Ezana's great stele

Axum (also spelt Aksum) is a city of 56,000 in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, just south of Eritrea, with which it shares the language of Tigrinya.

It was for nearly 800 years the administrative centre of one of the great empires of the old world along with those of Rome, Persia and China and remains the ecclesiastical capital of the Ethiopian church. It is famous for its stelae, churches, monasteries, tombs and the ruins of palaces and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.

It is one of the cleaner and better kept Ethiopian towns with cobbled side streets and attractive flame trees providing shade in the main street.

Get in

By plane

Given the often trying conditions of Ethiopian roads, flying into Axum is a much more reasonable option. There are daily flights from Addis Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela to Axum Airport, 7 km to the east of town. Some flights are direct, others make stops along the way. At the airport, there will be taxis eager to drive you into town. Many hotels also offer van service to and from the airport.

By bus

Buses from Addis Ababa take a minimum of three days to travel via Dessie and Mekele. It is a very taxing ride over rough roads. Via Gondar and Shire, the section of the bus ride from Debrek to Inda Aba Guna (70 km before Shire), is just as gruelling - but spectacular - but then it is technically possible to complete the 90 minute journey from Shire to Axum on tarmac by minibus the same day.

From Gondar, take the dawn bus to Shire and change there for Axum – you can usually get through in a day. To travel to Gondar, you must take an afternoon bus to Shire, spend the night there, and catch the dawn bus to Gondar. The road between Shire and Gondar is one of the most spectacular in Africa, but currently, North of Debark until Mai Tsebre, also one of the roughest as the road is being re-made - a process likely to take about 2 years.

From Debark and the Simien Mountains, there is only one bus heading north to Shire. That is the Gondar bus, and it is often full when it passes through Debark. You can either take your chances (it isn't always full), or hire someone from Debark for about 150 birr to go into Gondar the day before and ride the Shire bus to Debark for you, guaranteeing you a seat. (Note that you must make arrangements the morning prior to the day you want to leave. If you are going trekking, you can make arrangements before you leave for your trek.) There are many buses travelling between Shire and Axum. To travel to Debark, go to Shire in the afternoon, spend the night there, catch the Gondar bus the next morning, and get off at Debark. You will probably have to pay the full fare to Gondar (about 50 birr).

By shared car

It is theoretically possible to get to Axum from Addis Ababa in one long day (and vice-versa), though two days is more likely. Drivers can be arranged through hotels or touts and, while not certainly the cheapest option (especially if you are able to take advantage of the Ethiopian Airlines discounts), can be faster and/or more comfortable than other means of public transportation. Note, however, the comments about the condition of the road in the "By bus" section above.

Get around

Bajaji (blue, three wheeler motorised rickshaws with 250cc two stroke engines imported from India) charge faranji about 20 birr for short trips around town. For the Lioness of Gobedra and the Judith (Gudit) Stelae Field, instead of hiring one of the ultra-expensive tourist minibuses, you can catch a minibus going in the direction of Shire (there are many early in the morning) and ask them to drop you at the Lioness of Gobedra turnoff and catch another one back. The Lioness is not easy to find on your own but a group of children will soon appear who will guide you, and they should be compensated appropriately.


Chapel of the Tablet, at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion

A 100 birr ticket from the tourist commission, located off the roundabout 400 m south of the Northern Stelae Field, is valid for three days and covers admission to all sights that require it, except Tsion Maryam (the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion complex) which costs 200 birr for the whole ecclesiastical compound.

Northern Stelae Field
The monolithic stelae are fashioned out of solid granite. Their mystery lies in that it is not known exactly by whom and for what purpose they were fashioned, although they were likely associated with burials of great emperors. The Ezana Stele, which measures 24 metres (78 feet) high, is standing at a slight lean in the centre of the field and currently supported as a precaution against toppling. Another stele, the Obelisk of Axum, 24.8 metres (80 feet) high, fell while the tombs were being pillaged around the 10th Century AD. It was stolen by the invading forces of Fascist Italy and taken to Rome, where it stood, from 1937 to 2005. It was returned to Axum and re-erected between the Ezana Stele and the Giant Stele in 2008.
The Great Stele weighed more than 500 tonnes when quarried and dressed 4 km away - how ever was it moved!?!
The Great Stele, the biggest monolith in the world, measuring over thirty-three metres (108 feet) in length and weighing over 500 tonnes, fell somewhere around the 4th century AD and now lies in broken fragments on the ground.
The mausoleum and the tomb of the brick walls are now open to the public again. The Tomb of the False Door is very impressive with its accurate workmanship.


There is an ATM that accepts Visa cards at Wegagen Bank.




Go next

By minibus to Shire (40 birr), Adwa (around 26 birr)

By minibus to Yeha to see a temple from a pre-Christian and pre-Aksumite civilization, a church, and a small museum

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