The sixth century BC, Ethiopia’s historic route begins with a glance at the tantalizing remains of Yeha – the country’s earliest high civilization.
In a remote part of Tigray region, Yeha rests several hours drive from more accessible city of Axum, the Journey takes you on rough tracks through dramatic highland scenery and eventually end in a beautiful and serene agricultural hamlet. It is there, cloth to a much more recent Christian church that you may see the towering ruins of Yeha´s Temple of the Moon – built more than 2500 years ago, in Sabean Times.
The temple is an imposing rectangular edifice. Though it has been long since its roof and upper storey, the ruins stand some twelve meters in height. As evening falls, the temple´s finely dressed and polished limestone reflects the glow of the setting sun with a warmth and brilliance that cannot be accidental. The huge, precisely fitted blocks from which the inward- inclining walls are formed seem to bear out ancient opinion that Sabean buildings could be filled with water without a single drop being lost.
The legacy of the queen of Sheba lies just below the shifting sands, and hewn churches out of sheer rock attract wide-eyed tourists. The African nation´s historic route begins in the Ancient city of Axum, which dates back to about 100 BC. This capital city was the first place in Ethiopia to adopt a new religion Christianity. According to the Old Testament, the queen of Sheba was born in Axum, but traveled to Israel to meet King Solomon. They had a son called Menlik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia. Menlik brought the original Arc of the Covenant back to Ethiopia from Israel. Today, the Arc, which once housed the Ten Commandments, remains well hidden in Axum. It is guarded by selected Monk, whose sole is commitment to protect the sacred vessel.
Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculptures that are more than two thousand years old. Their significance is still under investigation by archaeologists. Made of single blocks of granite, the tallest stood over 33 meters high – the largest monolith stele in the world.
Ethiopia´s oldest city Axum dates back some 2,000 years to when it was the hub of the Axumite Empire. The queen of Sheba made it her capital 1,000 years before Christ. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded here in the fourth century. The Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum is today one of the holiest Christian sanctuary in Ethiopia, and Ethiopians believe that the church houses the Ark of Covenant, containing the tables on which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments.
The grave of King Kaleb and the grave of King Gebre Meskel, the reputed Bath of the queen of Sheba, and a Museum are other historical attractions in the town. The ruins that are a few kilometers out of town to the south were once the Palace of Sheba apparently. The entrance stairs and floor plan are intact and the palace hade over 50 rooms.
Some 76 Kilometers north from Axum lies the Monastery of Debre Damo (closed to women), situated on a cliff top in one of the wildest parts of Tigray, Which is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one of the nine saints, built the church in the 6th century. The Monastery of Debre Damo can only reach by rope pulley. A vertical climb up a rope must be endured for a distance of about 15 meters. Dabre Damo is unique and unforgettable. The bluff on which Damo stands is a real-life Shangri-La. Remote and beautiful, far from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, the cool celestial island of rock offers Panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and complete seclusion and peace for the 100 or so monks and deacons who live there. The monastery’s treasures include an extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts and the intricate carving on the beams and ceiling of the ancient church around which the monastery is built.
Negash, a village in the Tigray region is known as the earliest Muslim settlement in Africa. A seventh century cemetery has been excavated inside the village boundaries. Negash is also known for the Negash Amedin Mesgid (Mosque). The first Hijra occurred in 615 when a band of Muslims were counseled by Prophet Mohamed to escape Mecca and travel to the Kingdom of Axum, which was ruled by a Christian king and they settled in Negash .
Rock hewn churches
A UNESCO world heritage site of the most astonishing rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia. Lalibela is a mountain hideaway surrounded by peaks as high as 4000 m that has hidden its unique churches from the world for centuries and was the capital of Ethiopia from the tenth century until the thirteenth century when the Zagwe dynasty was ended.
In Lalibela, you will find two main groups of churches, one on each side of the river Jordan and the other church set apart from the rest. The town of Roha – Lalibela lies between the first and the second group of churches.
There are twelve churches and chapels, including various shrines. Some of them are monolithic in the strict sense; the remainders are excavated churches in different degrees of separation from the rock.
The churches in a group are set on several levels, to carry off the heavy summer rains. The trenches serve as a drainage system to the river Jordan. With churches whose placing conforms to the slope of the terrain, the ridge of the roof, gutter edges, the base of the plinth, are slanted in line with it.
The monolithic Bet Giorgis – dedicated to the national saint of Ethiopia is isolated from the other two groups of churches.
The church is described as Lalibelas “most elegant” and “refined” in its Architecture and stonemasonry.
Gondar is located about 730 km from Addis Ababa, situated in the foothills of the Simien Mountains at 2200m above sea level. Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia from the rice of Fasiledes to the fall of Tewodros (1855 -1868). The Castel of Gondar are today the most visible expression of the relatively near past history of Ethiopia. The main imperial precinct, known as the Royal enclosure, covers an area of about 7 hectares, and contains about 5 castles walkways and connecting tunnels surrounded by high stone walls.
The oldest of these is the castle of Fasiledes. The castles of king Fasil´s legacy dated back to the 17th century AD. There exists no instance of the kind in Africa. Fasiledes grandson, Iyasu I the great, built his own castle and decorated it with ivory, gold and precious stones.
Around the castle are found churches of the 17th Century, the most spectacular being Debre Birhan Selassie. The magnificent paintings of angels, facing the ceiling of the church are still incredibly graceful ; may be miraculously spared Gonder´s destruction through different time, the latest being the bombardment of the royal air force to dislodge the Italians who used the castes compound as their headquarter during World War II. Gonder represents a rare care of Ethiopian history to which the nation had cherished for some 200 years. The era was featured by prosperity and leisure that facilitated a renaissance and yet conscious development of culture expressed by art, architecture, music, learning, scholarly study and literature with their own design – a made known as Gonderian style.
Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, which flows to Khartoum Sudan and beyond. It was formed by a volcanic blockage and created one of Africa’s greatest waterfalls, called Tis Abay or Tis Isat.
The lake has about 37 islands of which believed 20 have monasteries on them.
Remains of ancient Ethiopian emperors and treasures of the church are kept in the isolated island monasteries. On the island of Tana Qirqos is a rock shown to Paul B. Henze, on which it was told the virgin Mary had rested on her journey back from Egypt; he was also told that Frumentius, who introduced Christianity to Ethiopia, is “allegedly buried on Tana Cherkos” the body of Yikuno Amlak is interred in the monastery of St. Stephen on Daga Island; other emperors whose tombs are on Daga include Dewitt I, Zara Yakob, Ze Dengel, and Fasiledes. Other important islands on Lake Tana include Dek Island and Meshralia.
Tis Abay or Tis Isat falls isolated the lake, in which 18 species of barbus fish evolved, the only extended cyprinid species flock in Africa and the only intact flock in the world. Lake Tana is one of the 250 lakes identified by Lake Net as having globally significant biodiversity.
The Gihon (in Bible) – yet another name for the Blue Nile is a river originating at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The Nile was one of the four rivers that flowed out of Eden at the beginning of the world. It was the river in Genesis that “Compasses the whole land of Ethiopia and in its waters lived a king also named Gihon. It is also called sometimes `Ribbon of Holy Water’.
Although there are several feeder streams that flow into Lake Tana, the sacred source of the river is generally considered to be a small spring at Gishe Abay. The Blue Nile much later joins the White Nile at Khartoum, Sudan and as the Nile, flows through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria. The distance from its source to its confluence is reported as about 1,600 km (1000 mi)
The Blue Nile flows generally south from Lake Tana and then west across Ethiopia and northwest into Sudan. Within 30km of its source at Lake Tana, the river enters a Canyon about 400 km long. The power of the Blue Nile may best be appreciated at Tis Isat falls, which are 45m (148 ft) high, located about 40 km downstream of Lake Tana.
The flow of the Blue Nile reaches maximum volume in the rainy season (from June to September), when its supplies about two third of the water of the Nile proper. The Blue Nile, along with that of the Atbara to the north, which also flows out of the Ethiopian highlands, were responsible the annual Nile floods that contributed to the fertility of the Nile valley.
In the heart of Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia lays a special massif of mountains called Gheralta Mountains.
Gheralta area, with its unique chain of mountains is home of the rock churches some of them are famous for their architecture, ancient paints and manuscripts while others known for their magnificent view.
The Gheralta cluster includes more than 30 structures. Most of the churches date to between the 4th and 6th Centuries. This makes the Gheralta cluster another geographic and artistic point for early Ethiopian Orthodox center next to Axum.
Erta Ale is one of the few active volcanoes and the only active land volcano which is below sea level with colored landscapes on the world that have an almost persistent lava lake. It is an isolated basaltic shield volcano, 50 km wide, rising more than 600m from below sea level in the barren Danakil depression.
The volcano contains a 0.7 x 1.6km elliptical summit crater with several steep-sided pit craters, one of them containing a lava lake. Another larger 1.8 x 3.1 km wide depression, elongated parallel to the trend of the Erta Ale range is located to the SE of the summit and is bounded by curvilinear fault scarps on the SE side. Fresh-looking basaltic lava flows from these fissures have poured in to the caldera and locally overflowed its rim. The caldera is renowned for one, or sometimes two long-term lava lakes that have been active since at least 1967 or possibly since 1906.
Dallol is a field of hydrothermal in the barren salt plain located NNE of the Erta Ale Range in one of the lowest (about 127m below sea level) and the hottest areas of the desolate Danakil depression.
The Dallol craters are the Earth´s lowest known sub aerial volcanic vents. The most recent of these explosion craters, Dallol, was formed during a hydrothermal
The prehistoric site of Tiya in southern Ethiopia houses another collection of some 30 intricately carved stele and is probably an ancient burial ground. The steles are not soaring monoliths as in Axum, but they contain depictions of swords and various enigmatic symbols not found in other regions. According UNESCO, these are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture whose age has not yet been precisely determined. The erection of megalithic monuments such as these is a very ancient tradition in Ethiopia.
The city has a long history as an important center of Islamic learning and trading gateway into the winter lands of Africa. It is an independent sultanate with its currency among other thing until its incorporation into Ethiopia in the 19th century. It had been occupied by the Egyptians for the Ottoman Turks. Harar is the fourth sacred city after Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is also a center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian and some east African Muslims. Harar has over 90 mosques, saints´ mausoleums and shrines. It is kaleidoscope of colors and a pat of peoples and their culture bringing together. The Harari are its predominant ancient natives and the only urbanized ethnic group from their beginning. At an elevation of about 1850m high, Harar has the most pleasant constant climates
The fantastic limestone caves of Sof Omar lie at about 1300 m above sea level. This is in marked contrast to what you will experience in the Bale Mountains at up to 4000 m high. The caves themselves carry the whole flow the Web River that rises in the Bale Mountains, underground through wonderfully carved caverns for a distance of one and a half kilometers. There are over 16 Kilometers of associated passages, which require skill, time and special equipment for a full exploration. A cool dip in the clear River afterwards refreshes the return drive.
This area, in the southwestern Ethiopia which is close to Lake Turkana, is another haven of pre-historic finds which have been essential in the study of human evolution. Ancient tools and hominid fossils dating back to 2.4 million years ago have been discovered there. The remote area is also home to its huge cultural diversity of people, whose lifestyle have changed very little over the centuries and who have been the subject of much anthropological study. It is one of the most unique places in the world, in that so many cultures inhabit such a relatively small piece of land
One of the world´s most famous hominid fossils, known as ‘Lucy’, was discovered in the lower Awash Valley in the searing heat of the eastern Afar region. The area contains some of the most important paleontological remains on the African continent, and these discoveries – some of which are at least 4 million years old – have enabled scientists to gain invaluable insights in to human evolution. The 3.2 years old ‘Lucy’ was reconstructed after 50 fragments of a skeleton were found in 1974 – about 40% intact. The study of this early hominid skeleton has provided clues as to when and how humans began to walk upright.
The Semien Mountain massif (425 sq km ) is a broad plateau, cat off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 km long. The Semien highlands constitute one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. The region includes many summits which are over 3,800 meters and culminates at the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen which is 4620 m high.
Fauna within this spectacular splendor live the Walia Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf, Gelada Baboon and Menelik Bushbuck are some of among the endemic ones, as well as the Hamadryas Baboon, Klipspringer. Birds such as Lammergeyer, Augur Buzzard, Verreaux´s Eagle, Kestrel and falcon also live in this mountain
Altitude – ranges between 1700 – 4620 m above sea level and the Temperature ranges between 16 – 30°c
It is an area of high altitude plateau of 2500 sq km with numerous spectacular volcanic plugs and peaks, beautiful tiny alpine lakes and rushing streams from the mountain descending into deep rocky gorges on their way down to the lowlands.
Bale Mountains National park is the largest Afro-Alpine habitat. It offers visitors with opportunities of mountaineering, horse trekking, scenic driving and chances to view some of Ethiopia´s endemic mammals.
Flora- About 1600 plant species shelter in the park of which 160 are endemic to Ethiopia and 34 are strictly endemic to the park
Altitude-ranges between 1500 – 4437 m above sea level and Temperature 15°c-30°c .
Fauna – 78 mammal species of which 17 endemic to Ethiopia. There are rare and endangered as well as endemic species. (e.g Ethiopian Wolf and Mountain Nyala). Over 280 Bird species have been recorded, including eight endemic (e.g Yellow-fronted parrot, Abyssinian long claw, spot Breasted plover and Abyssinian wood pecker) there are several rare endemic frogs, including four species found in Bale alone. Similarly there are two chameleon species restricted to the park.
Awash National Park lies 225 km east of the capital, Addis Ababa and is believed to be the oldest and most developed wildlife reserve in Ethiopia. The park covers 827 square kilometers featuring Fantalle Volcano (1800 meters), extensive mineral hot-springs and other extraordinary volcanic formations. The park s crossed by the deep cutting path of the river Awash, a river with neither source nr outlet.
The wildlife consists mainly of east African plain animals including Menilik´s Bushbuck, Beisa Oryx, bat-eared fox, klipspringer, Caracal, Leopard, colobus and green monkeys, Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, Soemmering´s gazelle, Cheetah, Lion and Kudu. In addition, the park is a habitat for about 462 species of birds of these, six are endemic namely Banded Barbet, Goldon-Nacked Woodpecker, White-Winged Cliff Chat, White-Tailed Starling, thick-billed raven and Wattled Ibis.
Far to the south-west, the Omo National Park, the largest in the country, with an area of 4,068 square kilometers is located. This vast expanse of true wilderness, adjacent to the Omo River, is one of the richest and least-visited wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Africa. Eland, Oryx, Burchell´s zebra, Lewel hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, Waterbuck, kudu, Lion, leopard, and many other animals roam within the park´s boundaries.
In addition the Omo national park is a habitat of for over 306 colorful birds specious including Goliath herons, blue breasted Kingfisher and white-checked Turacos. Beyond the open gallery forest on the coast of Omo River, hippos graze on the Savannah slopes against the mountain walls, and waterbuck, bushbuck, and Abyssinian ground hornbills are sometimes to be seen.
Abijata Shala National park is a combination of lakes Abijata and Shala. The park is 887 square kilometer wide; 482 square km of this is covered by the lakes water. The altitude ranges from 1500-2000 meters. The highest peak is Mount Fike, situated between the two lakes. The lakes are terminal, but they are very different in nature. The park was created for many species of aquatic birds, particularly Great White Pelicans, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Herons, White Necked Cormorant…
This part of the Great Rift Valley is a major flyway for both Palearctic and African migrants, particularly Raptors and Flamingos. The park is also known for world threatened specious of migrant birds like Aguila Heliacal, Falco Naumanni, Circus Macrourus and Glareola Nordmanni. Generally over 400 specious of birds (including 6 endemic birds) and Mammal specious including Greater Kudu, Warthog, Anubis Baboon, Grivet, Colobus monkey, Oribi, Klipspringer and Jackal have been recorded from the park.
It lies on the eastern sides of a small branch of the eastern Rift Valley located 800 km southwest of Addis Ababa. The park is fortunate in possessing rivers and streams, which are by far reasons for the reach wildlife resource of the area. Mago River rises from the north east highlands of the area and cross the park (north to south) and feeds the Omo River, Omo, Mago and Neri rivers are typical features for the Mago National Park.
The park supports a typical bush savanna fauna with 81 larger mammals and 237 species of bird. Among mammals African Elephant, Buffalo, Lesser Kudu, Greater Kudu, Lewel´s Hartebeest, Gerenuk, Giraffe …
The park area is also very well-known for its rich cultural diversity, where many elements of the earliest nomadic life styles are still continued.
The Baro River area, accessible by land or air trough the western Ethiopia town of Gambela, remains a place of adventure and challenge. Traveling across the endless undulating plains of high Sudanese grass, vistors can enjoy a sense of achievement in just finding their way. This is Ethiopia´s true tropical zone and here you can all the elements of the African safari, enhanced by a distinctly Ethiopian flavor.
Nile perch weighing 100 kg can be caught in the waters of the Baro, snatched from the jaws of the huge crocodiles that thrive along the riverbank. The White-eared Kob also haunts the Baro, along with other riverbank residents that include the Nile Lechwe, Buffalo, Giraffe, Tiang, Waterbuck, Roan Antelope, Zebra, Bushbuck, Abyssinian Reedbuck, Warthog, Hartebeest, Lion, Elephant and Hippopotamus.