ON THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST OF UNESCO
Ethiopian travel agency Timeless Ethiopia arranges trips to each of these destinations.
The origins of the Kingdom of Axum in 5th century BC are most frequently accepted as the event commencing the history of Ethiopia. In the times of its greatest prosperity, the Kingdom was maintaining political and commercial contacts with the civilizations of Greeks and Romans, and also with India and China. In the times of Kingdom of Axum, the Geez language became an official one – until today, it has been in use in the churches of Ethiopia. This language originates from the Southern-Arabian peoples who reached these lands on their way from Yemen a long time before the establishing of the Kingdom of Axum. In Axum, it is possible to admire the masterpieces of architecture, for instance, famous steles, until today having been the inspiration for the designers of modern edifices. A short time ago, the stele looted during the Italian occupation returned to the city. Axum had been the venue of coronations for Ethiopian emperors until as recently as the times of Haile Sellasie. In a special chapel next to Tsion Marjam (the Holiest Mother of God on Zion) Cathedral, the legendary Arc of the Covenant is stored. In accordance with a legend, it is from here that the Queen of Sheba departed in order to meet King Solomon. The ruins of her palace and enormous water basins, contemporarily serving as the reservoir of fresh water, have been preserved.
THE VALLEY OF THE RIVER AWASH
This is one of the most important paleontological sites in Africa. The remains which were discovered here, and the oldest of which are at least 4 million years old, have provided the evidence for the evolution of man which has altered the conception of the development of mankind. The greatest discovery was made in the year 1974, when, upon the basis of fifty-two fragments of a skeleton, the famous „Lucy” was reconstructed. This region is inhabited by the nomadic tribes of the Afar people. Some of these tribes, like it was the case thousands of years ago, have as their means of subsistence excavating the lumps of salt from the bottoms of dried-out lakes. These lumps are then transported on the backs of camels further inland on the territory of their country.
THE VALLEY OF THE RIVER OMO
The Valley of the River Omo in the vicinity of Lake Turkana is a prehistoric site on which the remains of fossil hominids (among others, of Homo gracilis), being of a major importance for research on the evolution of man, have been found. And even though that fact came to be the reason to include the Valley on the list of UNESCO, in a matter of fact it attracts tourists with the beauty of its landscapes and the possibility of contacting the tribes inhabiting its lands. There are more than 20 of such tribes, and they represent four groups of languages. The most numerous ones are the Hamar people, whereas the most famous one is the Mursi, in whose case women place large clay rings upon their lower lips. One needs to travel to these parts as soon as it is possible for them. Investments, in particular the construction of water dams and sugar refineries are altering the character of the South of Ethiopia in an irreversible manner.
FASIL GHEBBI IN GONDAR
In 16–17th century, this fortified city used to be the residential town of Emperor Fasilides of Ethiopia and his successors. It is surrounded by the walls the length of which amounts to 900 meters, and inside them palaces, churches, monasteries, public utility buildings and private houses can be found. All of them have been erected in a unique style, combining Indian and Arabian influences with the Baroque ones brought here by missionaries – the Jesuit fathers. The majority of the churches in Gondar were fallen in victim to destruction during the invasion of the followers of Mahdi from Sudan. This period of history was described for us in more detail by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his novel „In Desert and Wilderness”. Among the surviving churches, the one which is particularly enchanting is the church of Debre Birhan Selassie, decorated with the fresco paintings of outstanding beauty. In Gondar, what is worth seeing is Fasilides Baths, situated approximately 2 kilometers from the center. This two-storey building, situated on the bottom of a pool, dug-out in the ground, was probably the residence of Emperor. The entire edifice is surrounded by a wall made of stones. Gondar is a traditional starting point for excursions into the most popular trekking region in Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains.
Surrounded by the desert and savannah, the fortified city of Harar is situated on the plateau, cross-sectioned by deep gullies. It is known as the fourth holy city of Islam. In it, 82 mosques (out of which number, three date back from 10th century) and 102 houses of prayer have been erected. In 13–16th centuries, the city was provided with walls surrounding it. The majority of the houses in it are one-storey, three-room buildings with a yard set aside for the purposes of house-keeping. Another type of homesteads, called the Indian type, is represented by the buildings erected by Indian merchants at the end of 19th century. These houses are rectangular, two-storey buildings with a veranda moved forward into the yard or the street. The third type is the combination of the two previously mentioned. The architecture of the city is an exceptional one, and unlike what can be seen anywhere else, whether in Ethiopia itself or in other Muslim cities. Its current outside appearance was permanently formed in 16th century, and is characterized by the labyrinth of narrow streets, along which the high facades of houses can be seen. In the years 1520–1568, the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Harar. In 16–19th centuries, it was a center of commerce and teaching Quran. In 17th century, together with its adjacent areas, it became an independent emirate. In the course of the further ten years, Egypt occupied it, and in the year 1877 was incorporated into Ethiopia. The city is a well-known center of artistic artisanship – weaving, basketry and book-binding, and also the exceptional conception of the interior design of houses.
ROCK CHURCHES IN LALIBELA
After the fall of the Kingdom of Axum, the kings from the Zagwe dynasty transferred their residence to Lalibela, the south-east of Axum. There, they erected a flourishing and densely populated capital city, the residence of their Middle Age dynasty. Lalibela, previously known as Roha, was called in this manner to commemorate the King of Lalibela from the end of 12th century. The city was established as New Jerusalem. In that historical period, travelling on pilgrimages to proper Jerusalem was impossible, because the lands between Jerusalem and Ethiopia had been conquered by Muslims. The churches of Lalibela leave no one disinterested. These intriguing edifices have in their entirety been forged out in a homogeneous lump of red volcanic tuff. They seem to be absolutely unreal and created by some kind of a superhuman power. Rock temples might be admired in different places in the world, but it is solely here that not only the internal space, but also facades and external walls have been forged out. The churches of Lalibela are referred to as the least known of the eight miracles of the world, and they full deserve that name. The buildings are in their entirety forged out in rock, and simultaneously, completely separated from that. In the subsequent centuries, Lalibela was gradually decreasing in importance, so as to become a small village. For those unaware of its existence, this place situated at the foothills of the mountain called Abuna Yosef, which is practically inaccessible. It is only approaching rock church really close that makes it possible to judge exceptional character. Monolithic Saint George’s Church, having the characteristic shape of the Greek cross, evokes admiration. The largest church is Bet Medhane Alem, and it is 33 meter long, 23 meter wide and 11.5 meter high. The king of Lalibela employed 40 thousands of workers to excavate it. A legend has it that the workers were labouring throughout a day, and at night their work was continued by Angels with doubled strength. Why were these churches not erected of stone, in a more ordinary manner? The answer to this question has remained unknown until today. One of the hypotheses claims that such a manner of constructing safeguarded them against ending up destroyed in the case of the invasion of enemies. New Jerusalem does not offer only rock churches, but also underground dark corridors, on which the footsteps of deacons are still to be heard…,” seeing is believing”!
- Read more about Lalibela
- Photos from a trip to Lalibela
- Travel to Ethiopia. Historic Route & Lalibela Tour
THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF KONSO
This area, situated on a dry plateau, is inhabited by the people called Konso, who have developed an unique and complex culture. The community is composed of the nine clans of Kafa, each of which has its own leader. They play a decisive role in resolving conflicts, in particular in the case of it being necessary to declare a war. Neighbouring hills are covered by terraces ensuring taking maximum advantage of the potential of rocky slopes. Konso use crop rotation and fertilizing the land with the excrements of animals. They live in intensively-urbanized settlements, situated on the tops of hills and surrounded by several circles of stone walls. The outside appearance of their villages is appealing and tidy, similarly to that of their inhabitants. The women of Konso wear characteristic stripped skirts, resembling those known from the area around the Polish town of ?owicz. In every fortified village, there is a public utility place, called Mora. It is there those political disputes, the meetings of courts, wedding ceremonies and harvest festivals take place. On the area of each and every Mora, a house designated for use by young men is situated. They sleep in it, in order to facilitate rapid mobilization in the case of the threat of fire or the attack of enemies. It is also there that Olahita, a collection of generation-marking poles, is to be found. Every 18 years, one pole is added; counting them, it is easy to determine the age of the village. Another unique tradition is that of a wooden stele, called Waka. These were usually erected on the graves of the leaders of clans and heroes. Those who were merited for the defense of the village, and also hunters who overpowered a lion, panther or an African buffalo, became heroes.
THE NATIONAL PARK OF SEMIEN MOUNTAINS
Called „African Tibet” or „the Roof of the Black Continent”, the Semien Mountains are one of the most beautiful, and still remaining intact, mountain ranges of the continent. The long-time processes of erosion have formed one of the most spectacular landscapes of the world on Ethiopian plateau. It is made different by the jagged mountain tops, valleys and precipices (the depth of which amounts to maximum 1500 meters). The highest mountain top, Ras Dashen (4620 meter above the sea level), is the fourth highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro, Kenya and Ruwenzori on the border of the Congo and Uganda. Further 12 peaks are higher than 4000 meter above the sea level The Park is mainstay of the rare species of animals. Gelada baboons graze here in groups the headcount in which reaches even as many as several hundreds of specimen. One needs to be more fortunate to meet kaberu; that is the name of the Ethiopian wolf, also called the Abyssinian fox. The surviving group of the specimen of this species is very small. Although it lives in packs, like a wolf, it hunts alone like a fox. The walia ibex (Walia ibex), having twisted horns and living nowhere elsewhere, than in the Semien Mountains, used to be a species on the verge of extinction.
It is situated south of Addis Ababa next to the road to Butajira. This is one of the most important, out of 160, archaeological sites, discovered thus far in the region of Soddo. More than 40 stone obelisks, among which the sculpted steles covered with motives resembling, among others, swords, ensete, which means a kind of banana tree, cultivated in Ethiopia, and also other symbols, the meaning of which remains unknown to us, can be found there. In accordance with the most recent research, the stones mark the places of burial dating back from the time 700 years ago. Women and men, who have been laid to eternal rest there, were buried in the embryonic position. One of the more interesting steles can be admired in Addis Ababa on the area of the university.