The kingdom of Aksum, centered in what is now northern Ethiopia, was a world power in the first millennium A.D. At the empire's height, monolithic obelisks were raised to mark the burials of rulers and nobility. One, at more than 100 feet and about 550 tons, fell and shattered as it was being erected in the fourth century. Today, Aksum is a dusty, regional market town of about 50,000 in northern Ethiopia. If people have heard of it, perhaps it is on account of another queen: the Biblical Sheba. According to the Kebra Nagast (Book of the Glory of the Kings), an early-14th-century compilation that chronicles Ethiopia's rulers, Solomon and Sheba had a son, Menelik, who brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Aksum. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church maintains that the Ark is still kept within the precinct walls of the Church of Tsion (Mary of Zion) in Aksum. But there is more to Aksum than legends of Sheba and the Ark. In 1980, it was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites because of the vestiges of its past, scattered throughout and around the town: ancient cemeteries with royal tombs, villa-like residential complexes, inscriptions, and monolithic stelae and obelisks.
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