Ethiopia, an ancient country has a unique cultural heritage, rich history and remarkable biodiversity. The fascinating history goes back to 3,000 years during the reign of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. The world 4th-holiest Islamic city, mediaeval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Gheralta, ruined palaces and temples, castles of Gondar and the oldest human fossil excavated anywhere in the world.
The rugged but beautiful mountains – Siemen and Bale, the spectacular rift valley, the awesome volcanic landscape of the Danakil Depression are just a few to mention.
The volcanic lakes with their famous collections of birdlife, great escarpments and stunning vistas. Tis Isat, the blue Nile falls, must rank as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today.
A short preview among the many attractions:-
The Blue Nile Falls (Tis Isat Falls)
The river Nile, the longest river in Africa, runs 800km within Ethiopia. Starts from Lake Tana, the Blue Nile, known locally as “Abbay”, flows to join the White Nile in Khartoum. The Blue Nile contributes up to 80% of the Nile’s flow. The Blue Nile Falls is just an hour drive from Bahar Dar or about 225km from the Addis Ababa. Known locally as ‘Tis Isat” meaning “Smoking Water” the falls are over 400m wide and 45m deep where it thunders. Here millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliff face and into a gorge, creating spectacular rainbows, in one of the most awe-inspiring displays in Africa.
The Sof Omar Cave
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.
Excursions into the caves are conducted carrying torches and the official map. Beside a subterranean stream, see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high eroded ceilings and deep echoing chambers.
The Rift Valley
The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of wildlife. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened, and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as the “water tower” of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland. The Great Rift Valley’s passage through Ethiopia is marked by a chain of seven lakes.
Each of the seven lakes has its own special life and character and provides an ideal habitat for the exuberant variety of flora and fauna that make the region a beautiful and exotic destination for tourists.
Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming other water sports. Besides, lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Within Lake, Langano has tourist class hotels. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs & the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilized. In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife.
Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a heritage dating back to first century AD. Traders from Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt knew of the riches of what is now Ethiopia, and by the first century AD, Axum was the capital of a great Empire. This realm became one of the first Christian lands of Africa. Late in the 10th Century, Axum declined and a new Zagwe dynasty, centred what is now Lalibela, ruled the land. Axum, Lalibela and Gonder now provide our greatest historical legacy. It was in the 16th Century that the son of the great explorer Vasco Da Gama came to Ethiopia, but then found a land of many kingdoms and provinces beset by feuds and war.
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 traveller 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 fairy-tale castles dating back to the 17th century. In Harar, the visitor can enjoy the incense-flavoured mysteries of narrow alleyways and towering minarets.
In the 19th Century, the great Emperor Menelik led us towards the modern state of Ethiopia, and the country’s passage to modernization began. The followings are some of the historical attractions.
Axum is 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, measuring 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. All three section of the 1,700-year-old Axum obelisk has arrived back in Ethiopia, 68 years after it was looted by Italian fascists.
During the days, Axum was a great commercial centre, with 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.
The remains of an early Axumite palace, thought to have belonged to the Queen of Sheba, is within the vicinity. The remains are located at Dangur, near the mountain from which the obelisks were originally excavated. Attractions include the beautifully worked tombs of several ancient Axumite rulers and the local archaeological museum.
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. 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.
Addis Abba is the political capital, economic and social nerve-centre of Ethiopia. With approximately more than two million inhabitants. 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 3,000m 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 16°C.
Some 76 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 southeastern shore of Lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats and just 30 km from the spectacular Tis Isat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates “Smoking Water” an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.
Places of interest include 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 woodworkers.
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.
Also the popular site of Ethiopia’s famous rock-hewn churches. In Tigray near Mekelle, over 200 fine examples 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), Mekelle is now the main town of Tigray, the most northern Ethiopian region. The emperor’s palace has been turned into a particularly 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 particularly 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 the 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, basket-ware, silverware and handsomely bound books, Harar has been a place of pilgrimage from all over the world for many years.
Harar’s attractions are:
– 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.
Dire Dawa is a city in Harar region, Ethiopia. It is a commercial and industrial centre located on the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railroad. Manufactures include processed meat, vegetable oil, textiles, and cement. There are also railroad workshops in the city. Dire Dawa was founded in 1902 when the railroad from Djibouti reached the area, and its growth has resulted largely from trade brought by the railroad.