The name of this sprawling capital city means "New Flower." Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887 and with a population of about 4 million, Addis Ababa is Africa's diplomatic capital with the headquarters for the Organization of African Unity located here. Impressive monuments of colonial architecture are scattered among stretches of sun-bleached shacks. Drive through "Mercato" the largest open market on the continent. Make interesting stops that include the National Museum, the Ethnological Museum and the Ba'ata Church known as Menelik Mausoleum. Enjoy souvenir shopping and visits to special art galleries. Hotel accommodation ranges from tourist class to luxury collection and varieties of restaurants serve delectable dishes from around the world. If international arrival into Addis is on an evening flight, then that first overnight must be spent in town.
earlier written as Aksum, was the first major empire to rise out of Ethiopia. The 10th century BC Axumite kingdom was at one time considered together with Persia, China and Rome as one of the great powers of the world. It was an important commercial centre, trading with Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, Arabia and Persia. Axum began to decline in the seventh century AD. The Axum landscape is marked with mysterious monuments and magnificent ancient structures and ruins. The oldest and most esteemed of the treasures are the 3,000-year-old age steles that were sculpted from single pieces of granite rock curved to resemble storied buildings. The tallest obelisk, which is over 23 m tall, was looted from Ethiopia and erected in Rome by Mussolini's fascist troops during their brief occupation of the country from 1936 to 1941. After decades of debate and controversy, the monolith was finally returned to Axum in April 2005. The relic is now Ethiopia's greatest historic attraction.
At the churches and monasteries of Axum, history comes to life as the icons and historic crowns of ancient emperors tell the story.
The most outstanding church is the 16th century Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion, considered to be Ethiopia's holiest site and believed to house the original Ark of the Covenant.
While in Axum, other historical sites not to be missed are: the royal graves of King Kaleb and Gabre Meskel, the 54 room ruins of a palace that supposedly housed the Queen of Sheba, and her legendary Bath. Also look out for the still legible early 4th century stone-pillar inscription, made on account of King Ezana's victory over rebellious tribes.
Lalibela, a medieval settlement in the region of Wello, is the site of eleven rock-hewn churches believed to have been built in the late 12th or early 13th century by King Lalibela. It is reported that King Lalibela's prodigious church building was his effort to recreate Jerusalem. Muslims occupied Jerusalem at the time and pilgrimage to Jerusalem, for Ethiopian Christians was difficult. The city was initially known as Roha, but was later renamed after King Lalibela, the most outstanding of the Zagwes'. Lalibela is a holy shrine city of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and it is the best place to experience the most colourful Ethiopian church festivals especially during Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas (Genna), and Epiphany (Timket).
Gondar was once the capital of Ethiopia, its prominence beginning with the reign of Emperor Fasilades in 1632 and ending with the fall of Tewodros in 1868. The city's unique imperial precinct contains a dozen castles and fortress-like battlements built by various Emperors during this 236 year period. By European standards the Gondar castles may not be elaborate, but their very presence in Africa makes them a rare and imposing sight & some historians call them "The Camelot of Africa." The Debre Birhan Selassie Church in Gondar town is famous for its "angel head frescoes" that decorate the entire ceiling. A day excursion by car can be made to visit the magnificently scenic Simien Mountains National Park.
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Simien Mountains National Park was officially established in 1969 with the objective of preserving its unique Afro-alpine ecosystems and high number of endemic species of birds and wildlife that include the Ethiopian wolf, gelada baboon and walia ibex. Dubbed as the "Roof of Africa," Ethiopia has the highest elevated portion of landmass on the continent. The Simien Mountains are part of this landmass with unparalleled scenery. It was declared as a World Heritage site by UNESO in 1978. The region includes many summits above 4,000 mts and culminates in the highest point in Ethiopia and fourth highest peak in Africa, Mount Ras Dashen (4,620 mts.) Its dramatic topography is the result of the erosion of basalt lavas that have been calculated to be nearly 3,000 mts thick. It is an ideal place for nature lovers and trekkers. The rainy season runs from June to September so travelling can be difficult during this period. November and December are the coldest months when the temperature is likely to go below freezing.
Quote taken from Rosita Forbes, 1925 "From Red Sea to Blue Nile - A thousand Miles of Ethiopia."
"The most marvelous of all Abyssinian landscapes opened before us, as we looked across a gorge that was clouded amethyst to the peaks of Simien. A Thousand, Thousand years ago, when the old god reigned in Ethiopia, they must have played chess with those stupendous crags, for we saw bishops' miters cut in lapis lazuli, castles with the ruby of approaching sunset on their turrets, an emerald knight where the forest crept up on to the rock and, far away, a king, crowned with sapphire and guarded by a row of pawns."
BAHIR DAR & LAKE TANA
Bahir Dar is the jumping-off point for visits to the spectacular scenic and historic attractions of Lake Tana - Ethiopia's giant inland sea. In their funerary texts, the Pharaohs referred to it as "Lake Karou of the Country of the Happy." In the Middle Ages, churches sought refuge on the islands of Lake Tana and due in part to the difficult access are to this day rich in Ethiopian illuminated manuscripts, religious paintings and other treasures. The majestic Blue Nile Falls named "Tis Issat" in the Amharic language, which descriptively translates as "Smoke of Fire" is found outside Bahir Dar. The Falls plunge over a sheer 45 mts precipice that is 400 mts wide. Sought in vain by Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, the first European to discover the source of the Nile was Portuguese Father Paez. 150 years later in 1770, Scottish Traveler James Bruce described it as "One of the most stupendous sights of the Creation."
Harar is an amazing and amusing place to tour. This early 16th century eastern Ethiopian city was once an important trade centre and is famous for its ancient Arabic structures, great city walls, and the French poet Rimbaud's house. Harar is an Islamic centre with at least 99 mosques is considered to be the fourth holiest Islamic city, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
If the evening finds you in Harar, you may witness a most bizarre spectacle courtesy of the so-called Hyena Men. With wild howls, these fearless men summon hyenas from the hills. They then get the ruthless scavengers to snatch pieces of meat from their hands or even their mouths!
The whole setting of medieval walls tightly embracing the ancient city, its rich and colorful marketplace, towering and majestic mountains and refreshingly cool climate, infuses Harar with an air of excitement, making it a memorable place to visit.
ARBA MINCH & NECH SAR NATIONAL PARK
In the experience of many visitors, Nech Sar National Park ranks as one of the most beautiful places in the tropical savannahs. It is a small park of 514 sq kms located on an outstandingly scenic part of the Rift Valley floor. Sandwiched between two lakes and bordered in the east by the Amaro Hills, the central plains of this park seem from a distance to be very pale, thus giving rise to the name Nech Sar or "white grass." The park is home to Burchell's zebra, Grant's gazelle and the endemic Swayne's hartebeest. The two adjoining lakes - Chamo and Abaya, support a considerable population of Nile crocodile and concentration of Nile perch.
BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Ranging in altitude between 1,500-4,377 meters with a total area of 2,400 sq kms, the Bale Mountains National Park forms Ethiopia's second largest mountain complex. It is also Africa's most extensive Afro-alpine habitat. A visit is rewarded by the opportunity to site many endemic mammals and birds including the rarest canid in the world - the Ethiopian wolf. It is quite memorable to be driving on the highest road in Africa and then descend down to one of Ethiopia's most remarkable forested reserves - the Harenna Forest.
GAMBELLA & TUM
Gambella, with a brief British influence, was once a busy commercial port between Ethiopia and the Sudan. The main attractions are its National Park and ethnic groups. The park contains lowland animals seen nowhere else in Ethiopia: Roan antelope, white-eared Kob and the rare Nile lechwe. The two main people groups are the Anuak and Nuer. They are distinctly different from the Semetic and Cushitic speakers who dominate the rest of the country. Further to the South and living on the western bank of River Omo are the Surma or Suri people who number about 40,000. Like the Mursi, they are known for their stick-fighting and the women with their lip-plates. In her early twenties an unmarried woman's lip will be pierced and then progressively stretched over the period of a year. A clay disc indented like a pulley wheel is squeezed into the hole in the lip. As it stretches, ever-larger discs are forced in until the lip become so long; it can sometimes be pulled right over the owner's head. The larger the lip-plate gets, the greater the bride price.
160kms to the east of the country, in the Afar region, the banks of Awash River make an important pre historic and archaeological site. This is where, Hadar, the hominid 'Lucy' (believed to be the missing link between man and his ape ancestors) was excavated. Recent findings in neighbouring Kenya have however come to challenge this position. The local name of the hominid is Dinknesh -meaning "thou art wonderful".
Lucy is the fun name given to her by the scientists whom were listening the very famous Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" at the time when they found her. This archaeological gem today rests at the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa. Many other archaeological treasures have also been found in the area.