Ethiopia has a wide range of tourist attractions from abundant species of wildlife, historical sites, religious sites and cultural attractions (including more than 80 tribes all with different traditions).
YEHA (ETHIOPIA’S FIRST CAPITAL)
Yeha is situated in the northern mountainous section of the Tigray region. Although today this small settlement survives as a shanty town, it was once a site of great pre-Axumite civilization. Believed to be Ethiopia’s first capital, Yeha was first uncovered in a complex archeological excavation around a courtyard at the beginning of the 20th C. The first settlers of this area, the Sabeans, were the founders of the Axumite kingdom.
The temple of Yeha, with one side of its walls in ruin, is otherwise still intact and testifies to the advanced level of the people of those times. There is no trace of mortar being used to build the temple of which the inside of the walls was believed to be have been paved with gold.
The archeological excavations made in 1909, 1947 and 1973 respectively, reveal that this beautiful temple was destroyed by fire. Treasures such as gold rings, golden lions, stone-engraved inscriptions written in Sabean, stone-carved animals like the Walya ibex (one of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals), pottery works and others were uncovered. Some of these findings are displayed in the 4th-century church museum found in the same compound as the temple while others are displayed at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. The twelve underground formations and four other very deep cave structures (which seem to lead to Yemen, Lalibela, Jerusalem and Axum), increase the area’s importance in terms of both archeological research and tourism.
AXUM (ANCIENT CITY)
Axum, which lies about 1,000 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, was the second capital city of Ethiopia. This prominent Christian attraction is simply an open-air exhibition of Ethiopia’s pre- and post-Axumite civilization i.e. from the 3rd C. BC to the 10th C. AD. This ideal site has been visited frequently for the last two millennia.
The Axumite kingdom was founded on the northern tip of Ethiopia at a place called Aksum by the native Sabean people. The creation of this kingdom was an indication of a power shift from the capital at Yeha to the fertile lands of Aksum.
Due to its proximity to the Red Sea in the North-East and the Indian Ocean coastal trade routes to the South, trade prospered in the kingdom. Axum grew as a prominent commercial center in the first century AD. Trade with the Arabs, Indians, Turks, Greeks, Persians, Romans and others strengthened Ethiopia’s connection with the rest of the world.
The Axumite empire came into existence thanks to its hard working people. It witnessed tremendous growth between the first and sixth centuries AD. With a perfect continuation of successful governance, Axum grew to the level of an empire. Language flourished so much that three languages came into existence as a communication medium. Greek was the language of the royal court, Sabean was used by the common people and Ge’ez, a later-developed language, with its roots in the Sabean scripts, became a church language.
Coin mintage, as a result of strong economic dominance, was another development at this time and helped the Axumites to develop trade. Gold, silver and bronze coins, which began to be minted around the 4th C., are still found exposed on the plains of Axum.
The introduction of Christianity in the early 4th C. AD was one of the greatest achievements of the Axumite rule. It was during the time of King Ezana in 337 AD that Christianity arrived in Axum. Since it was the king who was the first to convert, Christianity easily reached the people under his rule. Since then, Ethiopia has remained a strong Christian state. The coins of King Ezana and his successors depict a cross, clearly indicating that the kings were Christian. The coins of kings before King Ezana in the pre-Christian era depict motifs such as moons, indicating paganism.
Axum reached its peak in terms of economic, political and social development in the fifth and sixth centuries. By then Christian Axumite kings were increasing their influence by expanding their territory across the Red Sea. The whole horn of Africa, including Yemen, was incorporated under the Axumite empire. It was at this time that Axum became known as one of the four great empires of the age. Then in the 7th century Islam was brought to Axum by Muslim followers who came in exile to escape from severe executions in the Middle East.
LALIBELA (“EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD”)
Located in the north-east of Ethiopia, Lalibela is another renowned historical destination. Placed third in historic sequence, its site hosts the “eighth wonder of the world”, the Lalibela rock-hewn churches. UNESCO has recorded this site as one of the world wonders. It is also holy land for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.
Today the town of Lalibela hosts eleven rock-hewn churches and all, apart from their historic significance, are renowned for their excellent and unique rock-carvings. The art displayed on the rocks dates from the twelfth century yet is still intact and in great shape. An active pilgrim site, the town is extensively visited and a source of admiration for architects and tourists alike.
Founded at the center of the Lasta mountain chain, Lalibela was originally called Roha and was a site of the Zagwe dynasty, of the Agew people. The decline of the Axumite dynasty gave rise to the Zagwe dynasty and, as a result, power shifted southward from Axum. After an interruption of the Solomonic line for almost 12 years, King Lalibela III, from the last of the Zagwe dynasty, managed to have these rock-hewn churches carved.
It took King Lalibela his entire reign and more than 60,000 men to finish the work. According to local accounts, the work was assisted by angels. Other erected and cave churches built during this period are found at a short distance from the town.
GONDAR (the ROOF)
Officially founded by King Fasiladas in 1632, the Gondarine period is considered to be the third major dynasty after the Axumite and Zagwe dynasties. The dynasty is historically important for the renaissance king’s mobile camp and the introduction of a permanent capital. The attempt by King Fasiladas to end the Zagwe dynasty was successful and set Gondar as Ethiopia’s capital from 1632 to 1868.
Gondar’s 17th century castles reflect the strong dynasty and the power of progressive rulers. The biggest and most magnificent castle of all, King Fasiladas’ castle, which is still intact, was the first to be built. Seven of the dynasty’s kings had their own castles built to show their power and independent, efficient ruling styles. What is special about the castles is that they demonstrate the progress in Ethiopian building styles and follow on from the rock-building traditions of the Axumite and Zagwe kings.
Additionally, Gondar was and is still noted as an active religious center. Among the churches in town, Debre Berhan Selassie is famous for its typically Gondarine style and its ceiling.
BAHIR DAR (SEA SIDE)
The town of Bahir Dar is located 180km south of Gondar on the shores of Lake Tana in the north of Ethiopia. It came into prominence in the 18th C. as a commercial destination for trade caravans to and from Gondar and the surrounding area. Today, it is one of the most attractive towns in Ethiopia and serves as a celebrated tourist destination. It hosts the fabled Blue Nile falls, the beautiful highland Lake Tana and 14th-century island monastic churches.
HARAR (HOLY CITY)
Located strictly East of Ethiopia it has survived since the late first millennium BC being a strong hold of Islam. Happen to be a strong Muslim sultanate, Harar has been ruled by seventy two successive Imams since its formation i.e. 1900s till Mid 1500s through which time quite unique, strong and authentic Muslim tradition was created. As it has a vast territory, friendly tribes namely Adare, Somali, Oromo and Argoba are the main settlers with all Muslim background.
It for long time had long trade relation with the Mediterranean and Arab world and religious interaction with the Middle East over Indian ocean and red sea which pays a great deal of contribution for its Economic and especially religious growth. Indeed the Sultanate has a lose but continuing contacts with the mid and North Christian Kingdom of the country through trade till it defuses and administration falls under the central governing Kingdom in mid 1500s. From here onwards Harar has opened the second phase in history being an ideal example of religious integrity with brotherly Christians and survived a new mix of tradition sustained to this day. Surrounding the old town, Harar today is a big capital city in the Eastern part of Ethiopia.
Today, Harar, next to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem is one of the main Muslim pilgrim sites in the world. Harar’s most determined attraction, the old and walled town of Harar, was particularly established in 1540’s following the downfall of the Imams’ rule with the defeat of the strongest Imam who ruled Harar. The Long and destructive war launched by this Imam, locally named Ahmed the left handed, to the Christian Kingdom and its gradual failure forced the town residents to built a great wall around the town to protect themselves from any possible attack from surrounding tribes. In this walled and old town, more than 90 mosques are built and are still service active. And with all its uniqueness, the town is known by locals as “Jegol”, a name everybody notices.
It also worth a visit to the unique attraction of Harar, also could be mentioned a special tradition of just a selected family members in Harar, to feed the wild Hyenas in a daring close to mouth close manner. It gives the glimpse that Harar’s people friendly enough to domesticate wilds.
It’s an amazing fact that driving off the main town Harar South wards, one will face a real fact of unique 1000 years old tradition and way of life which makes Harar to be a cultural destination as well. It will take full day excursion to visit the stone and mud built houses in a round and rectangular shaped manner all identically designed and Muslim tradition tuned interior decorations. Scattered through the most beautiful highlands of Harar, and owned by the most welcoming peoples of Harar is an ideal exploring through the first Millennia history and culture indeed gives an ideal trekking option through its splendid scenery.
House styles and interior decorations are unique to Harar. The house of the 19th-century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, is one of the most preserved in this town. Every house in Harar has almost the same inside partitions and all are colorfully decorated with traditional utensils. With its more than 40 mosques, Harar is home to the friendliest people in Ethiopia.