06 January 2010

9. - 6 JAN: Axum

Whole day in this town, a symbol of Ethiopia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the terrace of our hotel we can enjoy a great view over the main field of steles. Among them, the famous Rome obelisk, returned in 2008 after seventy years spent in the eternal city. It is a magic site, very few people around, and this allows us to fully enjoy our visit. Unfortunately the sun is already too high to take good photos, so I'll have to come back at sunset. A small museum completes the educational aspect of the site. I especially appreciate a sign by the ticket office: "The fool wanders, a wise man travels".

I am struck by a Swedish couple walking around with their two kids, a boy and a girl aged perhaps 4 and 6, each with their little backpack, following diligently in their parents' footsteps. The answer to my many friends who have children of similar age and don't travel to Africa because it is "dangerous" for them.

From here we walk across the street to the Church of Our Lady of Zion, which is actually two Churches, one new and one very old, where legend has it that the ark of the Covenant if guarded by a single monk appointed to this only function for life. Well... Lots of people sitting around here, some musicians playing away with their trumpets and deums in the courtyard and a few faithful inside. One monk takes out a few old bibles for us to look and photograph.

Our next stop is the ruins of the palace allegedly built by the Queen of Sheba, supposedly an ancestor of the Ethiopian imperial family, just out of town. Not so interesting for the uninitiated to the arcana of archeology I must say. By 4 o'clock in the afternoon I decide to go back to the stelae for optimal sunset light photography. Indeed, the effort pays out: a warm amber light soon begins to envelop the monuments, and there is no one around at all.

In the evening I decide to attend the orthodox Christmas ceremonies at the small Church of Enda Iyesus by the stelae field. It is a highly suggestive setting. The warm evocative candle light mixed with cold cheap neon creates a surreal atmosphere. Many priests are celebrating mass, and quite a few faithful are attending, many stranded outside.

A few youngsters are visibly happy about our presence that perhaps for them is a welcome distraction from the boredom of the liturgy. The main priests at first refuses us entry, but then relents after we tend a monetary offer. I try not to disturb the proceedings and take quite a few pictures from the sidelines.

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