The North Stelae Park, Axum, Ethiopia
This photo shows part of the North Stelae Park in Axum, Ethiopia.
To the left are the shattered remains of the Great Obelisk, shown and described in an earlier photo.
On the right is the 27-meter tall (some would say 23-meter tall) obelisk called "King Ezana's Stele." King Ezana is said to have accepted Christianity around the year 330 of the current era.
Modern Axum in Ethiopia is built on and around the remains of an ancient city, the former capital of the Axumite Kingdom.
The Axumite Kingdom had emerged as a regional power by the second century of the current era.
Axum reached its peak between the third and sixth centuries of the current era. Most people do not know that Axum was one of the most powerful kingdoms on earth during its hayday, primarily because of its control of trade routes on sea and on land.
Today, the stelae, or obelisks, erected by Axumite kings are the most impressive remains of that ancient society.
The late archaeologist Stuart Munro-Hay wrote a fascinating description of the obelisks at Axum, including the one pictured here.
Without doubt, Aksum's most impressive remains are the royal tombs and their fabulous markers, the 'stelae' or obelisks. Even the plain examples are impressive, cut from hard local granite.
But truly staggering is a series of six carved examples. These seem to depict the dead rulers' palaces---their tombs lay beneath, and it was our good fortune to be the discoverers of this underground world. The stelae---or so we may conjecture---were the stairways to heaven for the kings of Aksum. At the base are granite plates with carved wine-cups for offerings to the spirit of the deceased.
The largest stela is certainly among the biggest single stones ever quarried by human labour. It testifies to the magnificent self-esteem of the unknown ruler who had it extracted and dragged several kilometres to its final site, and to the skill and artistry of those who prepared and decorated it.
Over thirty-three metres tall, the stele represents a thirteen storey tower, with elaborate window-tracery, frames, lintels, beam-ends, even a door with a bolt. This monstrous stone soon fell---perhaps a few seconds after being levered upright---smashing onto the roof block of a tomb nearby.
This block (some 17 x 7 x 1.5 metres), was not broken, though the tomb underneath it was crushed, but the great stele separated into three pieces. The top was completely smashed by the impact.
Nearby is its largest still-standing neighbour, twenty-seven metres tall.
Underneath this 'stele field' is an extraordinary series of tombs, the underground maze which we began in 1973-4 to explore and clear.
On all sides tunnels open out---some dug by robbers. The ground here contains fallen stelae, or their base-plates, that have slipped down from above, buried staircases, walls and walled platforms, shafts and other structures, as well as tomb chambers and their contents---skulls and bones, pottery, metal, and piles of other grave-goods.
Text copyright Stuart Munro-Hay 1998.