Legend has it that Emperor Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and
king Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to
Axum, where he settled and established one of the world’s longest
known, uninterrupted monarchical dynasties.
This is only one example of Ethiopia’s magnificent history, which
encompasses legend and tradition, mystery and fact, from a powerful and
religious ancient civilization. The well -trodden path through
Ethiopia’s famous and fascinating historic places takes you
through a scenically magnificent world of fairy -tale names, such
as Lalibela, Gondar,
Deber Damo and Bahar Dar.
Several of Ethiopia's more remote areas are excellent for walking
safaris, which are offered by several good tour operators in the
country. Walking tours, best planned for the dry season, offer the
traveler the opportunity for awe-inspiring vantage points from
which to view many of Ethiopia's natural wonders, cultural riches
and architectural heritage. In Gondar, there
are fairytale castles dating back to the 17th century. In Harar,
the visitor can enjoy the incense-flavored mysteries of narrow alleyways
and towering minarets.
And Axum, Ethiopia's most ancient city and
the capital of the historic Axumite state, is the site of many
remarkable monolithic stone stelae, or obelisks, the three most
important being decorated to represent multi-storied buildings, complete
with doors and windows.
The largest obelisk, which was 35 meters long and weighed 500
tons, is the biggest piece of stone ever cut by humanity anywhere
in the world but today it lies broken on the ground. Near it stands a
smaller but nevertheless most impressive 24-metre-high obelisk - the
pride of Ethiopia. A somewhat larger obelisk was taken to Rome, on
the orders of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in 1937,
but its return to Axum is expected. Plans
are also under consideration for the re-erection of the fallen obelisk.
Axum, in its day, was a great commercial
centre, issuing its own currency and trading with Egypt, Arabia, Persia,
India and even Ceylon. The settlement was also the site of
Ethiopia's oldest church, which dated back to the coming of Christianity
as the state religion, early in the 4th Century. The original
building has long since disappeared but a structure erected on its site
by Emperor Fasiladas in the early 17th Century is still there. A nearby
outhouse is the reputed repository of the biblical Ark of the
Covenant. This historic relic cannot be seen but visitors there can see
and photograph a number of the remarkable crowns that belonged to
several notable Ethiopian monarchs of the past.
Just out of the town, the remains of an early Axumite palace,
popularly thought to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba, are well worth
a visit. The remains are located at Dangur, near the mountain from which
the obelisks were originally excavated. The beautifully worked
tombs of several ancient Axumite rulers and the local
archaeological museum are also worth a visit. About 45 per cent of the
Ethiopian population is Muslim. Most of the Christians belonging to the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose 4th Century beginnings came long before
Europe accepted Christianity. A further small percentage of the
population adheres to traditional and other beliefs, including Judaism.
Lalibela, a medieval settlement in the
Lasta area of Wallo, lies at the centre of an extensive complex of rock
churches. Some can be reached by one or two hours' drive, others
are a full day's journey. Lalibela has 11
remarkable rock-hewn monolithic churches, believed to have been
built by King Lalibela in the late 12th or early 13th Century. These
notable structures are carved, inside and out, into the solid
rock, and are considered to be among the wonders of the world.
Each building is architecturally unique but each reflects beautifully
executed craftsmanship, and several are decorated with fascinating
paintings. These astonishing edifices remain places of living
worship to this day.
Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of
an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Wab River as it
found its way from the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a
religious site, is named after a local Sheikh.
Armed with torches and official map, visitors to Sof Omar make their way
underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a
subterranean stream, and there can see an extraordinary number of
arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers.
With a population of more than two million people, Addis Ababa is
not only the political capital but also the economic and social
nerve-centre of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887, this big,
sprawling, hospitable city still bears the stamp of his exuberant
personality. More than 21,000 hectares in area,
Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills
of the 3,000-metre Entoto Mountains and rambles pleasantly across
many wooded hillsides and gullies cut with fast-flowing streams.
Wide, tree-lined streets, fine architecture, glorious weather and the
incongruity of donkey trains along the boulevards make Addis Ababa
a city of surprises and a delightful place to explore. The clear
mountain air gives the city the bracing atmosphere of a summer
highland resort. It enjoys a mild climate, with an average
temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Addis Ababa stands at the very heart of
Ethiopia and there is much to do and to see. The city has a
flourishing cultural life, with regular exhibitions and lectures. There
are many opportunities to experience Ethiopian music, song and dance, to
visit museums and to see the city sights.
The Horticultural Society and Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural
History Society both organize visits to local gardens and trips out into
And after all that, what better than to sample some of Ethiopia's
culinary delights? Injera, a large, soft, pancake-like crepe,
forms the basis of most Ethiopian meals, served with a communal tray on
which are a tempting array of spicy sauces. Also
distinctive is the Ethiopian traditional drink, tej, a honey wine,
or mead. Traditional restaurants abound in Addis Ababa, and offer
entertainment in the form of the ubiquitous massinko minstrels and
traditional dance troupes. There are also many other specialist
restaurants in the city, including Chinese, Italian, French,
Indian, Armenian, Arabic and Greek.
Kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre
Damo ( closed to Women), which is said to have the oldest existing
intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one
of the nine Saints, built the church in the 16th Century. The
Monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.
Some 55 km east of
Axum is the 5th Century BC temple of Yeha. Its massive walls
house Judaic relics and historic artefact.
Bahar Dar is a small
town set on the south - eastern shore of lake Tana, where local
fishermen still use papyrus boats, and just 30 km from the spectacular
Tissisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates " Smoking Water" an
awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.
From Bahar Dar one
must explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built around
Lake Tana, or on the many Islands. These include Dek Stephanos with its
priceless collections of icons, as well as the remains of several
medieval emperors, Kebran Gabriel and Ura Kidane Mehret with its famous
frescoes. The colourful local market at Bahir Dar is renowned for its
weavers and wood workers.
Gonder was the 17th Century capital of Ethiopia, and is
notable for its medieval Castles and churches. The City's unique
imperial compound contains a number of Castles built between 1632 and
1855 by the various Emperors who reigned during this period. These
dramatic castles, unlike any other African, display a richness in
architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the
influence of Arabia.
Other treasure of
Gonder include the 18th Century palace of Ras Beit, the bath
of Fasilades, the ruined palace of Kusquam, and the church of Debre
Berhane Selassie with its unique murals.
Although Lalibela is
unique, it is not the sole site of Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches.
In Tigray near Makale, over 200 fine example of these monuments to man's
devotion to God as well as his building skills, may be seen and visited.
The Capital of the
emperor Yohannnes IV (1871 - 1889), Makale is now the main town of
Tigray, the most northern Ethiopian region. The emperor's palace has
been turned into a particular interesting museum, with many exhibits of
his time and subsequent history. The town is also well known as a
transit point for the Camel Caravans bringing salt up from the arid
lands of the Danakil Depression. This makes the market palace a
particular interesting place to visit. Intrepid visitors can also make
excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek
across the region.
The city of
Harar is an ancient (1520) and holy city. Always
an important trading centre, the city is famous for its ancient
buildings, its great city walls and as a centre of learning muslim
scholarship ( the town has 99 mosques). The city is well known for its
superb handicrafts that include woven textiles, basketware, silverware
and handsomely bound books, Harar has been a place of pilgrimage
from all over the world for many years.
- The City Walls
The City Walls, and
the narrow streets lined with traditional Harari gegar houses.
- Rimbaud House
A Fine building
traditional house dating from the period when the French poet Rimbaud
lived in Harar.
- The Hyena Man
As evening falls,
local men attract wild hyenas to the city in a bizarre spectacle as they
bravely feed these dangerous scavengers.
The Ethiopian experience is one that offers something for
everyone. Truly, there is no other place on earth quite like it.