By Elias Gebreselassie in Axum, northern Ethiopia

The historicalruins ofAxum is probably the most recognizable historical heritage of Ethiopia, drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

The historical ruins of Axum estimated to be around 2300 years old consisting of monolithic obelisks, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles.

The historical ruins tell of a civilization that stretched from west to present day north Sudan and east up to the Arabian Peninsula and reportedly had extensive trading relationship as far as China.  

However, the ruins of Axum are facing a threat that could permanently wipe it, and thereby potentially end Ethiopia’s most iconic heritage site.

Speaking to Gebremedhin Fitsumbirhan, Head of Culture and Tourism Office, Axum city, in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray regional state, where the historical ruins are found, said a natural underground water system is threatening to flood the historical ruins, potentially causing permanent damage.

“Axumite kings used to be buried with their belongings and jewelry in tombs. Currently the Axumite emperors’ tombs as well as obelisks are particularly in danger of being destroyed by the underground water system” he said.

“The tombs and an obelisk are currently showing serious signs of cracks. The water could erode the soil that is holding them. We’re undertaking studies to determine the origins of the underground water system and what can be done to prevent it from damaging the historical ruins” further said Fitsumbirhan.  

Currently, the Ethiopian government is conducting studies with Italian firms on ways to save the historical ruins, according to local public officials in Axum city.

“There needs to be a detailed study on the dangers facing the historical ruins like where did the water come from, how we can clean the monuments affected by the water and how can we permanently solve the dangers posed to the historical ruins” said Fitsumbirhan.

“Chinese help to the rescue?”

Noting Chinese firms have been assisting sections of the society in Axum city and that Chinese are an increasing tourism demographics to the city, Fitsumbirhan called on help from China to save the historical ruins.

“China like Ethiopia is an ancient civilization spanning thousands of years. China has extensive experience of preserving its own historical heritage. We hope Chinese state and non-state actors can assist in my government’s efforts to save the Axum historical ruins” Fitsumbirhan told   

“If we lose Axum historical ruins, the world collectively will lose a historical iconic heritage too. I call upon all relevant authorities to help us save this heritage before it’s too late” Fitsumbirhan further said.

Ethiopia recorded 169.6 million U.S. dollars in revenue from 45,307 Chinese tourists that visited the country in 2017, according to figures provided by the Ethiopian government.

The 2017 Chinese tourists’ figures have shown a steady increase from 2016 numbers, which stood at 41,659, making Chinese the third largest tourist group in Ethiopia, only surpassed in numbers by tourists from the U.S. and U.K.

 “Locals anxious of dangers posed to Axum historical ruins”

For Solomon Belay, a local private tour guide, the dangers facing Axum historical ruins is both a national and personal pain.

Speaking to, Belay who has been in the tour guide business for about 10 years, said Axum historical ruins tell of an ancient period when Africans had a civilization that reached far away parts of the world.

“Archeological evidences suggest Axumite empire geographical area used to extend across the Arabian Peninsula and traded with faraway civilizations in India and China” said Belay.

“It would be a great setback for our tourism if we don’t take action and disaster happens to the Axum ruins. It will be a setback for Ethiopian history that will haunt Ethiopians for years to come not only in terms of tourism revenues but also of national pride” Belay told