Axum is acknowledged as the land of the Queen of Sheba and was the capital of the kingdom of Ethiopia in the 10th century. Once the centre of a great empire, it is the prime historical site in the north of the country. The earliest records and legends of Axum date back at least 3,000 years. The town and its surroundings are filled with archaeological sites, ruins of palaces, underground passageways, tombs and stelaes. Considering the fact that 98% of Axum still remains unexcavated today, one can only imagine what still lays hidden underground! Begin your sightseeing with a visit to the Stelae Park with its pre-Christian obelisks; the tallest standing obelisk rises to a height of over 75 feet, and is exquisitely carved to represent a nine-storey building, similar in appearance to the tower-houses of Southern Arabia. The tallest fallen stelae, which according to local legend crashed to the ground in 850 AD, was 110 feet high! The surprisingly modest Church of Saint Mary of Zion (below), built by Emperor Fasiladas in 1665, is reputed to be the current sanctuary of the world-famous Ark of the Covenant. According to the legend, Emperor Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum, where he settled and established one of the world’s longest known uninterrupted monarchical dynasties. The Ark, according to Ethiopian belief, has remained in Axum ever since. It is kept in a special chapel annexed to the church and is in the care of an old and especially holy guardian monk; according to tradition, he is the only man who is allowed to gaze upon it.