Aug 18, 2010

"What Is...?" Wednesday

A stela is a tall, narrow slab made of stone or wood, usually inscribed or carved in relief with names, laws, pictures, designs, or dedications for the dead. They were used throughout Ancient Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and even
by the Ancient Chinese and Maya. Often they were used for funerary purposes, but also as boundary markers and commemorative purposes.

In a land once called Aksum, now known as Ethiopia, there stand large stone columns; the ruins of an ancient civilization, of which much is forgotten. The remnants of what may have once been a great empire are now surrounded by mundane little towns, thus calling attention to the origin of the structures, their purpose, and the history surrounding their creation. 

Though few, if any, documents survive that detail the story of these stelae, as they are called, the monuments themselves stand as a permanent primary source, willing to disclose valuable information about the culture that erected them, if one will go so far as to take the time to study the carvings and the surrounding circumstances. The stelae of Aksum are a testament of the ancient history of Ethiopia, and represent the power of monarchy presiding over a complex system of religious and cultural beliefs, possibly including a knowledge of the afterlife and beliefs pertaining to it that are similar to those of the Egyptians and Chaldeans.

While the tallest of the stelae toppled to the earth centuries ago, the tallest of those still standing is a magnificent sight to behold, even in a small photograph. One who has never set eyes upon it can only imagine the grandeur that must accompany the massive structure. It appears to be approximately seventy feet tall, consisting of artificial “stories” every seven feet. These are not true stories, but are rather a product of the way that the single stone was fashioned. 

At its base is an artificial door, which can be recognized as such from far away, above which are false windows carved directly into the stone. This gives the stela the appearance of a tall, thin, tower-like palace of stone. At its base are stone steps leading to the door, and in the surrounding area are similar structures on a smaller scale, sporting fewer carvings. On the horizon are stony mountains, which protect the Ethiopian land and may be a contributing factor to the survival of the stelae over the centuries. It is a scene that is reminiscent of mystery.

1 comment:

Eliza said...

Never heard of these before, very interesting, thanks.