Roadtrip Day 9: Yeha, the cradle of civilisation in Africa

Friday 12th January, 2018

Day trip: 58 km to and from Yeha, 45 mins each way

We get again woken up by prayers, and music this time, at an ungodly early hour. It is still very dark outside! We manage to get back to sleep, and after rolling out of our beds at seven go through our usual morning ritual: turn on the taps, check if there is water, yes!!!, next check if there is hot water, no…. so again Mike gets dressed and heads down to reception to kindly request if somebody can please turn the hot water on.

Today we head towards the border with Eritrea, to a small village called Yeha. The war with Eritrea is officially still ongoing, and this is about as close to the border we should go. There is still a large UN presence in the area.

We get three big surprises in short order; 1) there is actually a signpost on the road for Yeha, 2) when we arrive at the site there is a sign with a map that actually has a scale and a legend, and 3) the local guide that we select from those offering assistance is exceedingly knowledgeable.

Yeha is the birthplace of civilisation on the African continent. There is a Temple of the Moon here from the 8th Century BCE. It looks a lot like some of the old buildings one sees in the Middle East, in Palmyra or Yemen.

The temple is considered to be either build by Sabaens from the Arab peninsula, or build by Ethiopians who were influence by Sabaen architecture.

It is made up of massive sandstone blocks that fit together perfectly without the use of mortar. It also has a perfect geometry. In many ways, this is a superior build than most of the 20th century buildings!

We also visit the small museum next to the site, where we are presented with a range of very old bibles, crosses and bits of stone detail from the Yeha sites. The bibles are ancient and written in Ge’ez, the clerical language used in Ethiopia. It is different and much older than the tribal languages that are currently spoken.

We also visit the ruins of a palace from a later period, sheltered by an awning. It is hard to believe how important this tiny little village was at one time.

Back in Axum we go for a casual stroll around town, we have a coffee and a pizza for a late lunch and do a bit of souvenir shopping. There are a number of souvenir shops in the area just south of the Stellae.

Life in these country towns has its own pace. Large trees form focal points with squares around the. Fruit and produce are being sold under the shade of their branches. Men are making goods under the shade, and old men are just sitting there, talking and looking at the world.

Taylors are sitting on the pavement with their sewing machines. Donkeys and camels carry their loads through town, flocks of livestock cross the roads, and groups of children head home from school.

We have a lovely dinner on the terrace of the hotel, watching the sun set over St Mary’s and the Stelae, while a young couple are having their wedding photographs taken, changing from one beautiful sparkling outfit to another.

This is our last day in Aksum, we will hit the road again tomorrow.

Travel details and tips:

Accomodation: Yeha hotel, Aksum. Excellent location, on top of a hill overlooking the bath of the Queen of Sheba, the Stelae and the town. Just be prepared to ask for (hot) water!

Tip: I have to mention dress codes. While travelling around we were embarrassed for some of our fellow travellers. Luckily, they didn’t have a local with them to translate the comments that were made. Although for men, shorts and t-shirts are acceptable, for women the dress code is much more conservative. Yes, you could walk around in shorts and spaghetti string tops, however, be prepare for the locals to frown on you and regard you as not much more than a prostitute. Believe me, you feel a lot more comfortable covered up!

In general, like many other African, Asian and Middle Eastern Countries, you should be covered from your shoulders to your knees. So a long skirt or dress, or long trousers. And a t-shirt type top, no exposing of mid rim or d├ęcolletage. Also take a scarf with you for when you want to visit churches and holy sites, you will have to cover your hair.

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