Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a heritage dating back to the 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 in what is now Lalibela, ruled the land. Axum, Lalibela and Gonder now provide the greatest historical legacy. It was in the 16th Century that the son of the great explorer Vasco Da Gama came to Ethiopia. He found a land of many kingdoms and provinces beset by feuds and war.
Ethiopia is a nation comprised of more than 80 different ethnic groups, the heritage and traditions of each blending to form a unique and colourful mosaic.
Ethiopia is old beyond imagination, dating to the very beginning of mankind. It is also the land of the Queen of Sheba, a place of legendary rulers, fabulous kingdom sand ancient mysteries.
Ethiopia is the epitome of the entire sub-Sahara ecosystem where rare indigenous animals roam free, birdlife abounds and colourful wild flowers and native plants carpet the land.
The following are some of Ethiopia's historical attractions.
Axum, Ethiopia's most ancient city, and capital of one of the most glorious empires of the past, is one of the most illustrious links in the Historic Route. The Axumite Empire flourished 3,000 years ago. Its riches can still be pictured on the magnificent stelae or obelisks, the graves of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskal, and the legendary bath of the Queen of Sheba.
The 16th Century Cathedral of St Mary of Zion was built based on an earlier 4th Century church, and is the holiest church in Ethiopia. In its sanctuary is said to rest the original Ark of the Covenant. The churches and monasteries of Axum houses are richly endowed with icons, and some of the historical crowns of ancient emperors.
Some 76 km from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo, 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. It is worth noting that the monastery is closed to women.
Some 55 km east of Axum is the 5th Century B.C temple of Yeha. Its massive walls house Judaic relics and historic artifacts.
King Lalibela is credited with the foundation of the 11 rock-hewn churches in the 12th Century. One of the world's most incredible man-made creations, they are a lasting monument to man's faith in God. These remarkable edifices were carved out of solid rock, in a region where the rugged landscape still protects the churches from mass tourism. The 11 man made churches are found in and around the town of Lalibela. Other churches are reached by a 45-minute drive by 4x4 vehicle, or a three hour mule ride.
The venue for some of the most famous church festivals in Ethiopia, a visit during the great celebrations of Timket (Epiphany) is particularly rewarding.
Bahar Dar is a small town set on the south-eastern shore of Lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats. It is just 30 km from the spectacular Tisisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates "Smoking Water" an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.
From Bahar Dar you can explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built around Lake Tana, or on its many Islands. These include Dek Stephanos with its priceless
collections of icons, the remains of several medieval emperors, Kebran Gabriel and Ura Kidane Mehret with its famous frescoes. The colourful local market at Bahar 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 others in Africa, display a richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia.
Other treasures 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 examples of these monuments to man's devotion to God, as well as his building skills, may be seen.
The capital of the Emperor Yohannnes IV (1871 - 1889), Makale is now the main town of Tigray, the northern most 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. Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region.
Dating back to 1520, the city of Harar is an ancient and holy city. Always an important trading centre, the city is famous for its ancient buildings,
its great city walls and with 99 mosques, the town is also known as a centre of muslim learning. The city is noted 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.
Harar's attractions includes :-
The City Walls
The City Walls, and the narrow streets lined
with traditional Harari gegar houses.
A fine example of a 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 they bravely
feed these dangerous scavengers
With over 80 ethnic groups, the cultures of many different communities pattern Ethiopian lifestyle. With traditions going back to the days of Axum, and the strong religious setting, celebrations and festivals play an important part in daily life.
With religion playing such an important part in many people's lifestyles, Ethiopia is a land where festivals and ceremonies provide many high points in the calendar. At such times, in towns and villages the people are dressed in their finest clothes.
The following are among the most famous festivals:
Enkutatash - Ethiopian New Year's day.
Maskal - The festival of the finding of the true cross.
Gena - Ethiopian Christmas (Jan. 7)
Timket - Ethiopian Epiphany
Faseka - Ethiopian Easter
Id Al Adha
Id Al Fetir
The remains of "Lucy" which date back 3.5 million years and the recent discovery of amidas, a 4.4 million year old hominid fossil, mark Ethiopia as the cradle of mankind. Both were discovered in Haddar, along the Awash river, in the east of the country. They completed the missing link between apes and men.
Melka Konturie is also an important archeological site. Here 1.5 million year old stone tools were found. Several cave paintings and stone monuments are located in different parts of the country, namely Dilla, in the South and Dire Dawa, in the east.
In the large cities there is a wide range of entertainment in the evenings. In Addis Ababa, there is a Casino in the Ghion Hotel, as well as several international night clubs. In Addis Ababa, and in many other towns, the cinema is a popular form of entertainment, with films in both English and other languages. Theatrical performances are confined to the main centres, but in every town you will find local bars, called 'buna bet' (meaning coffee house), where the local people will be pleased to make you welcome. Traditional folklore dances will often be held in the main hotels and tourist sites.
Ethiopia is rich in traditional crafts and its artisans work with local raw materials, creating artifacts that are useful, as well as being items of great beauty. Shopping in Ethiopia can be an exciting experience.
The bustling markets are the places to try out your bargaining skills, and even in some small work-shops you can achieve a more reasonable price after a little bit of haggling.
In Addis Ababa, the Mercato is the place to head for, but in all town markets and road side stalls will display the crafts made in the locality.
In Harar, visitors will find colourful basketwork or Silver filigree, while the crosses of Gonder are famous. Hand-woven carpets come from Debre Brhan, while Jumma is well-known for its three legged stools. All over the country you will find historical artifacts.
In all regions, modern skills are being combined with traditional methods to produce modern handicrafts that make splendid souvenirs. Pottery, wood-carving and modern jewellery make wonderful keepsakes. Other treasures include hand-carved furniture, wall-hangings, beautiful embroidery and costume dolls.
Ethiopia's modern designers have created a range of fashionable clothes that will enchant you. Ladies should explore some of the smaller
boutiques in Addis Ababa, while both men and women will delight in the excellent leather goods for which Ethiopia is famous.
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with a great variety of languages spoken in the country, of which there are eighty three, with some 200 dialects. The main three languages are Amharic, Tigrigna and Oramigna. English is also widely spoken. Amharic is the most prominent of the local languages. The name originates from the Amhara people, who live in the highlands of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian languages belong to one of four main language groups: Semitic (Such as Amharic and Tigrigna), Cushitic (such as Afan Oromo), Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. A useful phrase book will provide phonetic guides to aid pronunciation.
With people from so many different ethnic groups, the food and drinks of Ethiopia are varied.
A typical dish is Wot, a hot spicy stew of meat or vegetables, seasoned with a blend of Berbere. It is often made with Doro (Chicken), and normally served with injera, the traditional spongy pancake made from a fermented teff flour batter.
In most good restaurants, or in the local coffee house, you will find delicious dishes that reflect the customs and the ingredients of the region. In Addis Ababa, as in most of the larger cities, visitors will also find a wide range of restaurants that reflect the influences of other cuisines. All large hotels have international restaurants, but elsewhere in the city you can sample Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Greek and other cuisines.
Ethiopia produces its own wines. Dukam and Gouder are fine reds, Axumite is sweeter and Crystals is a dry white wine. Ethiopia's famous honey wine, or Tej, is found all over the country as is Tela, a local beer and Katikala, a distilled liquor.
Ethiopia is a country of people who appreciate the great outdoors. The chance to enjoy the attractions of Ethiopia while participating in a favourite pastime, make a holiday in Ethiopia even more fun.
Some activities may simply provide a relaxing interlude to an Ethiopian tour, while others may be an important factor in choosing to go to Ethiopia. In remote areas, or when undertaking any form of hazardous activity, we strongly recommend that you take a local guide. In national parks, ranger guides accompany trekking parties.