Axum is an ancient town in Northern Ethiopia. It lies at an elevation of about 2100 meters just west of Adwa in Tigrai region. Once the seat of the kingdom of Axum, it is now a tourist town and religious centre best known for its antiquities tall granite obelisks, 126 in all, stand (or lie broken) in the central square. Once measuring 33 meters, now fallen, is said to be the tallest obelisk ever erected. The obelisks range from nearly plain slabs to intricately inscribed pillars. Door and window-like shapes are carved into some of the pillars, giving them the appearance of slender buildings. The most recent of the obelisks announces the adoption of Christianity in the 4th century by king Ezana. At least 27 carved stone thrones have been unearthed in the overgrown ruins of the ancient palace.
Axum has long been regarded a holy city for the Ethiopian Orthodox church. It forms the setting of the 14th century work Kibre Negest (“Glory of the Kings”), which relates the tradition of the transference of the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum by King Menelik I, the son of King Solomon of Israel and Queen of Sheba (Makeda). It is still believed that the Ark of the Covenant is located in the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum. Over the centuries, however the church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The present structure is built by King Fasiledes of Gonder in the 17th century. Emperor Haile Silassie I built the new Church of St. Mary of Zion near the old one, in which the Arc of the Covenant is housed, in 1965.