HISTORICAL ATTRACTIONS

GONDAR

The elegant city of Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635. The city is known for its many medieval castles, (constructed in the European middle age architectural style), and the design and decoration of its churches.
In the centre of Gondar a vast compound featuring the massive ruins of a group of imposing castles like some African Camelot. The spectacular battlements and towers bring to mind images of gracious knights on horseback and of ceremonies laden with spectacle and honor.
The most magnificent and majestic imperial structure is the palace of Emperor Fasilidas, and it is said to have been built by an Indian architect. There are also numerous other fascinating historical buildings and relics to be found in the area and Debre Berhan Selassie is one typical example of such a masterpiece of the Gondarene School of art. This splendid Gondarene  

church was built during the reign of Emperor Iyasu ( 1682-1706), and was never destroyed. There were many attempts to burn it by the Dervishes in 1881, but they failed in their attempts. The structure of the church is rectangular and it is quite similar to the ancient Axumite architecture. The front room walls are covered with cloth paintings , glued to the surface. The ceiling is made of thick beams and it furnished with winged angel heads looking down. The wall paintings portray the illustrations from the life of Christ, Mary, the Saints, the Trinity, and others. The unique murals are breathtaking and it works well over a long period of time.
Guarded by twin mountain streams at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters, Gondar commands panoramic views over farmlands to the brightly shining waters of Lake Tana. The city is flooded with an atmosphere of antique charm blended with an impression of mystery and violence.
In the past, Gondar was once a robust learning center for religion and art and many disciplines like painting,music, dance, poetry thrived for years. For more than two hundred years skilled instruction in painting, music, dance, poetry and many other disciplines thrived. Fasilidas and his successors saw their elegant capital as a phoenix and so patronized the arts.
The stone bathhouse of Emperor Fasiladas and the devastated Palace of Kusquam are also some of the precious structures of Gondar.
The castles display a abundance in architecture that reveals the influence of Arabia as well as Axumite traditions, and are said to be the largest concentration of such structures in Africa.

 

 

SIMIEN MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

Located in the northern mountainous highlands of Ethiopia the Simien Mountains are truly a wonder to behold and is often called as the Grand Canyon of Africa. Simien is home to many summits above 4000 meters and culminates at its highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen, at 4630 meters, the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Its amazing topography is the result of the erosion of basalt lavas, which have been calculated to be nearly 3000 meters thick.
This rugged mountain is full of several photogenic wildlife species, including walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf, klippspringer, and gelada monkeys and provide an excellent trekking area with a good infrastructure of equipment provision and guide facilities in place. This park has stunning views of steep cliffs, jagged

peaks, and seemingly endless ridges marching towards the horizon and a large variety of wildlife, including baboons, ibexes. Three botanical regions are available in this national park.The lower lands are cultivable and grazable, while the alpine regions (up to 3600m) are forested. The higher lands are mountain grasslands with fescue grasses as well as heathers, splendid Red Hot Pokers and Giant Lobelia. Over thousands of a special type of wild goat named  Walia Ibex, are inhabited in the park. A rare species in the family of the Gelada Baboon and the rare Simien fox are also seen in the park. The Simien fox, although named after the mountains and over  50 species of birds can also be seen in the Simien Mountains.

LAKE TANA MONASTERIES

37 islands are scattered around the surface of Lake Tana, out of which some 20 ancient monasteries can be found whose origin dates back to the 14th Century.  These churches are decorated with religious paintings and imagery and house innumerable treasures.  All the art treasures and religious relics from all parts of the country are stored here because of their isolation
Some churches close the doors to women, but they are allowed to gather on the banks of the island. However women are permitted to visit Churches on Zeghne Peninsula, Church of Ura Kidane Mehret,  Narga Sellassie. Kebran Gabriel do permit women to enter inside is renowned for a magnificent manuscript to the Four Gospels which is believed to date back to at least the 

late fourteenth or early fifteenthcentury. The conical thatched roof shaped Ura Kidane Mehret  is decorative painted with scenes from Biblical lore and the most sacred on Lake Tana is the Daga Istifanos and said to have served as a temporary hiding place for the Ark of the Covenant. On this stands the church of Saint Stifanos which houses the Holly Madonna painted around 1434. The  glass-sided coffins containing the mummified remains of several of the former emperors of Ethiopia lies here.The ancient monastery, Tana Cherkos is found on the eastern shore of Lake Tana.
History tells us that St Mary rested and stayed for three months and ten days under a wall during her flight to Egypt and she had left a necklace when she departed and it is claimed to have owned by the monks. Jews also considered the monastery as a sacred place
It is also said that the monastery was a sacred place of the Jews. King Solomon Menelik I and the Jewish nobles built a temple over the monastery by bringing the Ark of the covenant, which was decorated with precious stones. Six hundred years later, the Ark was brought to Axum

AXUM

Axum is the cradle of Ethiopia’s 3000 year old civilisation and it hides a wealth of culture and history. In the modern town of Axum, it is very hard to see splendors of the glorious past of Axum. Regardless of that fact, noble palatial buildings with large stone structured foundations and the ruins of even more impressive structures such as: temples, fortresses, and rich palaces showcase a historic footprint
At its peak,  the Axumite Kingdom was one of the four great powers of the ancient world, ruling the two southern sides of the Red Sea. 

Was There a pre-Axum civilization of Ethiopia ?

The phenomenal ruins of Yeha’s Temple of the Moon – built more than 2,500 years ago, in Sabaean times, is considered to be Ethiopia’s earliest high civilization. It is still to be ascertained  if this was a lone shrine of a temple , or 

part of a city with other similar imposing building.
But the built up of the wall with precise-fitting blocks of smoothly polished yellow limestone carefully placed without the use of mortar is a clear testimony of the superb quality and craftsmanship involved. Nothing is known  more about the people who built  this  great structure but a question naturally arises to everybody’s mind …. how far back does Ethiopian civilization really go?
All the artefacts and other relevant insriptions have been excavated from Yeha since 1909, but nothing tangible has been found out to answer the question

The Axumite Kingdom

The greatest commercial civilization of Ethiopia was Axum and it had trading history with countries, such as Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, Ceylon, etc. Gold, ivory, rhinoceros-horn, hippopotamus hide and slaves were the main exports during the period and imports were done mainly for textiles, finished metal wares, and metals to be used for the manufacturing of local crafts.

Pre-Christianity Axum

The erection of Stelea is similar to pillars of stone and more like lightning rods to heaven. The ultimate aim of these prodigious monolithic stelea must have been to draw down power from the firmament in a ritual, undoubtedly accompanied by occasional sacrifices. Majority of the obelisks have sacred altars at their bases, all aligned and directed towards the rising sun. There are four deep holes in the center and one of them was presumably made to collect blood from the sacrifices.
This resembles a conventional building of a nine-story tower-house like many other monolithic Ethiopian works.
Of the three tallest stelea, only one stelea is still standing out of all the tallest ones, another is lying broken into pieces,  and the third is being returned to its rightful place from Rome, where it has been standing ever since the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia during the second World War.

Post Christianity Axum

Because of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion, Axum still holds a outstanding place among the members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The structure of this church has a resemblance of a much older church named, Debre Damo, dating from the 4th century AD. Only a platform and the wide stone steps remain from the earlier structure. The Cathedral is the big storing place of the crowns of some of Ethiopia’s former emperors, and the original Ark of the Covenant is also believed to have stored here- thus making St. Mary the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia.

The significance of Monasticism in the Ethioipian Coptic Church

The broader horizon of the Ethiopian spiritual entity is Debre Damo, and the remarkable place monasticism holds in the Ethiopian Coptic Church. The women do not have permission to this place and this helped to preserve the art treasures of Debra Damo all through out its 1400 years history.. Since the monastery is located on a cliff 24 meters high and the monks lower a safety rope to be tied around the waist and to climb with. An extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts, some of them not found anywhere else in Ethiopia, and intricate carvings on the beams and ceiling of the ancient church around which the monastery is built are the most important treasures. A huge collection of paintings that depict the legend of the foundation of Debra Damo by Abuna Aragawi are also found here. By growing selected crops and rearing sheep and goats for their milk and meat the monastic community is purely self-sufficient. Similar to those at the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela the monastery also has its own reservoirs, spectacular caverns hewn deep beneath the surface of the cliff-top centuries ago

 

MODERN TIGRAY

Although Axum was the dominant power of the past, power shifted to the town of Mekele, when it became the capital of Emperor Yohannes IV (1871 – 1889). It is also the present main city of Tigray, and perhaps the fastest growing city in Ethiopia these days.
The Emperor’s palace has been turned into a particularly interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent historical remains. The city is also well known as a transit point for the Camel Caravans that bring up salt from the arid lands of the Danakil Depression. This makes the market place an interesting sight to visit. Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region.

LALIBELLA

The ancient Ethiopian empire in the north, came to an abrupt end, when a ferocious woman warrior named Queen Judith, led her tribes up from the Semien mountains and destroyed Axum, the capital. After a power vacuum of nearly a century, the Zagwe dynasty came to power in the eleventh century. These dedicated Christian kings took it upon themselves to revive and restore the various churches destroyed by Judith. There are no less than 1000 churches in the Lasta Region of Lalibela alone. Some are hidden in enormous caves, while eleven of these master craftsmanship are found in one locale, Lalibela, previously known as Roha.
These eleven churches are brilliant feats of engineering and architecture and are often referred to as the “Eighth wonder of the world”.

The Lalibela churches are truly amazing because of two major features. The first one is the fact that these towering edifices were hewn out of the solid, red volcanic tuff on which they stand. In consequence, they seem to be of superhuman creation – in scale, in workmanship and in architectural concept. The second amazing feature is the location where they are built. The destruction of the churches by Queen Judith may have warned the builders to hide these churches from future prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers.
Thus, when one approaches these churches from the road below, they remain little more than invisible against a horizon dominated by the 4,200-metre peak of Mount Abuna Yosef. Even close-up, they seem wholly unremarkable, and it is this camouflaged, chameleon quality that may have kept them safe to this day. ‘Lalibela churches, silence the most cynical pedants. Close examination is required to appreciate the full extent of the achievement because, like medieval mysteries, much effort has been made to cloak their nature.’
When an inquisitive mind compares the shabbiness of the present day lalibela town with the magnificence of the rock-hewn churches, one is forced to wonder why the extraordinary craftsmanship displayed in the building of the churches, did not ‘rub off’ even a little to the other local residences of the nobles. Because of this, there are some that think that the builders of the rock churches actually lived somewhere else, but selected that spot because of its location. The sheer magnificence of the craftsmanship make others wonder whether the art and the builders came from Egypt. This, at least can be refuted very easily because of two factors: There are no Egyptian buildings in Egypt that resemble the rock churches.
The idea for the rock churches may have been taken from the various rock churches of Tigray built centuries ago. The fact that the water supply system is fashioned after the one at Debre-Damo Monastery, concludes that the origin of the art is Ethiopia, and the builders are Ethiopians. With all said or some to be said regarding the Lalibela Churches, the fact that Lalibela is a secret marvel that was fashioned by a noble king, and maintains a special and lasting place in the life of the Ethiopian Christians, is clearly established.

The Lalibela churches are truly amazing because of two major features. The first one is the fact that these towering edifices were hewn out of the solid, red volcanic tuff on which they stand. In consequence, they seem to be of superhuman creation – in scale, in workmanship and in architectural concept. The second amazing feature is the location where they are built. The destruction of the churches by Queen Judith may have warned the builders to hide these churches from future prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers.
Thus, when one approaches these churches from the road below, they remain little more than invisible against a horizon dominated by the 4,200-metre peak of Mount Abuna Yosef. Even close-up, they seem wholly unremarkable, and it is this camouflaged, chameleon quality that may have kept them safe to this day. ‘Lalibela churches, silence the most cynical pedants. Close examination is required to appreciate the full extent of the achievement because, like medieval mysteries, much effort has been made to cloak their nature.’
When an inquisitive mind compares the shabbiness of the present day lalibela town with the magnificence of the rock-hewn churches, one is forced to wonder why the extraordinary craftsmanship displayed in the building of the churches, did not ‘rub off’ even a little to the other local residences of the nobles. Because of this, there are some that think that the builders of the rock churches actually lived somewhere else, but selected that spot because of its location. The sheer magnificence of the craftsmanship make others wonder whether the art and the builders came from Egypt. This, at least can be refuted very easily because of two factors: There are no Egyptian buildings in Egypt that resemble the rock churches.
The idea for the rock churches may have been taken from the various rock churches of Tigray built centuries ago. The fact that the water supply system is fashioned after the one at Debre-Damo Monastery, concludes that the origin of the art is Ethiopia, and the builders are Ethiopians. With all said or some to be said regarding the Lalibela Churches, the fact that Lalibela is a secret marvel that was fashioned by a noble king, and maintains a special and lasting place in the life of the Ethiopian Christians, is clearly established.

YEMREHANNA KRISTOS

The church of Yemrehanna Kristos, ‘Christ Show Us the Way’, is found north-east of Lalibela. This church was built by Yemrehanna Kristos, the predecessor of King Lalibela.
This remarkable church is a built up cave church in Axumite wood and stone construction, and has become famous for the decoration of its interior.

NEAKUTO LE’AB

King Nakuto Le’Abe, king Lalibela’s nephew and successor, abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and started living a hermit’s life in a cave, which has ever since become a monastery. This cave church, 7 km from Lalibela, is a simple but attractive little church, built on the site of a much older shrine. This monastery houses one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses, illuminated manuscripts and other icons some of which are attributed to its founder Nakuto Le’Abe. These pious four Zagwe kings ruled until the thirteenth century, when a famous priest, Tekla Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favor of a descendant of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty.
What motivated this persuasion is not clear. It may be the fact that the Zaqwe kings were more inclined to be hermits and monks rather than statesmen. As a result, a power vacuum may have been created that external aggressors may take advantage of, and their handling of the affairs of the state may have suffered. Whatever the reason is however, a single priest brought about the smooth transition from one dynasty to the other.

HARAR

The eastern part of Ethiopia, close to Djibouti and Somalia, is a region inhabited mainly by Muslims. The ancient walled city of Harar has more than 90 mosques and shrines mixed in with households behind its sixteenth century walls. This city was founded over 1000 years ago, and is considered to be one of the holiest centers of Muslim learning in the Islamic world. Harar, which is not too large to be visited on foot, is a place of unique and unforgettable charm and has much to offer to the discerning tourist. Walking down its narrow, cobble stoned and twisting lanes, one can easily feel transported back in time to the days of Richard Burton – or even earlier when Amir Nur constructed the city’s stout old walls.
Background History: From the base of Harar city, the strong Emir of Harar in the 1500s, Ahmed Gragn, rebelled against the domination of the highland Christian empire of Ethiopia to the west.

Ahmed Gragn was defeated by the Christian ruler of the day, Emperor Gelawdeos, with the help of the Portuguese. In the vacuum left by the devastating battle between Harar and Christian Ethiopia, the fierce Oromo warriors advanced from the south, occupying much of central and northern Ethiopia, and up to the gates of Harar. Although the city withstood the assaults because of its reinforced walls, this independent trading city of Harar was left surrounded by an Oromo countryside. In the late nineteenth century, after a 10 year spell of Egyptian rule, the city state was conquered by the return of the Christian Empire of the highlands under the Emperor Menelik. The forces of Menelik were led by his cousin Ras Mekonen, the father of the late Emperor Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie was therefore born and raised in the Harar vicinity, and always considered it his original home. Harar today, with its atmosphere of history and past glory amidst the ebb and flow of conquering armies, and its ethnically diverse population, is thus a fascinating stopping place for the traveler

JIMMA

Jimma was founded by Aba Jifar, who was the descendant of one of the five kings in the former Gibe Kingdom. It is believed that Aba Megal, the ancestor of Aba Jifar, was elected by the other four Gibe kings to be their spokesman when dealing with the central government. No one really knows how the Aba Megal family became the ‘representative’ of the Gibe kings rather than only their spokesman. This gradually diminished the importance of the other four kings. The Aba Jifar family played a very important role in spreading Islam to that part of the country. As a result Jimma, is the center of learning for the muslims of the western Ethiopia.
Although Jimma is the center of trade, the actual palace of Aba Jifar is at a small town called ‘Jiren’ some 15kms north of Jimma.
While almost all the residents of Jiren are Muslim Oromos, more than 80% of the residents of Jimma are peoples from the neighboring ethnic groups such

as the Dawro, Kafficho, Janjero, etc., who are predominantly Christian. Jimma was redesigned by the Italians during the Italian Invasion. Although the city was modeled after the Italian city of Napoli, the Italians used to call it ‘piccolo Roma’, the little Rome.
Jimma may have somewhat lost its luster and past glories, but it is still a commercial city that passes through most of the coffee brands coming from that region. Moreover, the region of Kaffa is universally recognized to be the origin of coffee, which is correctly termed the ‘green gold’. This name is a very fitting one in the case of Ethiopia, as coffee is responsible for the largest portion of its annual revenue.