Despite an absence of impressive landmarks, we stayed three days in Aksum. It turned out to be a pretty relaxed town, with pretty relaxed people. OK, the children still demanded money and pens, but they were somewhat less insistent than in Gondar and Lalibela. Or perhaps we learn better how to deal with the situation.
Saturday is market day in Aksum. In the outskirts is the cattle market, within a walled compound. Actually, sitting on the wall was the thing to do, seeing people from far driving their animals to the market, and at the same time observing the process inside. Apparently, a fat cow goes for around 6000 birr (the local currency), equivalent to some 300 Euros. No camels were traded today, but there were plenty of them in the general market, closer towards the town centre, competing with the donkeys for a place in the parking lot. The general market was a complete chaos, with everybody right on top of each other. It didn’t seem that there were many different things for sale, but with hundreds of individuals selling one chicken each, for instance, you can imagine how crowded it can get. Similarly, there were small scale pulse sellers, tomato sellers, onion sellers, garlic sellers – not very efficient, it looked. Round the big tree, the true center of town, was a third market, the basket market: colourful, but it didn’t seem that trade was brisk. Perhaps because all the baskets looked rather similar.
High up on a mountain above town are two small churches, reputedly established by two of the nine so-called Syrian monks, the first missionaries. The churches have obviously been rebuilt many times, since the 5th Century, and aren’t very attractive, but the walk towards them was pleasant enough, despite every child we met trying to sell us a cross, or a piece of amethyst or just asking for money or a pen – the one in my pocket, probably. We ended up at the furthest church, the one of Abbe Panthaleon. In fact, there are two churches here, an old one (men only) and a new one, which has as absolute highlight an electronic device that contains all those standard paintings we have seen so far, and rotates then round and round on a moving screen. Who makes these things!
The churches often have a small museum, with a few books, crosses and other paraphernalia, but this one beat them all: the priest carried two books, two metal crowns, four crosses and a drinking vessels to the front, and that was all, the collection. Oh, and a few new, copper crosses that the priest offered to sell to us, as a souvenir. There is a thin line between opportunism and shamelessness.
next: a travel day, including the Debre Damo monastery