The remnants of the great society are numerous and fairly well-preserved. Underground tombs, towering stellae, and the country’s most important church number among some of Ethiopia’s most historically significant sites.
Among the more physically impressive, the stellae (or obelisks) deserve a prime spotlight. Carved from solid granite, and showing surprisingly little deterioration, these stone billboards range in size from 1 meter to 33 meters. Among the three tallest, only one remains standing; though, at 24 meters high, remaining upright for hundreds of years is no small feat.
The tallest obelisk successfully erected in Aksum was pilfered by Mussolini in 1937, cut into four pieces and subsequently re built in Rome. It wasn’t returned until 2005, and now lies in neat pieces outside the front gate to the Stellae Field.
The largest stella (not only in Aksum, but in the world) ranks in at 33 meters tall and 516 tons; however, this massive creation toppled while being erected. In the process it took out supporting walls of underground tombs, and became the last stella of the Aksumite kingdom.
According to local legend, the transport of stone from the quarry, construction of the stellae, and their subsequent raising was aided, not by angels, but by the power of the Ark of the Covenant, said to be housed in the nearby St. Mary of Zion church.
Most Ethiopians adamantly believe that the Ark of Covenant is, and has been for centuries, kept safe within their country. All Coptic Christian churches have a replica of the room said to hold the Ark, a Holy of Holies. And, as there is only one person who guards the Ark, it is not something that can be readily confirmed or denied. And, as evidenced in the documentary Indian Jones, the Ark’s face-melting abilities are nothing to scoff at, a definite preventative measure against laymen trying to sneak a peek.