Northern Stelae Park

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Northern Stelae Field or Northern Stelae Park is an archaeological site in the city of Aksum (Axum).

See Subject Home > Africa > Ethiopia > Tigray Region > Aksum > Northern Stelae Park


The Northern Stelae Field contains more than 120 stelae made of smooth, grey stone. The stelae are each made of a single piece of granite and stand as high as 82 feet. Dating from around 300-500 CE, most the Axum stelae seem to predate the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia. The stelae were most likely funeral monuments for Axum's ancient rulers, who may have been buried in tombs beneath them. Some have altars at the base with grooves cut into them to carry away blood from sacrifices.

Notable Stelae

circa 250 CE

Obelisk of Aksum
The Obelisk of Axum (with King Ezana's Stele in the background)—properly termed a "stele" or, in the local Afro-Asiatic languages, hawelt/hawelti (as it is not topped by a pyramid) — is found along with many other stelae in the city of Axum in modern-day Ethiopia. The stelae were probably carved and erected during the 4th century CE by subjects of the Kingdom of Aksum, an ancient Ethiopian civilization. The obelisk, second largest, of the stelae was looted by Mussolini's troops in 1937 during his occupation of Ethiopia, and stood for decades in the Piazza di Porta Capenamin in Rome, near the Arch of Constantine. The 160-ton monument was finally returned from Italy to Axum in April 2005.

circa 250 CE

Stela of Ezna
King Ezana's Stela is an obelisk in the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia. This stela is probably the last one erected and the largest of those that remain unbroken. King Ezana of Axum's Stela stands 21 m (69 ft) tall. It is decorated with a false door at its base, and apertures resembling windows on all sides. It is now-second tallest is the Stele of King Ezana, which stands at the entrance to the field. Ezana was the first king to convert to Christianity (circa 300 CE).

circa 250 CE

Great Stela
The Great Stele or Stela One measures 33 m in length and about 520 tonnes in weight. The monument is likely the largest single monolith which humans have ever attempted to erect. The Great Stele probably fell down whilst attempts were being made to erect it. When it fell, it hit the megalithic structure known as Nefas Mawcha, a rectangular chamber, funerary in purpose. The stela predominantly rests on slabs, presumably pushed underneath the monolith for preservation purposes after it had tumbled.

circa 250 CE

Fallen Stela
Another fallen Axum stele, almost 9m long, bears an especially interesting relief carving. Near its apex is a capital formed of two leaves supporting a square within a square surmounted by a triangle. This could be the earliest-ever image of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopian art.

Stelae Architecture

circa 250 CE

The Axum stelae are made to look like buildings and are intricately carved with windows, rows of log-ends dividing each story, and a false door at the base. These motifs on the face are carried through on the short sides of the obelisks. The "windows" also form cross shapes; perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.


Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy