Ethiopian Historical Attraction Sites
Ethiopia has a proud and long history extending to the known beginnings of humankind. The Axumite kingdom was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world and has left behind the mystery of the great Stellae found at Axum. In the late middle Ages great religious civilizations flourished in many parts of the country, particularly at Lalibela where churches hewn out of massive monolithic rock testify not only to great faith but also to great architectural skills.
And in the former capital of Gondar many significant castles speak of the same legacy. All these would be enough to make Ethiopia a fascinating place to visit and travel through, but Ethiopia has so much more to offer. Some of historical attractions sites are described in the following sections.
Nejash is a small village located 60 kms North of Makale, the Capital of Tigray region. It is synonymous with Islam as it is the place were the first mosque was constructed in Ethiopia. It also serves as enduring reminder of the warm welcome extended by the Ethiopian king of the time when those Muslims including the family of the prophet Mohammed fled from persecution in their own land found refuge in Ethiopia during the early years of the Seventh century.
After much suffering at the hands of the Quraysh in Makkah, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) commanded a small group of Muslims to make Hijrah (migration) to a safe place in the country of Abyssinia. (what is now Ethiopia). Abyssinia at that time was ruled by a Christian King (who later on embraced Islam), famous for his mercy and equity, whose title was Negus. They were sure to receive protection and worship and live in peace there.
Since then, Negash has been a place of great historical and religous significance in a sense that it is a symbol of peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Christian religions.
Ethiopian’s rich heritages africa’s first mosque: Nejash
AXUM-The Mysterious Monoliths
The past comes alive in Ethiopia in the form of strange and beautiful monuments and ruins built centuries ago, which have been preserved intact to modern times. At Axum you will see 2,000-years-old stelae carved out of single piece of granite, weighing hundreds of tons and standing 27 meters tall.
Axum, Ethiopia’s most ancient city, and capital of one of the most glorious empires of the past, is one of the most illustrious links in the Historic Route. The Axumite Empire flourished 3000 years ago. Its riches can still be pictured on the magnificent stelae or obelisks, the graves of Kings Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, and the Legendary Bath of the Queen of Sheba.
The 16th century Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion was built in the compound of an earlier 4th century church, and is the holiest church in Ethiopia. In its sanctuary is said to rest the original Ark of the Covenant.
The churches and monasteries of Axum are richly endowed with icons, and some of the historical crowns of ancient Emperors.
The Debre Damo monastery dates back to early Axumite times. It is reached only by rope and is closed to women. It is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia.
Some 76 kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo (closed to women), 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 sixth century. The monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.
The treasures secreted within, kept intact through the country’s 1,400 tumultuous years of history because of that arduous, dangerous ascent, include an extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts, among them the oldest surviving fragments of texts anywhere in Ethiopia. The church now houses about fifty manuscripts, although the monks claim that they formerly possessed no less than a thousand.
Gondar- The Camelot of Africa
Gondar offers fairy-tale castles dating back to the 17th-century that seem to belong in an Arthurian romance. The oldest and most impressive of Gondar’s many imperial structures is the two-storey palace of Emperor Fasiledes, which includes a tower that affords a view of Lake Tana in the distance.
Gondar was the 17th century capital of Ethiopia, and is notable for its Medieval Castles and churches. The city’s unique Imperial compound contains a number of Castles built between 1632 and 1855 by various Emperors who reigned during this period. These dramatic Castles, unlike any other in Africa, display richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia.
Other treasures of Gondar include the 18th century palace of Ras Bet, the bath of Fasiledes, the ruined palace of Kusquam, and the church of Debre Berhan Selassie with its unique murals.
The city of Harar is an ancient (1520) city. Harar was an important trading center and is famous for its ancient buildings, its great city walls and as a centre of Islamic learning (the city has 99 mosques). In Harar you will lose yourself in an Arabian nights fantasy of narrow alleyways, incense and intrigue.
Lalibela – Eighth Wonder of the World
Lalibela sometimes called as the eighth wonder of the world, where eleven churches were hewn out of solid bedrock almost 800 years ago. These incredible edifices remain places of living worship to this day. The legend says that angels helped build the churches which were built at great speed and seem to be of superhuman creation in scale, workmanship and concept.
King Lalibela is credited with the foundation of the 11 rock-hewn churches in the 12th century. One of the world’s most incredible man-made creations, they are a lasting monument to man’s faith in God. Most travel writers describe these churches as the “eighth wonder of the world”. These remarkable edifices were carved out of a solid rock, in a region where the ragged landscape still protects the churches from mass tourism. The 11 man-made churches are found in and around the town of Lalibela. Other churches are reached by a 45-minutes drive by 4×4 vehicle, or a three hour ride on mule-back.
The venue for some of the most famous church festivals in Ethiopia, a visit during the great celebrations of Genna (X-mas) and Timket (Epiphany) is particularly rewarding.
The sixteenth century Susneyos Palace near Gorgora, served as a ‘blueprint’ for the famous palaces of Gondar. It was built by Catholic missionaries for Emperor Susneyos, founder of the Gondar dynasties. Bahir Dar is a town set on the south-eastern shore of Lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats. It is situated 37 kms from the spectacular Tisisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates “Smoking Water” an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.
From Bahir Dar one must explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built on the islands of Lake Tana, or on the many Islands. These include Dega Estephanos with its priceless collections of icons, as well as the remains of several medieval Emperors, Kebran Gabriel and Ura Kidane Mehret with its famous frescoes.
Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery visited by male tourists from Bahir Dar, with its impressive Cathedral-like building first built at the end of the 17th century. Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on the island in the Lake, and the monastery is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction, with the remains of several Emperors, as well as their robes and jewels. Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the Lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gondar, and dates from the region of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of the Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important.
Ethiopia’s earliest known capital, Yeha, is less than two hours’ drive from Axum through some dramatic highland scenery. As the birthplace of the country’s earliest high civilization, it is well worth visiting. To get there, head east for twenty kilometers (Bahar Dar is a town 12 miles ) to Adwa. Continue along the main road towards Adigrat for another twenty-four kilometers (15 miles) and then turn north on to a short dirt track, where you will see the imposing ruins of Yeha’s Temple of the moon about four kilometers (2.5 miles) to the right of the track.
The ruins of this large, pre-Christian temple, erected around the fifth century BC, consist of a single roofless oblong chamber 20 meters (66 feet) along by 15 meters (50 feet) wide. The windowless 10 meters high walls are built of smoothly polished stones, some of them more than 3 meters long, carefully placed one atop the other without the use of mortar. Archeological research at Yeha has unearthed many historical treasures, including a number of Sabean inscriptions and a variety of animal figurines. Several of these antiquities are on display in the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
Although Lalibela is unique, it is not the sole site of Ethiopia’s famous rock-hewn churches. In Tigray near Makale, over 200 fine examples of these monuments to man’s devotion to God as well as his building skills, can be seen and visited. The capital of Emperor Yohanes IV (1871-1889), Makale is now the main city of Tigray, the most northern Ethiopian region. The Emperor’s palace has been turned into a particular interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent history. The town is also well known as a transit point for the Camel Caravans bringing salt up 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.