Addis Ababa - The New Flower
The garden city of Addis Ababa, with its trees, flowers and parks, is one of the most beautiful in Africa. The third highest capital in the world has a climate that offers invigorating mountain coolness, pleasantly warmed by its proximity to the equator. Little wonder its founder, Emperor...
Addis Ababa - The New Flower
The garden city of Addis Ababa, with its trees, flowers and parks, is one of the most beautiful in Africa. The third highest capital in the world has a climate that offers invigorating mountain coolness, pleasantly warmed by its proximity to the equator. Little wonder its founder, Emperor Menelik' II, called it the ‘New Flower’ when he established it in 1887.
The 2,500m high, political and commercial nucleus of the country sprawls across many hills, beneath Mount Entoto, and offers welcoming hospitality and a scene of contrasts with modern buildings and wide boulevards side-by-side with historic churches, palaces, museums, monuments, a myriad of shops, coffee houses and simple huts. Some of the charming wooden balconies of buildings constructed during Menelik’s time suggest an interesting oriental touch.
Addis Ababa holds an unending fascination for the traveler because it is a city of contrasts where barefooted farmers drive their grass loaded donkeys past modern skyscrapers. Her great market is one of the largest in Africa where everything from a hairpin to a truckload of grain can be purchased.
Addis is now host to many international and regional organizations such as the Africa Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa at Africa Hall. It can also boast a state-of-the-art airport which serves as the doorway into a country that has the longest history of freedom in Africa, and to the paradise that is Ethiopia.
Lalibela – The 8th wonder of the world
In remote and inaccessible mountains of Wollo nearly two thousand miles high is a town of unique churches cut from solid rock. These monolithic churches were carved out of the natural volcanic rock from the surface of the earth down. This form of building leaves each church separated from the...
Lalibela – The 8th wonder of the world
In remote and inaccessible mountains of Wollo nearly two thousand miles high is a town of unique churches cut from solid rock. These monolithic churches were carved out of the natural volcanic rock from the surface of the earth down. This form of building leaves each church separated from the surrounding rock by a trench which is the courtyard of the rock building. The effect is both dramatic and practical allowing the central block of rock to be carved into a church complete with doors, windows, arches, rooms and decorations. Elaborately shaped with intricate designs, the 11 main churches are a delight to tourists and archaeologists alike. The churches are certainly among man’s most impressive monumental feats. It is recorded that it took 23 years to chisel these churches out of the volcanic stone using hand tools.
After the fall of the kingdom of Axum, a new dynasty called the Zagwe rose to power from the 10th-13th centuries. The most famous king of this line was Lalibela to whom is attributed the astounding workmanship of these impressive churches. The style of some of the buildings is reminiscent of ancient Axum with similar doors, windows, arches and the moon motif. As one of the world’s most incredible man-made creations, they are a lasting monument to man’s faith in God.
These 11 rock-hewn churches, being distinctive in style, are set in three groups trisected by a river called Jordanos. Unbelievably these churches are interconnected by scores of passageways, tunnels and secret entrances which give the region an air of mystery. The largest church is House of the Holy Savior of the World, which has an intricately formed roof. Nearby are the churches of St. Mary with its holy pools and Golgotha with its life-sized bas-reliefs of saints. The most elegant of the churches is named after St. George, the traditionally accepted patron saint of Ethiopia. It is carved in the shape of a cross and the walls imitate an Axumite theme with beams, doors, windows and ‘monkey heads’ all made of solid stone.
The churches are a never-ending fascination and several days could be spent exploring them. The volcanic stone of the region varies in color from red to bright orange and the churches have a variety of shades. After a rain they glisten, and the changing light of the day makes the colors glow in different ways. Inside the buildings there is more color since many of the ceilings are painted, and there are pictures, parchments, religious paraphernalia and furniture to be seen. The color of Lalibela reaches its climax on religious holidays when pilgrims flood to the town. At Ethiopian Christmas, Easter and Timket (Epiphany) the vestments, umbrellas, crosses and holy books glisten in the sunshine. The priests dance solemnly before the Ark of the Covenant singing the Psalms of David and the songs of St. Yared (6th century Ethiopian Church Music composer). Lalibela lies in the center of an extensive complex of more than 200 rock hewn churches. Some of them can be reached by a one or two hours drive by 4 WD vehicle, or 3 – 5 hours ride on mule-back. Others are a full day’s journey away.
Bahir Dar is a settlement on the southern shore of Lake Tana (Ethiopia’s largest lake), where local fishermen still use locally made canoes made out of papyrus reeds. It is just 32 km from the spectacular Tississat (Blue Nile) Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates ‘smoking water’; an awe-inspiring...
Bahir Dar is a settlement on the southern shore of Lake Tana (Ethiopia’s largest lake), where local fishermen still use locally made canoes made out of papyrus reeds. It is just 32 km from the spectacular Tississat (Blue Nile) Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates ‘smoking water’; an awe-inspiring sight as it dives into the gorge below.
Set at 1800 meters above sea level, Lake Tana is 75 km long and 60 km wide. Its 3600 square kilometers surface is dotted with over 30 islands, many of which are homes to many ancient monasteries and churches. Bahir Dar port likewise provides access, by boat, to these historic lakeside and island churches and monasteries, near and far.
For centuries Lake Tana has attracted mystics and religious individuals. Christianity probably first spread to this area from Axum as early as the fifth century AD but many of the monasteries of the lake did not appear before the 14th century. Most of them possess invaluable historical documents, relics, and the remains of Ethiopian kings in the medieval period, and have beautifully painted walls. These include Dek Estifanos with its priceless collection of icons, as well as the remains of several medieval emperors, Kebran Gabriel (closed to women), and Ura Kidane Mihret with its famous frescoes. The colorful local market at Bahir Dar is renowned for its weavers and wood workers.
After crossing Lake Tana and plunging more than 2000 meters in the 800-km course from Ethiopia to the plains of Sudan, the Blue Nile begins its journey with a thundering 50-meter cascade over Tississat Falls, 30 km downstream from the point where it leaves Lake Tana. The falls are approached on foot from the nearby village of Tississat. After crossing a castellated 17th century Portuguese bridge that spans a deep basaltic rift, a grassy rise must be climbed before the falls suddenly appear- churning the smooth, unflattering flaw of the Nile into a boiling contract and sending it foaming down into the gorge below. How majestic they are!
This region is home to the Amhara, a highland people whose language, Amharic, is now the lingua franca of Ethiopia. There are few large villages, remote and scattered communities being the norm of the highland lifestyle.
Semien Mountains NP – The roof of Africa
“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 years ago, when the old gods reigned in Ethiopia, they must have played chess with those stupendous crags, for we saw bishops’’ miters cut...
Semien Mountains NP – The roof of Africa
“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 years ago, when the old gods 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 the rock, and, far away, a king, crowned with sapphire, and guarded by a row of pawns. When the gods exchanged their games for shield and buckler to fight the new men clamoring at their gates, they turned the pieces of their cheeseboard into mountains. In Simien they stand enchanted, till once again the world is pagan and the titans and the earth gods lean down from the monstrous could banks to wager a star or two on their sport. (Rosita Forbes, 1925. From Red Sea to Blue Nile --- A Thousand Miles of Ethiopia.)”
The Simien (sometimes spelled semyen, simian, and various other adaptations from the Ethiopian alphabet) is an area of Ethiopia, encompassing much of the eastern part of part of the province of the administrative region of Begemdir. The word means “north “ in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language. The geological description of the area, somewhat more prosaic then the above quotation by Rosita Forbes, says the Simien massif is a “volcanic pile now bounded by gigantic erosion precipices on almost all sides.” In addition to spectacular scenery, the region contains a number of unusual botanical phenomena and some of the rarest animals in the world. The Walia Ibex has its citadel among the peaks of the Simien; the last 500 to 700 individuals of this species survive there. The Simian Fox, also very rare, is found nowhere else but In these mountains and in the highlands of southern Ethiopia. The Gelada, a primate which looks like a cross between a baboon and a lion, is another exclusively Ethiopian species which lives in this habitat. Probably about nine of the twenty-three species of birds which are endemic to Ethiopia are found in the Simien. Little is known about the reptiles, amphibians, insects, and plant life so it is quite possible that species new to science and unique to this area may yet be discovered among the chasms and the “giant chess pieces” portrayed by Rosita Forbes in 1969. The wildest part of this region was gazette as a national park.”
Gondar – The Camelot of Africa
Emperor Fasiledes and his dynasty built some of the most remarkable buildings in Africa, and Gondar became an imperial walled city of towers and castles and the capital of Ethiopia in the 17th century. These great buildings still crown Gondar like priceless diadems of history, ruined reminders...
Gondar – The Camelot of Africa
Emperor Fasiledes and his dynasty built some of the most remarkable buildings in Africa, and Gondar became an imperial walled city of towers and castles and the capital of Ethiopia in the 17th century. These great buildings still crown Gondar like priceless diadems of history, ruined reminders of past power. The city’s unique imperial compound contains a number of castles built between 1632 and 1769 by the various Emperors who reigned during this period. These dramatic castles, unlike any other in Africa, display richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia.
The largest castle is four stories high and was built of rough-cut stones and lime mortar with cedar doors, beams and furniture. It is a large rectangular building with a grand outside staircase, a watchtower and four semi-detached round turrets at the corners. Around the great castle of King Fasiledes is a stately group of castles with their turrets, narrow windows, dungeons, and staircases all surrounded by a battlement wall with 12 gates. Once centers of authority and government, these feudal fortresses seem lonely and deserted now, perhaps reminiscing times when the Temple of Love, the House of Songs, and the Paradise Gardens pulsated with life.
Scattered in and around Gondar is a wealth of other castles, churches and historical buildings, perhaps the most charming of these is the Bathing Palace of Emperor Fasiledes, which is used for the annual Timket or Epiphany celebrations. Here amidst eucalyptus and cedar trees the old trianon palace sits surrounded by a large pool. Nearby is a small mausoleum said to have been built for the king’s favorite horse. Several rivers around Gondar are still crossed on bridges built during the city’s Golden Age. The ruins of the palace and abbey of the redoubtable 18th century Empress Mintiwab, at Quesquam, in the mountains just outside Gondar.
Gondar is also a treasure house of religious art with over 44 churches each displaying Biblical and ecclesiastical paintings and various church articles. One of the jewel boxes of Christian art is the church of Debre Birhan Silassie (Mount of the Light of the Trinity) which has a sweeping view of Gondar and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The ceiling and walls of the rectangular church are covered with one of the most remarkable displays of religious art in Ethiopia. The paintings are in the Byzantine style on cloth glued to the walls and seem more like tapestries than frescoes. Here in glowing color are Biblical scenes mostly from the New Testament. The life of Christ and Mary are given in full detail along with some paintings about the apostles and Ethiopian saints and kings.
Though predominantly Christian, and the abode of the highest Church dignitaries in the land, the town’s inhabitants include many rich Muslim merchants, as well as a number of Falashas (Ethiopian Jews), also called Bete Israel, who were predominantly weavers, blacksmiths, and potters, as well as palace and church builders. Only 3 km from Gondar, Woleka - the Felasha village, which is highly decorated by pottery, gives an intricate experience to the visitor.
About 3,000 years ago, the city of Axum became the royal capital where the wealth of the empire was used to build one of the greatest ancient cities in Africa. Merchants, ambassadors, travelers and people came and went marveling at the city with its five–story palaces, intricate water system,...
About 3,000 years ago, the city of Axum became the royal capital where the wealth of the empire was used to build one of the greatest ancient cities in Africa. Merchants, ambassadors, travelers and people came and went marveling at the city with its five–story palaces, intricate water system, gold and silver coins and its mysterious and marvelous obelisks.
These great monolithic stelae carved from single pieces of granite in the 1st century BC were the glory of ancient Axum. Though there are more than one thousand obelisks, only three of them are patterned with false doors and windows. The tallest was 33 meters, the greatest obelisk ever made and taller than any erected in Egypt or elsewhere, is now fallen and broken in to three pieces. The 2nd tallest, which has 10 stories and 24 meters height, has also fallen but was looted by the Italians in the World War II and erected at the heart of Rome. The third one which is 10 stories and 23 meters high is still standing at the stelae park in Axum. These pre-Christian centers of worship seem to represent a giant sun dial where sacrifices were made to the sun and planets. The semicircular tops of these ancient skyscrapers may represent the moon. Are these obelisks a stylized representation of the Tower of Babel? Does the chiseled blind entrance door, windows and several stories carved like a great house represent the stages of the souls ascent to the sun-lit heavens? Almost any answer is possible but none can be proved.>
The original culture and language of the Kingdom of Axum was based on Sabean, and Axum had many architectural similarities to the ancient cities of South Arabia. When the Greeks began to trade with Axum, the culture of Greeks became fused with the existing Sabean influences. Eventually the Greek language and religion replaced Sabean only to give way to Christianity, which became the religion of Axum after 330 AD.
With the rise of Christianity under King Ezana, Geez grew in importance and replaced Greek as the language of the empire. As late as the 6th Century the Kingdom of Axum still ruled part of south Arabia and was one of the greatest historic empires south of the Sahara. During the 7th century the Axumite port, Adulis, was destroyed and the rise of Islam cut Axum off from the rest of the world. In the 10th century Judith, a local woman of pagan faith, led her followers in attacking Christianity and burned Axum.
Although the Axumite Empire was gone, the city remained as the spiritual center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where the Ethiopian kings continued to be crowned. From Axum missionaries of the Orthodox faith went out until most of the high land region of Northern Ethiopia became Christian.
The most sacred site in the holy city is the church of St. Mary of Zion where the original Ark of the Covenant (Mosses’ Ark) is said to be kept in a small sanctuary. The old church of St. Mary of Zion, built by Emperor Fasiledes in 1632 (probably built on an earlier 4th century church), contains the most valuable collections of crowns, vestments, gold crosses and religious paintings in Ethiopia. The limestone walls of the church are covered with paintings illustrating the Bible and history of the country. Since no women are allowed to enter the old church, Emperor Haile Silassie built a non-discriminating cathedral in 1943 by the presence of Queen Victoria of Great Britain at the inauguration.
A visit of the tomb of King Bazen (9 BC – 8 AD), the pagan and Christian inscriptions of Ezana (4th cent AD), the 6th century tombs of King Kaleb and his son Gebre Meskal, and the palace and the bath of the legendary Queen of Sheba takes you hundreds of centuries back. The archeological museum with its tremendous collections of coins, pottery, inscriptions and other findings declare Axum as the cradle of Ethiopian civilization.
About 25 km east of Axum is Adwa, where world headlines were made on 1st of March 1896, when Emperor Menilek II ’s Ethiopian army defeated the Italians and served notice that here was one part of Africa that would not be colonized. The Ethiopian victory was as unexpected by the Italians as were the results which allowed Ethiopia to continue her long history as an independent country. The site of the battle is surrounded by some of the most grotesquely shaped volcanic plugs in Ethiopia.
Another 30 km further the 5th century BC temple of Yeha lays beside the 6th century church of Abba Aftse. On the same road, about 90-km from Axum, the monastery of Debre Damo lures the traveler from the top of a mountain. To reach this 6th cent monastery one has to pull himself about 18 meters up using a rope made of cow skin.
Natural North East
Bale Mountains NP
As a total contrast the Bale Mountains, with their vast moorlands, their lower reaches covered with St. Johns wort, their extensive heath, their virgin woodlands, their pristine mountain streams and their alpine climate, are a beautiful world of their own set in the southern highlands of...
Bale Mountains NP
As a total contrast the Bale Mountains, with their vast moorlands, their lower reaches covered with St. Johns wort, their extensive heath, their virgin woodlands, their pristine mountain streams and their alpine climate, are a beautiful world of their own set in the southern highlands of Ethiopia, 425 kilometers from Addis Ababa. The mountains raise to a height of over 4000 meters, with Tulu Dimtu , the second highest peak in Ethiopia, rising to 4377meters high.
The Bale Mountains national park , which covers an area of 2470 sq km, and through which one can either walk or drive, is one of the best places to see the endemic Ethiopian Wolf, the Mountain Nyala and Menelik’s Bush buck. Amongst a profusion of birds, other animals to be seen include Anubis Baboons, colobus Monkey, Giant forest hog, lion and liopards. The creeks of the park, which becomes important rivers further south, offers one of African’s finest fishing for both rainbow and brown trout.
Not far from the bale Mountains is one of the worlds most spectacular and extensive underground caverns : the Sof Omer Cave system. Formed by the Web River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved a new channel through limestone foothills, Sof Omer is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.
Volcanic activity which greatly contributed to the formation of the rift Valley continues up to the present times. In Ethiopia, it finds expression in the presence of hot springs in many parts of the country, as well as volcanic cones in the Denakil Depression in the north...
Volcanic activity which greatly contributed to the formation of the rift Valley continues up to the present times. In Ethiopia, it finds expression in the presence of hot springs in many parts of the country, as well as volcanic cones in the Denakil Depression in the north east. The Denakil or Afar depression, which encompasses a good portion of the Afar region, is one of the earth’s hottest and inhospitable places, with many points more than 100 meters (330 feet) below sea level and at noon time temperatures are soaring above 500 c (1220 F). it is the site of dry salt lakes from which Ethiopians since time immemorial have obtained their amoles, or bars of salt used for both consumption and, not long ago, as a regular currency. Mined by the Afar people for at least a millennium and half, the salt is loaded on camels and taken to the highlands, where it is still in considerable demand and fetches a good price.
The landscape of the Denakil seems carved from the infernos of hell and is a reminder of the fruits that once ravaged this region, with volcanic cones rising above the scabs of Black lava. Earth tremors are frequent and there are several still – active volcanoes in the area. Amazingly, there is also wildlife to be seen here, particularly Zebra and wild ass.
Dallol and Mount Erta Ale
Dallol is the northern most extensive of the Great Rift Valley. It acts like a cauldron, trapping all the heat. Dallol is a field of phreatic craters in the splat plain north east of the Erta Ale range in one of the lowest and hottest areas of the desolate Denakill Depression and home to the Afar people. Colorful hot brine springs and fumarolic deposits are found in the Dallol area. This is special because it is one of the lowest points on the earth not covered by water. There are hot yellow sulfur fields among the sparkling white salt beds. Mount Erta Ale is the world’s only active land Volcano which is below sea level with colorful landscapes, incredible mineral deposits, sulphur lakes and bubbling sulphur springs. These are sites not to be missed by the adventurous travelers.
One of Africa’s most striking geographical features is a giant tear across the earth’s surface visible even from space: the Great Rift Valley. Extending from the Middle East to Mozambique, the rift Valley passes from the northeast to the southwest right through Ethiopia, endowing the country...
One of Africa’s most striking geographical features is a giant tear across the earth’s surface visible even from space: the Great Rift Valley. Extending from the Middle East to Mozambique, the rift Valley passes from the northeast to the southwest right through Ethiopia, endowing the country with some spectacular sites that range from hot, dry, and barren places to a string of beautiful lakes. Rising in the highlands south west of Addis Ababa, The Omo River courses south for almost 1000 kilometers (620 miles) but never reaches the sea. It is the Sole feeder of Lake Turkana, East Africa’s fourth largest lake, which the river enters just above the Kenyan border. As it tumbels off the escarpment , the Omo passes from Alpine environment and rainforest on into savannah country - and finally in to searing desert lands. Through the millennia its flood – swollen waters have cut stupendous gorges. Wild game roam in abundance on both banks, while strange and colorful birds dart in and out of the lush vegetation.
Reckoned by enthusiasts to be one of Africa’s premier locations for white water River rafting, its early fury takes it through gorges hundreds of meters deep and cover fish and the huge shapes of crocodile and hippo. Omo national park was not easy to visit in the last two decades, but it is now more accessible.
On the final leg of its journey south to Turkana, the Omo runs between Kaffa and Gamo Gofa regions. It’s here that Ethiopia’s largest nature sanctuary, the Omo National Park – one of the richest in spectacle and game and yet the least visited areas in east and central Africa – is located. Another sanctuary, the Mago National Park, has been established on the eastern bank of the river: a land of endless, distant horizons. Subsequent research in Ethiopia, carried out in the nearby Gonna valley, south west of Hadar, as well as further south, has led to the discovery of numerous stone tools, and fossils, thought to be around 2.5 million years old. Both places can offer incredible spectacles of big game. Both have the merit, also of being far from the beaten track and virtually unexploited, and thus are places in which game can be seen in a truly natural state. Most easily accessed from the town of Jinka, Mago Natonal Park is mainly savannah, with some forested areas around the rivers. It was set up to conserve the large numbers of plains animals in the area, particularly buffalo, giraffe and elephant. The birds are also typical of the dry grassland habitat, featuring Bustards, hornbills, weavers and starlings. Kingfishers and herons feed in and around the Neri River, which provides an alternative habitat. Although adjoining Mago, the large and beautiful national park, hardly visited in the last two decades is now more accessible. The park’s extensive wilderness areas and wildlife can be prolific: large herds of eland and buffalo, elephant , giraffe ,cheetah, lion, leopard and Burchell’s Zebra, lesser Kudu, lelwel hartebeest, topi and Oryx are all resident spices, as well as debrazza’s and colobus monkeys and Anubis baboons. The 306 bird spices recorded include many that will be familiar to East African visitors.
The Omo People
On the fringes of the national parks, the lower Omo valley is home to a fascinating mixture of small, contrasting tribal groups. Lifestyles are as varied as the people themselves. The Mursi and the Surma lead lives of harsh simplicity, uncluttered by the pressures and anxieties of the modern world outside. The women are renowned for the customs.
The Mursi warriors still follow the custom of carving deep crescent shaped incisors in their arms as a symbol of heroic achievements in tribal conflicts. The Surma and Karo utilize various clays and vegetable dyes to trace amazing patterns on one other’s faces , chests, arms and legs. Multiple earrings are a popular male decoration, as are elaborate hair styles shaped and sculpted with razors, smoothed flat at the front of the head with a skull - cap of dried red mud, and often topped off with an ostrich feather. Women are even extravagantly coiffure with their hair in ochre – plastered ringlets or amongst the Hammer, wearing headbands decorated with large oval plates of burnished tin.
Generally naked from the wist up, the women of this region wear short knee length leaser skirts, the hems of which are decorated and weighed down with many jingling iron nails beaten in to rings. Goatskins are plentiful and some women wear leather skirts, often embroidered with colorful beadwork or cut into long strips.