Historical Attractions

Addis Ababa


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 Menilek 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 meters Entoto mountains and rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut through with fast-flowing streams.

Like any other capital in the world, there is more than enough for anybody to do in Addis. There are numerous restaurants offering various exotic dishes from many parts of the world. Ethiopian food is served at the majority and there are Chinese, Italian, Indian, Armenian, Arabic, Greek and many other specialist restaurants. Indeed, it is possible to eat your way round the world without ever leaving Addis Ababa. on the entertainment side several cinemas show international films with English dialogue or sub-titles. Most of these cinemas also stage dramas in Amharic depicting Ethiopia’s social and cultural life during different historical epochs.

Shopping in Addis is a delight and the shops are fairly well stocked with almost all consumer goods. The local jewellery, sold by the weight of gold or silver, is in particularly high demand .The main market-known as the Mercato, is largest open market place in Africa and has a wonderful range of goods and products, items of local art and Ethiopian curios and antiques. Here, haggling over prices is expected - and one should allow ample time for this, At the shops in town, however, prices are fixed, although a small discount is often allowed on large purchases.

Axum


The past glory of Christian Ethiopia is best represented at the ancient city of Axum. For most of the first seven hundred years AD Axum was metropolis of what one researcher has described as ‘the last of the great civilizations of Antiquity to be revealed to modern knowledge’. It was heir both to a cultural tradition of South Arabian origin that had been established for several centuries previously on the African side of the Red Sea, and also to much older local traditions whose economies were based on indigenous cultivation practice. In its heyday Axum displayed great prosperity,

Organizational power and technological sophistication. Sections of its population were literate in Ge’ez and or in Greek. From the third to the seventh centuries it issued a tri-metallic coinage which is without parallel in Sub Sahara Africa. Wide-ranging trade contacts were maintained through the Red Sea port of Adulis with the Mediterranean lands and, in the opposite direction, as far as India and possibly China. On occasion its rule extended over part of what is now Yemen, on the Asian side of the Red Sea.

The king of Axum adopted Christianity during the second quarter of the fourth century. Although Axum had declined in prosperity by seventh to eight centuries, it has remained a major religious center, dominated by the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Zion. Here, according to the traditions of Ethiopian Orthodox Church, is the last resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, brought to Ethiopia by Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.

The spectacularly rise of Islam in the seventh century was the main cause for the decline of Axum. Axum’s dramatic end was caused by the rebellion against the Axumite Kingdom and Christianity led by Queen Yodit or Gudit who destroyed much of the ancient city overthrew its last king and killed the royal princess, thus, interrupting the Solomonic line.

After the decline of the Axumite realm the city remained Ethiopians religious capital as well as the place where several medieval emperors made their way to celebrate their coronation rites. The town is full of archaeological remains including the graves of kings, the ruins of palaces, the stone inscriptions, and great carved stelae. Axum, besides its huge granite stelae, is also home to the church of Saint Mary of Zion. There are in fact two such churches one old and one new, both located in the same compound, directly opposite to the stelae park. The older one is a rectangular battlemented building, was put up in the early seventeenth century by Emperor Fasiledes, the founder of Gondar. Whereas, the much more modern structure was erected nearby by Emperor Haile Selassie, who inaugurated it in the company of Queen Elisabeth II of Great Britain in 1965.

The older structure, by far the more interesting of the two, is the guardian of many crowns of former emperors and kings of the country.The church courtyard also contains ‘the Throne of David’ on which monarchs of the past were coroneted.There is a small museum nearby which houses a remarkable collection of antiquities. There are several stones bearing Sabean and Ge’ez inscriptions, as well as many other artifacts, including clay figurines that reveal the hair-style current in ancient city. A short walk from museum takes you to the ruins of the original church of saint Mary of Zion, which according to tradition, was erected soon after the advent of Christianity as the state religion in the early fourth century. This, or a later edifice in its place, was described twelve centuries later by a visiting Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvares.

The Best Time To Travel

Although Axum is worthy of a visit at anytime, the town is particularly interesting during the time of church festivals. The most notable include Christmas (7 January) Epiphany (19 January) as well s at the end of November when the festivals of Maryam Zion to whom the great church of saint Mary is dedicated.

Lalibela


Once a thriving populous capital city of a medieval dynasty, Lalibela, is now referred to as a small village. It is scarcely visible against a horizon dominated by the 4,200 meters peak of Mount Abune Yousef. But this secrecy is a deceiving camouflage because in this remote highland settlement some 800 years ago, safe from the prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers, a noble king fashioned a secret marvel.

This remote place in the mountains of Lasta was formerly known as Roha, and it was the capital of the Zagwe Dynasty under their King Lalibela, who reigned in the early thirteenth century and after whom it was renamed. Lalibela is remembered as a ruler of great piety who sought to create in his native mountains a symbolic counterpart of Jerusalem.

There are eleven rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, together with complex and extensive associated works: their contribution to a single reign is based entirely upon historical tradition. In fact, the rock-churches display so much variation in architecture, workmanship and preservation that a much longer period of construction seems highly probable. It has even been suggested that two of the churches may originally have had a different function, being subsequently converted at a time when Lalibela’s overall symbolism was being imposed. If that is so, it would presumably mean that the carving of the Lalibela churches extended over a long period - perhaps several centuries – and that the complex took its final form and symbolism during the thirteenth - century reign of king Lalibela.

With one exception, the Lalibela churches fall into two close-knit groups, located on either side of a canalized watercourse known, as part of site’s biblical symbolism, the Jordan River. The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are in fact the top destination by the number of visitors they attract. One of the first Europeans to visit these churches (in 1520s) Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvares was so amazed by what he saw, and wrote: “I weary of writing more about these edifices, because it seems to me I shall not be believed if I write more… I swear by God, in whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth.”

The Best Time To Travel

Although it is always a place of unparallel fascination, Lalibela is particularly interesting during religious celebration, notably Ethiopian Christmas (7 January) Timket (19 January) and Easter when christens pour into the area from regions far and near.

Gondar


You have only to stroll through the banqueting-halls and gaze down from the balconies of the many castles and palaces here to imagine the intrigue and pageantry that took place back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is when Gondar, Then the Ethiopian capital was home to a number of emperors and kings. Gondar became the capital of Ethiopia during the reign of emperor Fasildas (1632-1667). Emperor Fasilidas is responsible for the building of the first of a number of castle–like palaces still found in the region. He established tradition that was followed by most of these successors whose buildings greatly enhanced the grandeur of the city. The city retained its preeminence until the middle of the nineteenth century, when emperor Tewodros II moved his seat of government to Debre Tabor and later to Mekedela.

As a result Gondar declined in importance and was subsequently looted in the 1880s. By the early nineteenth century the city was a mere shadow of its former self. More recently several buildings were damaged by British bombing during the Ethiopian liberation campaign of 1941 most of Gondar famous castles and other imperial buildings nevertheless have survived the ravages of time and together constitute one of Ethiopians most fascinating antiquities.

The Best Time To Travel

Gondar like all Ethiopians historic sites can be visited at any time of the year. The city is however a particularly good place to witness Genna Ethiopian Christmas on 7 January and especially Timket (epiphany) celebrations on 19 January.

Harar


Harar is founded in 9th century. However, came into formal existence in 1520 when a local Amir, Abu Beker Mohamed, moved his capital there from Dakar to the site of an older nearby settlement. His rule, nevertheless, was soon cut short, for he was murdered five years later by Ahmed lbn Ibrahim al Ghazi better known as Ahmed Gragn or Ahmed the Left Handed. Gragn left his homeland in 1530-1531 to begin a jihad or holy war against the Christian Ethiopian Empire. He was successful in overrunning much of it but as a result of Portuguese intervention was defeated and killed in 1543. The city impoverished by war and faced many difficulties. The Oromo advances into the surrounding country side, isolating Harar caused Gragn nephew and successor, Nur Ibn al-Wazir Mujahid to erect strong encircling wall which, ever since that time, have been one of the city most dominant features

For the next three century, Harar remained independent, inward looking, and often militantly theocratic city state. However the town was an important trading center issuing its own currency. Its many inhabitants included merchants who traveled far and wide particularly to Egypt, Arabia, and India. Others where engaged in agriculture and grew excellent coffee as well as a mild stimulant called chat. Harar also was, and still is, well-known for its handmade crafts including weaving, basket making and book-binding. The town was also renowned for its Islamic teaching and scholarships. Harar ceased to be an independent city state in 1875 when the Egyptians, wanted to establish an east African Empire, occupied and killed its ex-ruler, Amir Abd Al-shakur.

But, the Egyptian occupation lasted only a decade, after which another Amir, Abdullahi, took over only to be defeated later by MenelikII in 1887. This is when Harar became an integral part of the Ethiopian empire. In the period that followed many foreigners settled in Harar, among them the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud is an exemplary. The first ruler of Harar after Menelik’s occupation was his cousin Ras Mekonnen, a progressive aristocrat interested in modernization. He was responsible for introducing the country’s first hospital and leprosarium. Despite such development Harar was adversely affected by the construction of the Djibout-Addis Ababa railway. The line was originally planned to pass through the city but for economic reasons diverted to Dire Dawa. Hence, much of Harar’s trade moved to Dire Dawa.

Today, Ras Mekonnen is best remembered as being the father of Emperor Haile Selassie. The latter which was born in the vicinity of the city, was brought up in Harar and subsequently served as one of its governors. He long afterwards appointed his second son, Prince Makonnen as governor of Harerge region and gave him the title of Duke of Harar.

The Best Time To Travel

Harar can be visited anytime of the year.

Mekele


Though not as famous as many of the other sites in Ethiopia it is form Mekelle that you can visit nearby rock-hewn churches in the region of which there are around two hundred. Often perched on cliffs or carved into rock crevies these fascinating churches are beautifully decorated and some house impotent religious artifacts.

Sheikh Husssein


Located north of Sof Omar, Sheikh Hussein is southern Ethiopia’s most important center of Muslim pilgrimage and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. At least 500 years old, it’s dedicated to the 13th century holy man (Sheikh Hussein), who was responsible for the conversation of many Bale and Arsi Oromo to Islam. Pilgrims came here to make wishes and to offer thanks for wishes fulfilled.

Bahar Dar


Bahar Dar for centuries has been a place of commercial importance, and visited by Tankwas (papyrus canoes) made by lakeside people called the Woyto. Who work these craft across the waters of the lake. Open at the back end the boats appear dangerously fragile as they slide over the surface, but they continue to carry passengers, cattle and goods to and from the many islands in the lake as they have done for centuries. Bahar Dar is best-known for its colorful market and as a base to explore the areas two major attractions: the Blue Nile falls and Lake Tana.