Archeological evidence suggests that Axum’s first settlement was on Beta Giyorgis Hill, overlooking the plain where the town center is currently located. As the city expanded during the Empire, large dwellings were built on the flat land to the south-west of this hill, with the area around the Gudit Stelae Field being used as a large manufacturing center with evidence of stone carving, ivory work and carpentry supplying the practical and luxurious goods exported as far as Spain and China. Grave goods from the Brick Arches Tomb and the Mausoleum have many similarities with modern craftsmanship, including basketwork, ceramics and beadwork.
Indigenous beer manufacturing, coffee ceremony and injera preparation, an indigenous teff grain pancake, are examples of ancient practices that authentically survive into the present. Located at various points in the Old Town, the ethnographic museums preserve a complete way of life in houses that date long before the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition’s first documentation in 1906. Ancient methods of animal slaughter, conforming to religious dictatorship, and leather work techniques can still be found in the city, especially for use in the manufacture of religious artifacts.
Melaka Axum (Old Town)
The area of the Cathedral complex to the south and west is representative of Axum’s traditional architecture, with rubble stone walling square and circular houses, one or two stories high, some with basements. Traditionally, pitched roofs were thatch, but most of them were replaced by profiled steel sheets. Ethnographic museums are traditional restored houses that give a clear impression of people’s interior architectural quality, decorative treatment, and lifestyle.
As can still be seen on Beta Giyorgis ‘ foothills, the original layout of this part of the city would have had narrow, winding roads. In the 1960s, Ras Mengesha Seyoum gave the dominant street pattern of broad radiation and grids on the plain below in an effort to modernize the city.
This part of the city would have been dominated by extremely large elite residences within rectangular ranges of ancillary buildings in the 4th and 5th centuries. The density of the city prevented extensive excavation, so there was no establishment of the street layout and forms of the smaller buildings between these palaces.