Aksum after the Kingdom

From the seventh to eighth century onwards, the Aksumite Kingdom fell in decline due to a combination of mutually reinforcing factors. Civil wars threatened Aksumite power in the Horn of Africa. In addition, the destructive wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Persians had negative side effects for the trade of luxury goods north of the African kingdom. Overseas trade became nearly impossible for the Aksumites as the Persian fleets endangered the route to India and controlled South Arabia during the early seventh century.

The establishment of Arab control over the Red Sea - destroying Adulis between 702 and 715 AD - effectively isolated the kingdom from its religious companions to the north. Subsequently, Aksum could not maintain its political and social-economic system. Extensive land use that was necessary for the required high level of food production for the kingdom’s large population, and probable heavier rains caused degradation of the fertile soil, which further contributed to the downfall of Aksum.

Modern Aksum

By 800 AD, the political power had shifted towards more fertile lands in central Ethiopia, and Aksum had considerably decreased in size. Unfortunately, there is only little information available about Aksum after its demise as a political centre.

Despite the lack of sources, it is known that Aksum remained an important religious centre. The Church of Our Lady of Mary Zion became a significant place of pilgrimage, and the Central Stele Park too gained a central role in a cultural tradition related to Orthodox Ethiopia. Every year on 30 November, the stelae provide the setting for the Festival of Saint Mary of Zion, celebrating the arrival in Aksum of the Ark of the Covenant.

Over the years, heritage tourism in Aksum and other Ethiopian cities gained attention, and has become an important component of the country's economy. In 2008, a new museum was built in Aksum. Its main purpose besides exhibiting ancient artefacts is to explain the process of archaeology. Furthermore, the museum provides cultural activities for the community and educational resources for schools.