Abba Pentalewon

Top choice in Aksum

High above Aksum, on top of a tall, narrow peak, is Abba Pentalewon monastery. Tradition states it was built by Abba Pentalewon, one of the Nine Saints and a man who is said to have prayed nonstop for 40 years, and that this is where King Kaleb retired to after abdicating his throne. The views, the monastery itself and the treasures are all worth the climb, although women may feel a little short-changed by the experience.

The site of the monastery was sacred to pagans and it’s thought the monastery was built here to bolster Christianity and eradicate pagan beliefs. The original church, the foundation of which can still be seen, may date to the 6th century but the attractive ‘old’ church (men only) is from the 1940s. Some centuries-old paintings hang amid the new. Women can enter the new church to see similar but only new paintings. There’s no museum for the treasures (which include crowns of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel), but an unusually friendly monk will bring them out to show you – his show is kind of fun.

The main access path (walking only) is past the tombs of Kings Kaleb and Gebre Meskel. For the return trip you can head downhill to Aksum’s main road near the Consular International Hotel.