Visiting Ethiopia

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Visiting Ethiopia with its breath-taking landscapes and hospitable people is an exciting adventure and unforgettable cultural experience. It was here that the prehistoric skeleton of a woman was found (“Lucy”), who, according to estimates, is about 3.2 million years old and an important historical link in human development. As a consequence, Ethiopia is justifiably called the “cradle of humankind”. In addition to this and according to popular legend, the country is home to the Ark of Covenant with Mose’s Tablets of Commandments. Following King Solomon’s death, the Queen of Sheba and their son, the first King of Ethiopia, Menelik I, are said to have brought them to the city of Aksum. With its ceremonial, religious customs and traditions Ethiopia also gives significant testimony of Early Christian faith development, as the country’s Christian population has preserved its Alexandrian Orthodox Rite.

For a long time the Ethiopian population has shown that peaceful coexistence between religious affiliations is possible, and thus provides visitors with the possibility to experience cultural highlights from various traditions and religions. In this regard, works of art such as icons, wall or ceiling paintings in the traditional, often round, churches, procession crosses and silver jewellery are particularly impressive; as is the colourful sight of women draped in traditional cloths in the Muslim areas.


Sightseeing Highlights

Arriving in the young capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, one starts with a visit of the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the National Museum, where “Lucy” lies dormant.

From Addis one can go north to Bahir Dar to visit the famous 13th century monastery Debre Libanos and the canyon cut into the landscape by the Blue Nile. Bahir Dar is located on the shores of Lake Tana, in the middle of which the Ura Kidane Mihret monastery was constructed on an island in the 14th century. It features impressive wall paintings worth seeing.

Further north, crossing the Taragedam Mountains, one reaches the first capital of Ethiopia and the country’s religious centre: Gondar. The old imperial city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Overwhelming landscapes can be found at the high plateau with its wide views, cascading waterfalls and the indigenous fauna of Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dashen, the “roof of Africa”, at an altitude of 4620 metres.  It is part of the Simien Mountains with their wild gorges, sheer rock walls and table mountains, the “playground of the gods” (UNESCO Natural Heritage). Situated to the north is the city of Aksum. Major attractions here are the royal graves and the monolithic stelae constructed above them, as well as the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (UNESCO World Heritage). Next to it is a chapel that is said to house and safekeep the Ark of Covenant. Adwa is located north of Aksum. It was here that on 1 March 1896 the decisive victory against Italy took place.

Going south through the Adwa Mountains, one reaches Mekele, where visitors can see the ruins of the Yeha Temple of the Moon. A highlight for art historians follows further south: Lalibela with its unique, world-famous rock churches (UNESCO World Heritage) that are also known as the 8th Wonder of the World. According to legend, it was here that a wise Ethiopian king once received the command, in a dream, to build a New Jerusalem. As a consequence 11 churches were built into solid rock.

The journey continues southward along the Great Rift Valley, crossing it to reach Harar, the fourth holy city of Islam and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

People interested in nature will enjoy a trip to Awash National Park and its Fantale volcano (UNESCO Natural Heritage). It offers a fascinating, picturesque landscape and the possibility to observe a wide range of animals. Meeting the cheetahs living there could, however, be a bit dangerous.

(Pictures: Dr. Peter Porpaczy)

In Tiya a total of 36 stelae, some with relief decoration, from Ethiopian antiquity can be visited. They are about 5 m high, stand in an upright position and were used as tombstones. This, too, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Passing Lake Langano going south, other national parks can be found: the Nechisar National Park and, west of this, the Mago National Park. Continuing the journey across South Ethiopia, you pass the land of nomadic tribes such as the Omo, Mursi, Konso (UNESCO Cultural Landscape) and Dorze, who had nothing against posing for a photo (against payment of course), displaying spectacular hair and face ornaments.


(Pictures: Dr. Peter Porpaczy)

The university city of Arba Minch (its university is one of the biggest in the country) is located on both Lake Chamo and Abaya. The two lakes are separated by “God’s bridge”, a chain of hills. The crocodile farm is worth seeing; hippo watching during boat tours is also offered.

Whether culture or nature – Ethiopia is always worth a visit!