Aksum (also spelt Axum) stands at the epicentre of Ethiopian history. In ancient times, it served as the economic hub of the Aksumite Empire, which lasted for some nine hundred years from the second to the tenth centuries, and as the capital of a ruling dynasty legendarily descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. It is also the cradle and spiritual home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which was established here during the fourth-century reign of King Ezana. Somewhat more tenuous is the Ethiopian claim that the original biblical Ark of the Covenant is protected in Maryam Tsion, Aksum’s most venerable church. Aksum is studded with some extraordinary antiquities, including the tallest stelae (obelisks) ever erected by the ancients, and engraved trilingual tablets dating to the time of Christ – all of which can be hugely rewarding when approached with realistic expectations.