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The origins of this ancient city are lost in legend. About one thousand years before Christ it is known that some tribes originally from southern Arabia settled on this side of the Red Sea; one of these tribes was known as the Habasciat (the possible origin of the name Abyssinia).

This particular area is however linked to the legend of the enchanting queen of Sheba, who, after having met King Solomon in Jerusalem, on her return gave birth to Menelik I, who was the founding father of the family known as the Kings of Kings. Local legend recounts how in the first century A.D., Axum was founded by the brothers Abreha and Atseha; it is not until midway through the fourth century that we have records of the first historical king, Ezana. The latter converted to Christianity after the arrival of Ferremnatos (Frumezio), who was sent by the patriarch of Alexandria and who later became the national saint, Abba Salame, Father of Peace.

Axum was the capital city of the longstanding Axumite kingdom, one of the most ancient African kingdoms, and represented a vital crossroads between Africa and Asia for almost a thousand years.

The ruins still visible in Axum stand as testimony to an exceptionally high level of civilization, notably the stone monoliths which are dotted throughout the city and are among the most mysterious monuments in the world. Axum is also the site of the church of Enda Mariam Zion, in front of which kings were crowned even as late as the last century. Inside, there are displays of golden crowns and crosses, the latter of which are still used during the major festivals of the Coptic Church.

Legend has it that the original Ark of the Covenant is housed in a chapel near the church. The Ark is believed to have been brought back by the Queen of Sheba on her return from Jerusalem.