yodit re built by King Anbassa Wudim destroyed by Ahmed Gragn rebuilt by Emperor Fasil in 1662.
Ever since Queen Yodit took a look around inside no woman are allowed in.
As far as we know it has never being visited by Indiana Jones.
As to where the container of the original tablets actually are your guess is as good as anyone’s > Hidden on Mount Nebo on the Jordan River or beneath the Dome of the Rock Shrine on the Temple Mount or in the Dead Sea. No one knows. What is for certain is that no one has seen them for a heck of a long time so in the egotism chance that I might be the first lay my hands on the Ten Commandments I pay the church a visit.
Inside the compound of the church the ark is protected by one priest and two cannon. Once they were four cannon. The retreating Italians help themselves to two. Back in Emperor Yohannes IV times (1871-1889) there were forty-six cannon, which he had captured from the Dervishes. In front of the church are four stone pillars a long time ago used for coronation ceremonies. The Emperor to be crowned sat on pillar like a throne. The last bum to sit was Haile Sellassie I.
All attempts with my Irish blarney to talk the priest into giving me a peep at Moses handiwork fail. I have to content myself with a gander through rusty railings at row of various Emperors crowns housed in a glass display unit that could do with a lick of paint. It seems that everything that exalts life at the same time increases its absurdity.Reunited with the girls we wander around the obliterate ruins of the palaces of the Emperors Inda Mikael, Enda Simeon and Taeka Mariam. What left is beyond our architectural mind’s eye so we wander over to have a look at the Queen of Saba bathtub where she last scrub three thousand years ago.
Once again it take a stupendous leap of trust to visualize her wandering down with her cortege of waiting ladies watched I am sure by the odd peeping tom to take a dip.
On the way back we pop into a tomb containing an empty stone sarcophagus. I try it for size. A little tight on the shoulders other wise it is a perfect fit. Having reinforced the values of family ties we return to the land of the living to be approach by a youth offering to sell a few Asumite coins. Aksum coins have being found in Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia, India and in many a private collection and museum worldwide.
Like Mussolini we can’t resist the temptation to have a bit of history purchasing a small battered coin. Of the twenty four Aksumite Emperors known from their coins only five are recorded in history we will have to wait till we get home to see which one we got out of the lucky dip.
Back in the hotel over a bottle or two of Ethiopian beer I preferring the St George label to the Bedele (Beer labels) we decide to push on in the morning.
Leaving what only can be called an archaeologists Pandora box in waiting Axsum leaves us with a deep sense of time. The earth they say is 4.6 billion years old and the sun has another 5 billion years before it expires. Another words earth is at the half way mark. Evolution teaches us that humanity will expire some time when is the big question and how is the small question?
Like all before since living time began 3.5 billion years ago us humans are only just one little blip since then.
Our route passes through Ādwa and onto Yeha one of Ethiopia’s oldest sacred places.The ruins of the temple of Yeha date from the 5th century B.C. are a must according to Fanny. A few kilometres after Ādwa we branch off on to a very bumpy track in search of Yehas Temple of the Moon. It appears on a knoll > a rectangular edifice twelve meters high with a dollar demanding Youth.
I show little interest in paying to see what exceedingly visible from where we are parked is. Begrudgingly parking Williwaw I follow the girls into what was once a pagan temple, till the arrival of the Nine Saints (a group of missionaries welcomed by the Axum who spread Christianity in Ethiopia)
Now just four large walls enclosing an empty space there can be no doubt that who ever built this place were far from wet behind the ears master masons.
Ever block of limestone without mortar is grafted skin-tight to its neighbour. Not a squeak of sunlight between them can be seen. Fanny has her more than just interested hat on. After twenty minutes of listing to her saying “there is a feel about this place” I eventually threaten to leave her to walk back to the main drag.
Appealing to all nine saints, Abba Pantelewon, Gerima, Aftse, Guba, Alef, Yem’aha, Linganos, Aragawi, and abba Sehma that her the funny side would reappear on the way back we hit the last bump to rejoin the main drag. Consulting our map we are almost on the Eritrea border. Fanny is in no mood to make a navigational decision.
All of our enquiries back in Addis Ababa as to the possibilities of crossing into Eritrea, were met with “It is impossible.” In the off-chance that there might be away to cross I turn Williwaw towards the border to have a gander at the potential.
Heading towards the Adowa Mountains the battleground where Europeans suffered their biggest defeat since Hannibal Asmera the capital of Eritrea lies just over 100 kilometres further north.
It is in this region of Tigray that Emperor Menelik II a mere three thousand years after Menelik I mustered an army of over 100,000 fed by 72,000 cattle and practically armed by the Italians went to war against the Italians over the wording of an earlier treaty called the Wuchale Treaty 1889 the origin of Eritrea.
The Treaty written both in Italian and Amharic was as most treaties take to mean one thing to one side and another on the other side. The Italian version stated that Ethiopia consented to use the Italian government for conducting its foreign affairs while the Amharic version use the words “may use.”
Another words Ethiopia was in Italian eye’s a protectorate and on the Ethiopian side an independent sovereign state.
The battle that followed signalled the beginning and the end of the Scramble for Africa but not the end to hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Approaching the border one can’t help but see this fact. World war trenches, barbed wire and the odd abandoned tank confirm that any crossing into Eritrea will take a lot more than a dash. We turn back.
Heading north we arrive at Adigrat. Here we stay the night at the back of a small café. Turning south in the morning we now have the Danakil desert on our left as we enter the land of Rock-Hewn Churches. With over two hundred of them scattered over the mountains and plains it is difficult not to visit one. The one we pick turns out to be the worst nightmare of our whole journey.
Some thirty kilometres east Wik’ro with the predictable guide we set off on foot uphill. Passing well-attended fields we slowly start climbing through one village and then another eventually arriving after three-hour at the base of the cliff. A half an hour later we crest the cliff onto a plateau.The church appears set into the rock it is surrounded by a small stone wall enclosure with a few olive trees. Cut free from the rock behind it is free-standing on three sides with four rock columns and a large door in front.
Looking around there’s not a soul to be seen except an ancient looking druid in his yellow robes.
While our young guide explains the reason for our profusely sweaty state the wooden door to the enclosure creaks in the up draught from the cliff face.
The druid barely acknowledging our presence is asking exorbitant sums to enter the church. After such a long hike the old bastard knows he has the upper hand. I wander over to the edge of the plateau. The view over the countryside is only matched by the cooling updraft > Wonderful.
“He is demanding four dollars,” says the guide. We are in no mood to haggle. OK. Woops not Ok all of a sudden he is holding out for more. On the pretext of taking a leak I tell Fanny to keep him occupied while I slip around the back for a sneaky preview to see if it worth the trouble.
Hopping over a stonewall I am completely hidden from view as I walk across the enclosure. The Church door is open. Inside (as with all Ethiopian Coptic churches) the church is divided architecturally into an outer subdivision then an inner section and right in the heart of the church the holier-than-thou housing the church’s replica of the ark, its crosses and manuscripts, and what we are lead to believe an ostrich egg.
Unfortunately I left the camera with the girls so miss the opportunity to take a photo of a central pillar in the holiness of holies wrapped in cotton. This Pillar is what is known as “Amd” the symbol of the unity of faith. Christ is supposed to have touched such a pillar when appearing to King Lalibela. Since then the past and the future of the world are written on it but man is too weak to bear the truth revealed by God so the pillar is kept covered.
Not wanting to raise any inkling in the druid that I had wandered off other than for a jimmy riddle I returned to the girls.
The old codger has now being joined by a young boy and is still holding out for more money.
I tell Fanny that it is worth it and to pay the extra few bucks.
Just at this very moment a puff of hot air rattled the door of the enclosure so that it springs open. With the door opened I start to walk and have just entered the enclosure when out of the corner of my eye comes the druid swirling his stick. In a reflex action of self-defence I grab his stick pulling him on to me and at the same time kick his legs from under him. He falls to the ground suffering a small cut to the forehead and nose.
Like a spring he is up on his feet howling and running. He runs out of the enclosure to the edge of the cliff top where he begins to howl even louder.
Away down below in the fields I see distant figures dropping their tools and advance towards the cliff. I have committed the holy of holies zapped a druid.
Fifteen minutes past before the first five or six of these people appear over the edge. With no warning our guide is being stoned. Receiving a rock to the chest he is now lying flat on this back pumping blood.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
DONATION NEWS: It seems that I am trying to get blood out of a stone wall. May be you are waiting till the End.
Just in case.
Robert Dillon. Account no 62259189. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2.
Sorting Code. 98-50-10.