The Pankhurst History Library
- Author: Dr. Richard Pankhurst
- Series: Preserving History
- Title: How to Destroy Your History
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How to Destroy Your History
We have had occasion in previous articles to draw attention to the sapling trees, and other vegetation, which have been allowed to grow in Ethiopian historic buildings, in many parts of the country, thereby endangering their future existence.
A case in point is the vegetation in and around the historic temple of Yeha, a building discussed, and described at some length, in previous issues of “Addis Tribune” – where allusion has also been made to the question of the trees!
Ethiopia’s Earliest Important Antiquity
Yeha, it will be recalled, is perhaps Ethiopia’s earliest important historical site. Situated some 30 kilometres north of Aksum, the fine structure of the temple dates from the middle of the first millennium BC, or, some believe, as early as around the eighth century BC. Not so far away from the time of the fabled Queen of Sheba!
The temple, an impressive edifice, consists of a large oblong hall, no less than twenty metres long, fifteen metres wide, and ten metres high. Its solid walls, devoid of windows, are built of smoothly worked stone blocks, many of them more than a metre long, neatly placed one above the other, without mortar. Testimony to the building skill of ancient Ethiopians!
The roof and west wall of the temple are both missing, but several square niches in the remaining walls indicate that the western wing was partitioned, probably with large wooden beams, which have long since disappeared.
Recent archaeological digs, which have lifted up most of the stones from the temple floor, have established the fact that there was an interesting subterranean chamber, or vault, at the western end of the building.
Go and see it, dear reader, it is well worth a visit!
Yeha, it may be recalled, was long a settlement of some considerable importance. This is evident from the remarks of the early sixteenth Portuguese traveller Francesco Alvares – always an accurate observer! He reported that the temple, which he describes as “a very large and handsome tower”, resembling “a regal building”, was surrounded, in his day, by “good houses”, with “good walls and flat roofs above, like the residences of good lords”.
The “good houses”, described by Alvares, have long disappeared, but the sturdy temple remains, though a small section of the external portion of the northern wall, a square metre or so in extant, collapsed a year or two ago.
Cause of Disquiet
It is, however, a cause of disquiet that trees – killer trees, you may call them – are growing in the temple’s very walls, as well as immediately next to them. If allowed to grow such vegetation will inevitably lead to further collapses, or other damage.
To illustrate the situation we publish herewith two photographs, kindly taken for us by our friend Monique Lehner from Massachusetts, in the United States. One photograph shows sapling trees growing at the very edge of the northern wall; the other shows branches of trees forcing their way through the stones high up on the building. Both photographs are not old; they were taken in fact on 14 January of this year.
If vegetation were to appear in the walls of your own house, dear reader, you would doubtless regard this as an unfavourable development: and, if the building was your own property, you would doubtless take steps to remove it. You would probably use the famous herbicide Round Up, to remove the offending plants.
This is not, however, happening at Yeha, even though it is one of the country’s most important antiquities, and therefore more deserving than any private house.
The priests at the nearby Church of Abba Asfe are well aware that the future of the temple walls are slowly being endangered, and have spoken about it to several visitors; but nothing is being done to kill or remove the offending trees.
The archaeologists, though clearly working hard in their own field of research – and digging up the floor, have not, at least up to now, shown any sign of considering the building’s preservation within their brief.
The concerned authorities, sadly, seem also remarkably unconcerned about the matter.
The preservation of the country’s cultural heritage should be a matter of concern, also to the public at large, including readers of “Addis Tribune”.
Some of them should perhaps be founding a Friends of Yeha Society!
This is doubtless a question to which we will have to return in the not too distant future.