VISITING ETHIOPIA OVERVIEW

Ethiopia is the land of beauty & diversity. It is the cradle of mankind and civilization, has a long history and the home of diversity and natural beauty. Ethiopia offers a wide range of tourism opportunities, and all visitors experience the first-hand warm hospitality.

Tourists, who travel to Ethiopia have a unique opportunity to experience a rich and diverse range of world heritage and historical sites.

Moreover, Ethiopia is an ancient country whose unique cultural heritage, rich history and remarkable biodiversity are reflected in UNESCO World Heritage Sites more than any other African countries.

To introduce some of the landmark tourist destinations one aspires to visit in Ethiopia:-

Aksum- Land of Queen Sheba

Aksum is steeped in legend and mystery. The oldest continuously -inhibited city in Sub-Saharan Africa, it was founded more than 3000 years ago in the Days of the Queen of – Sheba, who ruled over a vast trade empire from her palace there. It is also the last resting place of the Biblical Ark of Covenant, taken there by Emperor Menelik I.- Son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem-all those centuries ago.

Aksum later served as Capital of Aksumite Kingdom; the only Sub-Saharan African empire known to the literature of the classical world. The Mercantile and Political sophistication of this Kingdom can be inferred from the fact that coins of the Hellenistic type were struck here from from the late third to the early eighth centuries. Among the great Aksumite rulers was King  Basen, or Balthazar, who according to some legends was one of the Three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Another was King Ezana , who established the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 341AD.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, Aksum today is replete with skyscraping Obelisks, brooding catacombs, sprawling ruined palaces, engraved tablets ,and other ancient artifacts dating back to its glory days, , while the ancient church founded by Ezana remains the spiritual home of Ethiopian Christianity.

The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Widely known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” the Medieval Complex of 11 rock hewn churches and two chapels at Lalibela must surely rank as the single most breathtaking historical site in Sub -Saharan Africa. Hand-carved, flake by painstaking flake, in to a remote mountains of Ethiopian interior. , this labyrinthine cluster of religious shrines represents an apex of the ancient Carved towards the end of the 12th century, the Complex at Lalibela is created under the direction of the King of same name, who conceived it as a replica of ‘New Jerusalem’.

Many of the finest churches at Lalibela are subterranean monoliths, created in two stages. First a quadrangular courtyard of four trenches up to 15 meters deep would be hand cut in to a horizontal rock surface. Only then   could the artisan commence work on the actual church, which would be excavated in to the massive freestanding central block enclosed by the artificial courtyard. Other churches were curved in to cliffs, or enclosed by deep dry moats, and the complex as a whole is connected by warren of dark tunnels, shady passages and wide courtyard pockmarked with cramped hermit cell. Architecturally it is an astonishing place. Moreover, Lalibela is one of the very few UNESCO World Heritage Sites of a comparable vintage that still functions as living shrine, one whose ancient stone churches have remained in active use since their excavation all those centuries ago.

church excavating tradition that dates to the arrival of Christianity in Ethiopia in the 4th Century.

Harar : the Living Museum

To Muslims this Historic walled citadel , Harar or the City of Saints , rank only behind the sanctified trio of Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem as Islam’s fourth holiest city. Within Ethiopia , it is far and away the country’s most important repository of Islamic landmarks, with 82 mosques and 438 Awaach ( Shrine of Important Islamic Scholars ) crammed in to 48 hectars- the largest concentration in the world. Religious significance aside, the ancient town of Harar also served for centauries as the most important emporium in the Horn of Africa., the trade pivot linking the ports of Somali coast to the fertile Ethiopian interior.

UNESCO which inscribed Harar Jugol as a World Heritage Site in 2006. Regars its unique gey gar (City Houses ) with their exceptional interior design, as the most spectacular part of the City’s cultural heritage. There are endless other delights: the labyrinthine    alleys, the busy market places where colorfully -draped local women sell delicious juicy tropical fruits, pastel painted cafes brewing coffe plucked from the surrounding hills, the great hospitality of the people and the architectural beauty of the Harar Jugol. Above all, it is lively and truly welcoming city, with its multifaceted aura of cultural and architectural integrity. In fact, in 2002, UNESCO awarded Harar the Cities for Peace Prize, in recognition of its outstanding contribution to the promotion of peace, tolerance and solidarity in the everyday life.

Gondar: Camelot of Africa

Dubbed the Camelot of Africa, the city of Gondar – the capital of Ethiopia from 1636 until the mid-19th century combines a modern veneer with an architectural sensibility harking back to the Middle Ages. It is fortified stone castles and lavishly painted churches evoke some long-forgotten fairytale, whistle also illustrating the genuine might of imperial Ethiopia in its 17th century pomp.

Gondar’s physical and architectural centerpiece is Fasil Ghebbi, a Stone-walled Royal compound dominated by the three-story castell built in the 1630s by Emperor Fasil. the City’s founder. Fasil Ghebbi also lends its name to a World Heritage Site comprising not only the main royal compound, but also another seven other remote constructions, the most notable of which the Church of Debre Berhan Silassie, whose interior is among the most beautiful in the country.

Further afield an abandoned synagogue at Woleka evokes the story of Beta Israel (also known as Falashas), a ‘lost tribe’ of Ethiopian Jews whose last 10,000- or -so adherents of were airlifted during the 1980s. For nature lovers, Gondar is a gateway to the pretty northern Lake Tana port of Gorgora, to a lovely day hike through incredible montane scenery at Wunenia , and to the superlative Simien Mountains National Park ( a separate UNESCO World Heritage Site) 100 km to the North.

Danakil Depression

Sun-cracked Salt lats stretch like blinding-white crazy paving towards a shimmering flat horizon . Salt -bearing camel caravans traipse  mirage-like across grassless plains of rock and sand swept by a merciless gale known as Gara, or Fire-Wind. Volatile volcanos rise in to the cloudless desert sky, their calderas cradling bubbling cauldrons of molten lava, or brooding hyper-saline crater lakes. Explosive geysers feed sulphureous pools enclosed by strange pastel hued crystalline formations. These are sight typical of the Danakil: one of the most harsh and brutal landscape anywhere on earth, but also a place of rare geological fascination and immeasurable beauty to those few adventurous souls fortunate enough to spend time there.

A true desert that stretches across northeast Ethiopia for tens of thousands of square kilometers, the Danakil is one of the lowest -lying and hottest places anywhere in the planate, dropping to 116 meters below sea level , with temperature sour above 50oc . It lies in the northern part of Afar, a region named after its pastoralist inhabitants, who traditionally eked out an income as herders and seasonal salt miners. Their salt was transported by camel to the highlands by Tigrean caravaneers. Camel caravans still operate in the region, as they have for millennia, but for most visitors the biggest highlight of Danakil is Erta Ale, a climbable volcano that encloses the world’s permanent lava lake.

Bale Mountains National Park

Lush evergreen forests echoing with birdsong, dense stands of giant bamboo, pastel-shaded moorland studded with glacial streams and ethereal giant lobelias, sweeping valleys swathed in fragrant juniper-hagenia woodland, misty peaks soared above by majestic buzzards and golden eagles …these are just a few of the many habitats that make southeast Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National park the most important biodiversity hotspot in the country.

Nominated as a tentative UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 2009 ,the Bale Mountains form one of Africa’s most unique and thrilling wildlife –viewing destinations .This is the most important remaining global stronghold for several endangered large mammal species ,among them the charismatic Ethiopian wolf, handsome mountain nyala and delightful Bale monkey .Meanwhile ,such is Bale’s avian diversity and wealth of endemics that the African Birding club has listed it as one of the continent’s top five birding hotspots.

As montane parks go, Bale is surprising easy to explore by vehicle, with all-weather roads offering access to most of its more alluring habitats. Yet the park is also treat for enthusiastic walkers, with a wide rang of day walks on offer, as well as the opportunity to undertake a guided overnight hike or horseback trail of several days’ duration.

Konso Cultural Landscape

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011, the 230km2 Konso cultural Landscape is named after its agriculturist inhabitants, who have molded their homeland of semi-arid hills into a productive network of flat terraced fields through the construction and maintenance of centuries –old dry –stone contour walls. It is these walls that maximize soil retention and the collection of precious rainwater .The most striking feature of Konso cultural Landscape is its ancient hilltop paleta (terrace walled villages) –strange hobbit–warrents ,towered over by generation poles felled from a sacred forest ,and studded with curvaceous thatched community houses –that arguably rank as the most beautiful traditional African settlements in Sub –Saharan Africa . The konso are also renowned for their waka grave –markers, anthropomorphic hardwood statues carved to mimic the deceased, and for their communally constructed harda reservoir, which are maintained by very specific social and cultural practices. Situated in the far south of Ethiopia, Konso is a fascinating destination in its own right ,but more so perhaps when visited in combination with and contrasted against neighboring south Omo , a region that supports some of the most staunchly traditionalist and pastoralist cultures remaining in Africa.

Simien Mountains

The intrepid 1920s traveler Rosita Forbes declared it to be “the most marvelous of all Abyssinian landscapes”, waxing lyrical about its “stupendous crags” and “gorges of clouded amethyst”. Upon inscribing it as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979, UNESCO went one further by lauding it as “one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, with jagged mountain peaks deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500m”.

Ethiopians know it as the Roof of Africa, an awesome Afro-Alpine plateau of grassy meadows and ericaceous moorlands that rises to 4,533m at Ras Dejen. To biologists, it is the most important biodiversity hotspot in northern Ethiopia, populated by an alluring wealth of endemic plants and amimals, including the imperious Walia ibex, golden-maned gelada baboon, and endearing Ethiopian wolf.  Birders know it as the best place in the world to see the mighty lammergeyer, which is regularly observed soaring overhead, displaying its 2-metre wingspan. The 412km2 Simien Mountains National park is also, unsurprisingly, Ethiopia’s premier trekking and walking destination.

Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve

A mesmerizingly beautiful inland sea fringed by lush green tropical vegetation, Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake, extending across the northwestern highlands for 3,156 kmand stretching more than 84 km north-south and 66 km east-west. Tana also ranks as one of the county’s most popular and engagingtourist destinations, thanks to its balmy tropical climate, fabulous birdilife, excellent amenities, and wealth of compelling sightseeing, which includes numerous atmospheric medieval island monasteries and the spectacular Blue Nile Fails.

 

Tana has deep historical links with the Mediterranean world. The ancient Egyptians called it Coloe, while the ancient Greeks extolled it as the ‘copper-tinted lake… that is the jewel of Ethiopia’. The Blue Nile, or Abay, which exits the southern lake shore close to the city of Bahir Dar, is widely identified with the Biblical river Ghion, which flowed out of the Garden of Eden to ‘encircle the entire land of Kush’ (an alternative biblical name for Ethiopia). Relics of these ancient historical links range from the Judaic sacrificial pillars on the island of Tana Chirkos to the Egyptian-style papyrus tankwa boats used by local fishermen.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Tana region served as the political hub of Ethiopia, Much earlier dozens of monasteries were founded on the lake’s islands and peninsulas. In June 2015.  Lake Tana became the centerpiece of a newly created 5,000 square-kilometre UNESCO biosphere reserve.

For further information, please check out the www.ethiopia.travel or Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism web site.

If you are interested to visit Ethiopia or would like more information, please contact: 

Consulate General of Ethiopia     

3250 Wilshire Boulevard, suite 1101, Los Angeles, CA 90010                                                       

Tel: (213) 365-6651
Fax: (213) 365-6670
Email: info@ethioconsulatela.org