Stele 1: The Great Fallen Stele
What makes this monument so very outstanding is that it is the largest and heaviest stele existing in the world and one of the largest ever made in history. It is believed to have fallen and broken during its erection process and now lies shattered on the ground of the main terrace, broken into three massive and other smaller pieces. By falling, the stele has preserved part of the original Aksumite wall that encircles the main terrace. Fragments of the former head of the stele are close to the huge stone called Nefas Mawcha.
The stele is more than 33m in height and about 520 tons in weight. Its position makes it possible to closely admire the magnificent ornamentation of the stele, which archaeologists considered to be the ultimate achievement. Its four sides represent a palace with 13 stories, comprising the ground storey with small square windows, eight stories with finely carved similar windows, and three upper storeys with wider windows. The monkey heads projecting on the lower part and between the stories imitate the round wooden beam-ends so typical for ancient Aksumite palaces.
This is an underground royal cemetery site with an area of 17.6m by 18.8m right under the tallest, but fallen, stele. There are shafts which let light and air to the ground and the ten rooms inside, which could have been used as a cemetery for kings and their families and at the same time served as treasury rooms for the precious materials which were buried with the nobles.
To the south of Stele 1 is the world’s largest megalithic tomb (dolmen), measuring 17m x 7m with an estimated weight of 360 tons. This forms the roof of the central part of an underground complex, surrounded by spaces on all four sides, roofed with smaller granite slabs. Its name means “the place of the going forth of the winds”, derived from the legend that the wind funneling through it would blow out any light. The large stone slab is finely worked on its underside but left unfinished on the upper face, suggesting either that it was to be covered over with earth or that it was left incomplete when Stele 1 collapsed on to it. It was almost certainly planned to be a tomb and part of the Stele 1 complex, which included the Mausoleum, but set outside the Stelae Park area demarcated by the terrace wall. This could indicate that the upper terrace was reserved for the close relatives of the king, while Nefas Mawcha was for more distant relatives. The grand scale of this and other structures in the complex are testament to the power of the monarchy at this period in Aksum’s history.