Legend and myth – queen of sheba in visiting sequence
Mai Shum Reservoir
The name ‘Aksum’ is thought to derive from the Cushitic word ak, meaning ‘water’ and shum, the Semitic for ‘chieftain’. Apart from wells dotted throughout the Old Town, Mai Shum was the primary water supply, and is still used for domestic use by inhabitants of parts of the city. Legend describes it as the ‘Queen of Sheba’s Bath’ which has recently been given credibility on the discovery of an older earthen wall below the one now visible. The stairs cut into the rock on the southern side appear to be extremely old, although impossible to date, and are thought to be from the time of the Aksumite Empire.
The present makeup of the reservoir dates to its enlargement by Bishop Samuel in the reign of King Yeshaq in the late 1400s. Its religious significance is demonstrated at the festival of Timket, the Ethiopian Epiphany, during which Christ’s baptism is revisited in a mass re-enactment of the event as a symbol of renewal of faith.
Enda Mikael, Addi Kilte
This is a ruined palace in the old town, examined by the DAE in 1906 that dates between the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The central pavilion of Enda Mikael measures 27x27m, comprising of ten rooms following with the same pattern as Ta’aka Mariam, except with one of the central rooms subdivided.
The site of Inda Mikael
Enda Sem’on, Addi Kilte
This is ruins of palace are located about 200m southeast of Enda Mikael. This site is in fact what archaeologists refer to Enda Se’mon 2, which was excavated in the 1970s by the mission organized by the British Institute in East Africa (BIAE) and directed by Neville Chittick. The central pavilion had a 35m square plan and was divided into two symmetrical halls approximately 5m by 10m, and nine other smaller rooms. Each hall had a wide ceiling supported by 28 columns. Interestingly, just to the west of Enda Sem’on 2, the German archaeologists found two drainage channels leading from the room at the center of the building to waterspouts protruding from the base of the external wall in 1906.
The largest Aksumite palace found to date is located about 200m southeast of Enda Semon. Unfortunately, very little remains of this once magnificent – and perhaps royal – palace.
When the German archaeologists excavated the site in 1906, they found the area covered by houses and saw people using the stones for building material. Local people also told them that many palace stones had been used to rebuild the cathedral. The ruins were then further devastated in 1936, when the Adwa-Shire Road built by the Italian cut the ancient site in half. Since then, the only way to appreciate Ta’akha Maryam’s superb architecture has been to rely on the famous, fascinating reconstruction made by a member of the DAE Expedition, Daniel Krencker, on the basis of the 1906 excavations. The complex had an amazing dimension of 120m by 80m and consisted of a central pavilion enclosed by two-story wings at its four sides. The ten three-story towers of these wings emphasized the staircase entrance opening onto the courtyard at the southern front, or through the door to the northern wing. The central pavilion had a 24m square plan and lay on a podium approached on its northern and southern sides by two flights of stone steps. The recessed walls created four corner towers, perhaps three-storied, whereas the rest of the building had two floors. The pavilion was divided into nine rooms, ranging from 7m by 6m to 5m in square. They had stone floors and their ceilings were supported by stone and possibly wooden columns on stone bases. The imposing quality of the complex was embellished by two four–columned porticoes with floral columns with octagonal column bases, two of which can be seen in the Ezana Garden Park.
Located about 700m east of Ta’akha Maryam and less than 2km southwest of the Cathedral, this palace is the best preserved and therefore the most spectacular of the elite residences. Traditions strongly attribute the palace to the famous legendary Queen of Sheba, who ruled Aksum some 3000 years ago. The overall plan is similar to that of Ta’akha Maryam, in which the central pavilion measures 18 meter square and has similar layout, with massive, well-dressed granite slabs used as cornerstones. The surrounding courtyards are smaller and closer, and the whole complex measure only 55 x 52m over all.
As in the other cases described above, the pavilion’s indented plan resulted in four quadrangular corner towers; possibly three–storied. The rooms had columns to support the ceiling. The podium on which it lay still has one monumental, beautiful flight of stone steps approaching it to the east and a double stairway approaching the southern entrance. Incorporated at the top of the eastern stairway is a small stone flagged floor area in the central pavilion. Two waterspouts protrude from the western wall, presumably in their original position. Despite some recent reconstructions, it is still possible to observe the peculiar original masonry, which consisted of polygonal coursed and uncoursed rubble as well as complete courses of dressed blocks, the latter being found in Aksum only as the base of the cathedral’s podium and at the Tomb of Kaleb. Two rough stele once existed at the northern corners of the structure. This ruined elite structure was excavated by French Archaeologist F. Anfray, in 1966-68. Therefore, according to his research, the structure is dated back to the 6th – 7th century AD and it could have belonged to an elite resident.
The Gudit Stele Field
This ancient cemetery lies opposite the southern side Dungur palace, beyond the Adwa–Shire Road. The cemetery is named after Queen Gudit, or Yodit, who is said to have led an army from central Ethiopia that conquered and destroyed Aksum ca. 980 AD. From a Geo-archaeological analysis it emerged that the Gudit Field represents an early Aksumite mortuary site and that it was one of the city’s first areas to have been inhabited, in the 2nd century AD. Recent excavations highlighted the use of the site as a cemetery from the mid-2nd century to the mid-4th century.
The French explorer Charlemagne Theophile Lefebvre visited it in 1841 and provides us with one of the first accounts of the site. He counted fifty-two stele of fragments monoliths, three of which with no decorative elements other than carefully dressed rounded heads. Theodore Bent visited the site in 1893 and mentions the presence of ‘monoliths, all undecorated and unhewn’. The 1906 DAE identified 44 stele and many more were found during the excavations carried out in the 1970s and 1990s, reaching a total of almost 600. A few of them have remarkable dimensions and only about two dozen are left standing. Unfortunately, according to an Italian archaeologist who visited the area in 1937, many stele had been raised without regard for their original position several years before his visit.