Tigrai, Ethiopia’s northern most regions, has more than 120 rock-hewn churches. It was in 1966 that Abba Josief Tewelde Medhin astonished many Ethiopianists by reading out the list of the churches. Before then, however, only two or three churches were known to scholars.
The rock churches are found in Gheralta, Tsaeda Imba, Atsbidera, Haramat, Ganta afeshum, and in many other places scattered unevenly over an area of 180 x 140 kms. Ivy Pearce, one of the noted academic authorities in the field, writes, “the Tigre rock-hewn churches are more interesting to visit on account of the fact that one can see antiquity in people, things, places and ceremonies unchanged for over a thousand years.” She also ranked them as “the greatest of the historical- cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people.”
Gheralta, northwest of Mekelle, the capital of Tigrai, is the home of a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abune Yemata (Guh), Mariam Korkor, Debretsion (Abune Abraham), Yohannes Maequddi, Abune Gebre Mikael and Selassie Degum are in the very heart of Gheralta, making it the home of rock churches of Tigrai.
The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular. The view of the graceful Mount Gheralta and the far- reaching Hawzien plain is a rare combination of extraordinary beauty. Georg Gerster, the Swiss photographer, in his book churches in Rock writes, “Gheralta with its ‘western film’ scenery of mountains seems to be a kind of Ethiopian Arizona An Arizona, however, without motels or desperadoes. But nevertheless an eldorado with the choice intellectual pleasure of constantly stimulation and satisfying the passion for discovers"
Gheralta can now be approached either from the town of Wukro, 47 kms north of Mekelle along the highway or from Senkata, 83kms along the same road. The important points in the area (Abraha Atsbaha, Degum, Megab and Hawzien) are now all connected by a new road and inaccessibility seems a fast forgotten thing of the past.
Saint Tekle Haymanot
The independent columns marked by capital like bosses, are wonderfully executed in a style found at no other place. The walls manifest a set of rectangle from shallow cuts topped by a sequence of designs fashioned to look like cement made tubes. The chamber left for the tablet has finely carved windows and special ceiling inscribed by a dome and cross- like decoration. The church is situated at the southern edge of the town. Together with Degum and Berakit, this church is representative of the axumite type. This churche can be very old and possibly post – Axumite. The church is a union of a rock-hewn and stone built. The chiseled structure is so fascinating to take attention. Past a wooden door comes this small sized rectangular –shape house caved out of outcrop. The chamber holds six free standing and six more pillars merged with the rock.
It is located 25 km north east of Hawzien at an altitude of 2500m; this church is reached across country by 4WD. The set of the church allows one to view a vast filed lying below. The church is completely hewn from a living block of rock soaring high. It is embellished with various decorative designs. The chapel has a high ceiling and large interior which consist of 4 free standing and six non free standing pillars. All of the columns are vaulted in a manner to support the ceiling. The church is beautiful enough to arouse excitation. The ceiling in the middle is exactly executed to have a cylinder – shaped features. It is also adorned with swastika incisions. The room where the tablet dwells has a dome-like roof. Eyesus Gwahegot, in addition to many expressive religious materials alike that of Debretsion of Gheralta ,has old and new ceremonial fun carrying the portraits of apostles, saints and angles.
The small town of Wukro is situated 47km from the capital of Tigrai, Mekelle. Wukro is the center of the tourist attraction situated on the Gulomekeda, Ganta Afeshum, Erob, Saesie Tsaeda Imba, Kilte Awlaelo and Atsbi Wenberta districts. It is a convenient base to visit the nearby attractions and the Danakil depressions. This cluster is one of most accessible attraction sites in the region. Here, there are plenty of rock-hewn churches and testimonies that are still vigorous places of worship and true testimonies to the country’s old legacy. The cluster is also rich in natural and cultural endowments.
Wukro Cherkos is situated around 200m from Wukro and the most accessible church. This crooked cruciform sandstone church is a three-quarters monolith and boasts beautiful cruciform pillars (notice the swirling sandstone laminate), cubical capitals
di Akaweh Archeological Site
The site of Meqabir Gaewa (Tomb of Gaewa) is situated in the eastern zone of the Regional State of Tigrai, 7km from the town of Wukro.The first test excavation was conducted by the Tigrai Tourism and culture Commission near the village of Adi Akaweh in a site known as ‘Mekabir Gaewa’ in oct.2007. As a result of the test excavation ancient objects such as a seated women statue and its base; an altar with Sabean inscription and a partially inscribed podium were found. In Oct-Nov 2008 a joint German and Ethiopian archeological project continued to survey and excavate and as a result more than twenty other potential sites were identified. According to the translation of the inscriptions by Prof. Nobert Nebes the ancient Sabeano-Ethiopian kingdom of D’m’t, god Almoqah and for the first time the well-known pre-Axsumite temple, ‘Yeha’ are mentioned. On the basis of the inscriptions the objects were dated to 7th -6th century B.C. The Almoqah temple of Yeha is much larger than the Almoqah temple of Adi Akaweh but a good comparable one is the Almoqah temple in Melazo near Axum.
Abraha and Atsbeha
The wonderful rock-hewn church of Abreha and Atsbeha is situated 15 km west of Wukro along the gravel road which leads to Gheralta and Hawzien. It was supposedly ordered to be built in the 4th century by the two royal brothers, Abreha and Atsbeha (known in the west as kings, Ezana and Saizana), who who were responsible for converting Ethiopia to Christianity. The church is a large and cruciform in shape, with interesting architectural features such as cruciform pillars and step capitals. There is also well preserved 17th century paintings depicting Saints and Biblical scenes. The church contains many valuable masterpieces including the beautifully decorated prayer cross, said to have belonged to Frumentius, the first Bishop of Ethiopia, whose ecclesiastical name was Abba Selama, meaning the father of peace. Many Ethiopians believe that the bodies of Abraha and Atsbeha are buried in the church. Thousands of Pilgrims make the journey to Abraha we Atsbeha every year Tikmt 4 (14th of October).
Negash is a small village located 60 km North of Mekele, the capital of Tigrai region. It lies on a flat topped mountain commanding a view of the spectacular mountains of Gheralta. It serves as enduring reminder of the warm welcome extended by the Ethiopian King to the followers of the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. Since then, Negash has been a place of great historical and religious significance in a sense that it is a symbol of peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Christian religions. Negash is regarded by Ethiopian Muslims as the second holiest place of Muslim world. Nowadays Negash is famous for the ornate white Arabic-style tombs of the first Muslim, and the recently built mosque, said to be on the site of the original mosque. An ancient cemetery has been uncovered, believed to contain the graves of those first Muslims refugees. There is an annual festival held at Negash, which attracts Muslim pilgrims from all over Ethiopia.
Atsbi and its Surroundings
It is located 18 km east of the town of Wukro. It involves a 10 minute climb. The church is carved out from the top of an isolated rock hill Mikael Barka is a three-aisled and three-bayed square church, 9m wide and 9m deep. Its ceiling decorated with a varieties of patterns, is supported by twelve columns four of which are free standing and cruciform in design. The bracket capitals at different heights and the domes and the altars are skillfully excited. According to oral tradition, the edifice is believed to have been carved in 6th century under the auspices of Abune Abraham, an Ethiopian Saint. However, scholars believe the church to date to the 13th or 14th century.
Michael Imba (Tsaeda Imba)
The Tsada Imba escarpment dotted with various outcrops, lower towards west to allow construction of the Adigrat-Mekelle road which crosses Tekatesfai and Frewoini settlements. The site is easily visited, a day trip from Mekelle. It consists of three old churches and a new one, each very different and all within 2km of each other. The site is situated along Mekelle Adigrat road, 25 km after the town of Wukro, accompanies the road all the way to Frewoini. To visit it by public transport, ask to be dropped at the sign post of the given sites. You can head out to the churches independently, but guides are essential as interpreters and help locate the priests who keep the church keys.
Debre Selam Michael
It is located about 11 km north east of Atsbi and involves a simple 20 minute ascent. Mikael Debreselam is undoubtedly the finest church in its architectural design. It is a church within a cave or as lvy pearce referred to it “a church with in a church”. The central door leads in to the anteroom with three huge built columns, a beautiful freestanding arch & built in the Axumite “Sandwich Style” of construction (a layer of wood then a layer of stone), comes in the view. The wood work of the door & window shutters is exquisitely decorated in geometrical patterns including swastika-like symbols. Especially, the window shatter is decorated with very old cloth paintings of the Virgin Mary & child. The ends of the protruding part of the wooden beams are round in shape & their presence adds beauty to the church. It is also known for its wealth of paintings. Many faded murals can be seen on the walls & arches of the sanctuary the art influence, according to Pearce, is Byzantine.
The church, which is located to the west of Atsbi, is accessible by a 13km rough road. It is only 3 kms west of Debre – Selam. Altitude: 2800 m. Zarema Giorgis is a church enclosed by recently erected building. The safe church with rectangular ground and circular ceiling is made up of large block of stone intervened by fine woods. The access to the church where the sanctuary is housed has its sides fixed with incised boards. Its fine wooden ceiling is supported by hewn pillars. Its architectural setting is so striking. According to Ruth Plant, the relic came in to being some times after the construction of Debere Damo monastery & before the start of hewing rock church.
Tsaeda Imba and its Surroundings
Medhane Alem (Saviour of the world church), can be reached through 25km Asphalt road and around 4km turning to the right on weather road. As you near the church you will have to climb up a slope of exposed sandstone.
It is about 15minute drive from Medhane Alem Adi Kesho and 5 minute drive from Petros and Paulos. The most striking feature of this church is to be found in the recessed ceiling just after entering the left hand door way. Axumite friezes approximately half a meter in height, decorate three sides of the recess. Forming the dome of the recess is a beautiful, circular, shallow relief carved from the sandstone rock. Many bands of intricate circular patterns radiate out from an enclosed Greek cross at the center of the relief, the whole design resembling the decorated Tigraian circular bread loaf, the Himbasha.
Petros and Pawlos
It is situated in the same locality as Medhane Alem Adi Kesho. A ten minutes’ drive across fields brings you to this antique and is visible from the main road because of the White-washed façade. It is on the top of a bluff, reached by carefully climbing a rickety ladder and platforms placed against the cliff side. The architecture of this church is not very impressive. It does, however, boast some fascinatingly primitive paintings. On the walls and on the chamber antecedent to the Holy of Holies a number of striking paintings depicting the Madonna and Child, Angles, the Nine Saints, Christ resurrecting Adam and Eve and many other objects are found. The church has not been used for several years because of it is difficult to reach. However, ‘Haleka’ Halefom Retta a peasant farmer from a near village started hewing another church of the same name below the original in 1982. “Saint Gebriel instructed me in my dreams and offered the endurance in carving this what seems super human structure” said Halefo
Adigrat, the capital town of Eastern Zone of Tigrai, is located half way between Mekelle, the region’s capital city and Axum the countries star attraction. It lies at the junction of the Mekelle - Adigrat and Mekelle-Zalambesa roads. It is also renowned for the quality of its t'ej-mead or honey wine. The town also makes a good base from which to explore some of the northern rock-hewn churches of Tigrai. The busy market is definitely worth visiting. It’s good place to buy Tigraian coffee pots and local cloths as well as the nationally renowned honey that comes from Alitena. Chirkos church lies in the center of the town, whose interior is covered in fine 19th century paintings depicting Angeles. The large dome on the skyline belongs to the Holy Savior Catholic Cathedral completed in 1916.Its Italian design with distinctly Ethiopian flavor; look out for the paintings by Afewerk Tekle. There is also an Italian war Cemetery 4Km east of the town at the village of Gola’a. It commemorates some 765 Italian soldiers, many of them caduti ignoti (the unknown fallen) the wars of 1935-38. The market is also worth a look out for locally produced pale honey, and the Beles (picky pears) are deliciously refreshing. Traveling south from Adigrat, look out for the attractive Tigraian stone farm stead with their dry-stone walls.
Anza (Baati Barud) Rock Art
The limestone cave of Anza is situated about 30km to the east of the town of Edaga Hamus in the escarpment. The paintings are found in a shelter, that is 30.40m in length, 3.5m in width and 3.85m deep (Agazi Negash, 1997). At least 30 cattle, 3 men, geometric figures and fat tailed sheep are depicted in the paintings. Long horned cattle and milking scene are also represented in the same paintings. The paintings also depict two humans riding horses or donkeys carrying what appear to be spear and shield.
Monastery of Gundagundo
The monastery of Gunda Gundo is one of the oldest and famous monasteries of Ethiopia. To reach the monastery looks out for the signpost north of edge of Idaga Hamus. Follow 24Km along a road suitable for vehicle with 4 WD to north east of Idaga Hamus that leads to Geblen, a village situated on the verge of the escarpment. To reach there, it takes roughly 4-5 hours walk along a track. The land scape on the way to the monastery is very spectacular. The vertical mountains sites that follow the foot path exhibit an array of rock pinnacles. The church, the combination of two old mud houses, consists of 4 cruciform pillars and 12 circles. The remarkable feature of this aging church is for its time honored parchments, crosses and crowns. According to the church officials, the monastery was built in the first half of the 15th by Abune Ezra. The monastery has a church that bears its name, Mariam Gunda Gundo, dedicated to St. Mary, but unfortunately female visitors are not allowed to the main church.
Debre Damo Monastery
On top of the amba there are two churches. The main one, 20m deep and 9m wide, was constructed under the auspices of Emperor Gebre Meskel, the Ethiopian king who reigned in the 6th century. The walls are constructed of stones and strengthened with longitudinal beams, which are themselves fixed to the walls with projecting woods otherwise known as “monkey heads” The walls of the church show resemblance to the decorative styles displayed on the obelisks of Aksum.
The monolithic pillars, the walls, the beams, the wooden doors and windows depict Aksumite architecture. The monastery of Debre Damo possess many treasures including ancient manuscripts, crosses, etc. visiting the monastery emotionally takes you back to the distant past of Ethiopian religious life. The second church is built on the eastern verge of the amba. According to local tradition, that very site is the spot where Abune Aregawi had finally vanished unnoticed, hence “Misiwarom’ (literally a place where he vanished from). It is a small church only frequented by hermits living on the Amba.
The top of the Amba (plateau) also commands magnificent views toward the Adwa Mountains to the west. The annual festival takes place on October24. Female visitors are not allowed to the church.
Yeha “Temple of the Moon”
Yeha is located in the northern part of Ethiopia, 52 km south of Axum, It was possibly Ethiopia`s oldest major settlement. Yeha is famous for its huge and remarkable temple. The temple is believed to date back to the 5th century BC. The imposing ruins of Yeha`s temple though roofless still stand. It was a large pre-Christian temple consisting of a single oblong chamber. The area of the remains of the temple measures 18.5m by 15m and its height stands at 12 meters. It is believed to be the oldest standing building in the country. The town of Yeha is considered by archaeologists and historians to be the prime capital of the pre-Aksumite period. It holds many archaeological mysteries.
The surrounding area has yet to be fully excavated. No doubt, many archaeological mysteries are still hiding deep under the earth here waiting to be unraveled. Beside the remarkable temple, a church dedicated to Abba Aftse stands. Abba Aftse was one of the famous nine saints who came to Ethiopia in the 6th century from the east Roman Empire to teach the Gospel. These Christian monks founded a number of important monasteries and churches in many parts of Tgrai. The church, sharing the same compound with the temple, is rectangular in shape. One can see several engravings of Ibex heads on the walls of the church and those suggest the sacredness of the animal. Enda Abba Aftse is also one of the wealthiest churches in terms of church treasures and manuscripts. Amongst the fine crosses is one which, according to the church officials, belonged to the founder of the church, Abba Afste, himself. Several beautifully decorated manuscripts, as well as numerous other priceless treasures are housed in the church.
Gondar is located 748 km North Western part of Addis Ababa. Until the 16th century, the Solomonic Emperors of Ethiopia usually had no fixed capital, instead living in tents in temporary royal camps as they moved around their realms while their family, bodyguard and retinue devoured surplus crops and cut down nearby trees for firewood. One exception to this rule was Debre Birhan, founded by Zara Yaqob in 1456; Tegulet in Shewa was also essentially the capital during the first century of Solomonic rule.
Beginning with Emperor Menas in 1559, the rulers of Ethiopia began spending the rainy season near Lake Tana, often returning to the same location again and again. These encampments, which flourished as cities for a short time, include Emfraz, Ayba, Gorgora, and Dankaz. Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides aroundthe year 1635, and grew as an agricultural and market town. There was a superstition at the time that the capital's name should begin with the letter 'Gʷa' (modern pronunciation Gonder was originally spelt Gʷandar), which also contributed to Gorgora's .The emperor also built a total of seven churches; the first two, Fit Mikael and Fit Abbo, were built to end local epidemics. The five emperors who followed him also built their palaces in the town.
The town served as Ethiopia's capital until Tewodros II moved the Imperial capital to Debre Tabore upon being crowned Emperor in 1855. The modern city of Gondar is popular as a tourist attraction for its many picturesque ruins in the Royal Enclosure, from which the Emperors once reigned. The most famous buildings in the city lie in the Royal Enclosure, which include Fasilides castle, Iyasu's Palace, Dawit's Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab's Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasiladas' Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul's Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church,well known by its mural painting.
The Grates Ethiopian Festivals is celebrated a very colorful way in this city “Timkat” - the Epiphany for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ at River Jordan by John the Baptist.
The small town of Lalibela in Ethiopia is home to one of the world's most astounding sacred sites: eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with its roof at ground level.
Were it not for these extraordinary churches, Lalibela would almost certainly be well off the tourist radar. A dusty rural town nestled into rolling countryside, Lalibela only recently received electricity. It has few motorized vehicles, no gas stations and no paved streets. Isolated from the modern world, the town goes about its business much as it has for several hundred years.
Of Lalibela's 8-10,000 people, over 1,000 are priests. Religious ritual is central to the life of the town, with regular processions, extensive fasts, crowds of singing and dancing priests. This, combined with its extraordinary religious architecture and simplicity of life, gives the city of Lalibela a distinctively timeless, almost biblical atmosphere.
The town of Lalibela was originally known as Roha. It was renamed after the 12th-century King Lalibela, who commissioned these extraordinary churches. Lalibela was a member of the Zagwe dynasty, which had seized the Ethiopian throne around 1000 AD. When his rivals began to increase in power, Lalibela sought the support of the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church by building the churches in this small town.
King Lalibela's goal was to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (and to create a sacred city to rival powerful Axum, with its Ark of the Covenant). According to some reports, he had been to the Holy Land himself and was inspired by what he saw. But the king made no attempt to copy the churches of the Holy Land; in fact, Lalibela's sacred architecture could not be more unique.
The churches of Lalibela were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior. The largest church is 40 feet high, and the labor required to complete such a task with only hammers and chisels is astounding.
Popular legend has it that angels came every night to pick up where the workmen had left off. One of the churches, Bet Maryam, contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote the secrets of the buildings' construction. It is covered with old cloths and only the priests may look on it.
King Lalibela's project for gaining the church's favor had two unexpected results: the creation of a holy place of unparalleled beauty and the king's conversion to a religious life. After laboring for 20 years, he abdicated his throne to become a hermit, living in a cave and eating only roots and vegetables. To this day, Ethiopian Christians regard King Lalibela as one of their greatest saints.
The churches have been in continuous use since they were built in the 12th century. The first Europeans to see these extraordinary holy sites were Portugese explorers in the 1520s, one of whom noted in his journal that the sights were so fantastic; he expected readers of his descriptions would accuse him of lying.
The roofs of the Lalibela churches are level with the ground and are reached by stairs descending into narrow trenches. The churches are connected by tunnels and walkways and stretch across sheer drops. The interior pillars of the churches have been worn smooth by the hands of supplicating worshippers.
The rock-cut churches are simply but beautifully carved with such features as fragile-looking windows, moldings of various shapes and sizes, different forms of crosses, swastikas (an Eastern religious motif) and even Islamic traceries. Several churches also have wall paintings.
Each church has its own resident monk who appears in the doorway in colorful brocade robes. Holding one of the church's elaborate processional crosses, usually made of silver, and sometimes a prayer staff, these monks are quite happy to pose for pictures. Some sport incongruously modern sunglasses with their splendid ensemble.
There are 11 rock-cut churches at Lalibela, the most spectacular of which is Bet Giorgis (St. George's). Located on the western side of the cluster of churches, it is cut 40 feet down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It was built after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. It is a magnificent culmination of Lalibela's plans to build a New Jerusalem, with its perfect dimensions and geometrical precision.
Unlike some of the other churches, St. George's is plain inside. A curtain shields the Holy of Holies, and in front of it usually stands a priest displaying books and paintings to visitors. In the shadows of one fo the arms of the cruciform church is its tabot, or copy of the Ark of the Covenant. One explorer was allowed to open it and found it empty. No one was able to tell him what happened to its contents.
In the "Northern Group" across the main road from St. George, the most notable church is Beta Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. It is thought to be a copy of St. Mary of Zion in Axum.
Bete Medhane Alem is linked by walkways and tunnels to Beta Maryam (St. Mary's), possibly the oldest of the churches. In the east wall of the church is an array of geometric carved windows in a vertical line. From the bottom up is: a Maltese cross in a square; a semi-circle shape like that on the Axum stelae; a Latin cross; and a simple square window.
The windows illuminate the Holy of Holies in which the church's copy of the Ark is placed. Other decorations include a Star of David combined with a Maltese cross, a Sun with a smiling human face flanked by eight-spoked wheels, Mary on a donkey accompanied by Joseph, and an Annunciation.
Next to Beta Maryam is Beta Golgotha, known for its artwork which includes life-sized carvings of saints on the walls. It is also home to the tomb of King Lalibela, over which stands a gold-draped Ark. The Western group is completed by the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.
The "Eastern Group" includes:
Jimma is located 275 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa, the largest city in southwestern Ethiopia owes its origin to the establishment an early Oromo monarchy. Famed for the home of Ethiopian coffee and, indeed, the first home of all the coffee in the world (See 'The World's Favourite Drink', Part Four), fertile Kaffa has as its capital the town of Jimma, which lies at the southern end of the Ethiopian plateau on the west of the Rift in rolling hilly country where temperatures are never higher than 29°C (85°F). This frost-free environment, which gets a substantial 1600 mm (62 inches) of rain each year, is perfect for growing a huge variety of foodstuffs, including grains, legumes, and root crops.
Twenty-five kilometres (15.5 miles) from Gore is the regional capital of Metu, surrounded by singing forests filled with brightly plumed birds. The mood here is that of a frontier settlement - the frontier being not a political one but rather the intangible borderline between raw nature and the endeavours of man.
Ethiopia's Oromo people, who have committed themselves to pushing this frontier back in their steady westwards expansion, crowd into Metu on holidays and weekends, drinking and listening to music in its many small bars, or offering their produce for sale in its open market - produce that includes berries and wild honey as well as the more familiar grains and vegetables of established agriculture. At night a small generator chugs and puffs bravely for an hour or two before it is closed down and darkness and silence fall over the town.
A thirteen-kilometre (eight-mile) detour off the main road at Metu leads the traveller to the village of Bechu, which occupies an irregular clearing in the midst of a dense thicket of trees. From here, an hour's downhill walk through green glades on a narrow and at times barely discernible path is rewarded with a view of one of Ethiopia's many splendid waterfalls where the Sor River pours over the lip of a broad chasm 100 metres (328 feet) deep. A natural amphitheatre, heavily overgrown with weird tree ferns and tall grasses, this is a delightful spot in which to savour the primal atmosphere of Ilubabor and to catch a glimpse of nature as it must once have been throughout much of Africa before the coming of humanity.
The road continues through Bedele, 115 kilometres (71 miles) east of Metu. A turn left on the road that runs north here will take you back to Nekemte and the main east-west road. Bedele's claim to fame is the newest and largest beer factory in Ethiopia, making, of course, 'Bedele' beer. The road to Jimma takes a sharp bend south after Bedele, and continues in a southerly direction until it crosses into Kaffa region.
The modern town of Agaro, 93 kilometres (58 miles) south of Bedele, is the first town you come to in this region. It is set in the heart of the coffee-growing country and, though not evident to the traveller, is reputedly one of the richest towns in the whole of Ethiopia. Kaffa provides almost perfect conditions for the coffee plant, which still grows wild in parts of the region. Its rolling hillsides and valleys, at altitudes from 2,100 metres (6,900 feet) down to 1,300 metres (4,300 feet), receive just the right amount of rainfall - 1,500 to 2,500 mm (58.5 to 97.5 inches) a year - and have slightly acidic topsoils with pH values between 4.5 and 5.5. The people, too, have an established tradition of coffee cultivation, today harnessed to numerous cooperatives and to highly productive farms that make Ethiopia one of the world's leading exporters of highest quality arabica.
Places of particular tourist interest include the two-storey palace of Abba Jifar II (18781932), one of the most important local rulers of the past, the principal mosque, and the octagonal church of Medhane Alem, or Saviour of the World. The large Thursday market is also colourful and interesting. It is a good place from which to buy the famous three-legged Jimma stools and locally made baskets, as well as a wide range of local supplies, including coffee, which grows wild in the area.
The museum with its collection of Kaffa's traditional wooden handicraft masterpiece is also worth a visit, as are the many coffee-cleaning units in the town. A park by the river is the perfect place to sit and relax - perhaps with a cool drink, such as the delicious fruit juices available in the area or the famous local drink called besso, a non-alcoholic beverage made of ground barley. Besso can also refer to the common foodstuff made by mixing ground barley with water into a paste. From Jimma, your journey back to Addis now heads north-east on a good asphalt road that runs through a highland zone of great scenic beauty. First travelling through plains and valleys, usually spotted with large herds of fat cattle quietly grazing on the lush grass, you will follow the Little Gibe River gorge on the left as you climb up a mountainside before reaching the town of Abelti, recognizable by the huge box-shaped stone that juts up to the east. The 142-kilometre (88-mile) stretch of road between Jimma and the town of Abelti is also a good place to bargain for handicrafts made in the area, which are sold along the roadside by the local people. The road then descends into the valley of the Omo River, which here, near its headwaters, is known as the Gibe. It then rises again to the edge of the great plateau, which - between Welkite on the main road and Indibir and Hosaina to the south offers dramatic views of the surrounding countryside.
Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia in East Africa. Around 3 million people live in Addis Ababa. Addis (as it's commonly referred to) was founded by Emperor Menelik 2nd in 1887.
Addis Ababa is situated in the foothills of the 3,000 meters Entoto Mountains and rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut through with fast flowing streams.
Addis Ababa has the status of both a city and a state. It is where the predecessors are based. Addis Ababa is therefore often referred to as "the political capital of Africa", due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia – the country has as many as 80 nationalities speaking 80 languages and belonging to a wide variety of religious communities. It is home to the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC) and Horn of Africa Press Institute (HAPI) are also headquartered in Addis Ababa. (Source: Wikipedia)
The National Museum its collection ranks among sub-Saharan Africa's most important Museum, the home of many archaeological and historical relics/heritages of Ethiopia. This museum houses the 3.2 million years old skeleton of a woman called Lucy.
Exhibits of the National Museum are presented under the following four main sections:
The ethnographic museum at Addis Ababa University main/sadist kilo campus (in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies) is well kept and comprehensive representation of the socio-cultural and economic life aspects of the people of Ethiopia. This place used to be the palace of the former Emperor Haile Selassie I.
Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. The primary merchandise passing through the Merkato is locally-grown agricul tural products — most notably coffee.
This church-based museum has got religious and social history artifacts. Incidentally, there’s a Church bearing the same name as well. St. George’s Cathedral is octagonal with 3 main sections. The outermost is for worshippers with the men’s section separated from the women’s section. The mid section is meant for the distribution of communion on Sundays while the central portion is the ‘holy of holies’ meant only for priests and deacons. The walls of the ‘holy of holies’ boast of paintings of famous Ethiopian artists. The Church was burnt down by the Italians in the early 20th Century and subsequently restored.
Art Galleries in Addis Ababa
In Addis Ababa. there are a number of privately run art galleries – the major ones being Makush, Asni, Abyssinia fine Art school and studio , Chilot Art Gallery.
To have a panoramic view down on to Addis Ababa, go to the Entoto Hills on the northern egde of the city, where you find the historic church of Entoto Maryam(St. Mary). There is also a small museum near the church. But within the town itself, the Wabe Shebelle Hotel has a roof top which includes a restaurant and offers a fantastic panoramic views of the whole city.
At Arat kilo there is the Trinity Cathedral, which was built by Emperor Haile Selassie as a memorial of Ethiopia's liberation from the brief Italian occupation.
Historical Attractions of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a land of wonder and enchantment, a country with one of the richest histories on the African continent, a land of contrasts and surprise, of remote and wild places, home to cultured and friendly people who are descended from some of the world's oldest civilizations. This is the land of the fabled Queen of Sheba, home of the Ark of the Covenant, the birthplace of coffee. "Lucy', the world's oldest known almost complete hominid skeleton, more than three million years old, was discovered here. Ethiopia has so much to offer visitors: the Historic Route, covering the ancient town of Axum, with its amazing carved obelisks, Christian festivals and relics, including the Ark of the Covenant; Gonder, with its castles and palaces; Lalibela, with its remarkable rock-hewn churches; and the walled Muslim city of Harar. At Dire Dawa you can see cave paintings considered to be thousands of years old. Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile, is one of a string of Great Rift Valley lakes, many with national parks, home to a wealth of bird and animal life. The high, rugged, Simen Mountains in the north and the Bale mountains in the south are also home to some unique wildlife, and are ideal for trekking whilst some of Ethiopia's fast-flowing rivers are become famous for white-water rafting. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's Capital City, has so much to offer, too, with its first-class hotels and restaurants, museums and palaces, and the Mercato-Africa's largest open-air market.
Is located in the eastern part of the country on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, numbers 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar's cultural heritage. The impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of the town's building types and urban layout make for its particular character and uniqueness. The fortified historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of Ethiopia, 525 km from the capital of Addis Ababa, on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred city, considered “the fourth holy city” of Islam, were built between the 13th and 16th centuries and served as a protective barrier. There were five historic gates, which corresponded to the main roads to the town and also served to divide the city into five neighbourhoods, but this division is not functional anymore. The Harar gate, from where the main streets lead to the centre, is of recent construction.
Harar Jugol numbers 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, 102 shrines and a number of traditional, Indian and combined townhouses with unique interior designs, which constitute a spectacular part of Harar's cultural heritage. The African and Islamic traditions influenced over a long period of time the development of the city and its typical urban planning and contributed to its particular character and uniqueness. The present urban layout follows the 16th century design for an Islamic town with its central core occupied with commercial and religious buildings and a maze of narrow alleyways with imposing facades. The traditional Harari house has a typical, specific and original architectural form, different from the domestic layout usually known in Muslim countries, although reminiscent of the coastal Arab architecture, and with an exceptional interior design. At the end of the 19thcentury Indian merchants built new houses with wooden verandas that defined a different urban landscape and influenced the construction of the combined Indian/Harari houses. Their architectural and ornamental qualities are now part of the Harari cultural heritage.
Harar functioned as the capital of the Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568, became an independent emirate in the 17th century and was integrated into Ethiopia in 1887. From the late 16th century to the 19th century Harar was an important trade centre between the coast and the interior highlands and a location for Islamic learning.
Today Harar is the administrative capital of the Harari People National Regional State (HPNRS). The historic town has a traditionally functioning community, forming a complex social-environmental whole where each element has its symbolic and practical significance. The Harari people are distinguished by the continued cultural traditions and quality of their handicrafts, including weaving, basket making and book binding. The organization of the communities through traditional systems has preserved its social and physical inheritance and, significantly, the Harari nguage.
Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations in Ethiopia with a variety of attractions in the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile River. The city is distinctly known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safest cities by many standards, and in 2002 it was awarded UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize for managing to address the challenges of rapid urbanization
Bahir Dar is situated on the southern shore of Lake Tana, The city is located approximately 578 km northwest of Addis Ababa with an elevation of 1840m above sea level.
The city is equipped with an airport with paved runways, identified by the ICAO code HABD and IATA BJR; Ethiopian Airlines operates scheduled flights between Bahir Dar and the capital as well as with Gondar to the northwest. The city is also connected through roads (and bus lines) to these cities.
Lake Tana - It is the largest lake in Ethiopia. Located in the north-western Ethiopian highlands, the lake is approximately 84 kilometers long and 66 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 15 meters, and an elevation of 1,840 meters. Lake Tana is fed by the Lesser Abay, Reb and Gumara Rivers
The lake has almost 37 islands, of which he believed 19 have or had monasteries or churches on them.
Remains of ancient Ethiopian emperors and treasures of the Ethiopian Church are kept in the isolated island monasteries (including Kebran Gabriel, Ura Kidane Mehret, Narga Selassie, Daga Estifanos, Medhane Alem of Rema, Kota Maryam and Mertola Maryam). On the island of Tana Qirqos is a rock shown to Paul B. Henze, on which he 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 Cherqos." The body of Yekuno Amlak is interred in the monastery of St. Stephen on Daga Island; other Emperors whose tombs are on Daga include Dawit I, Zara Yaqob, Za Dengel and Fasilides. Other important islands in Lake Tana include Dek Island and Meshralia.
The monasteries are believed to rest on earlier religious sites and include the fourteenth century Debre Maryam, the eighteenth century Narga Selassie, Tana Qirqos (said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant before it was moved to Axum), and Ura Kidane Mecet, known for its regalia. A ferry service links Bahir Dar with Gorgora via Dek Island and various lake shore villages.
The Blue Nile or “Abbai” - The Abbai portion of the river is considered holy by many in Ethiopia, and is believed to be the Gihon River mentioned as flowing out of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2. The Abay portion of the Blue Nile rises at Lake Tana and flows for some thirty kilometers before plunging over the Tis Issat
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 Gish Abbai at an altitude of approximately 2,744 meters (9,003 ft). 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 Blue Nile is so-called because during flood times the water current is so high, it changes color to an almost black; since in the local Sudanese language the word for black is also used for the color blue. The Blue Nile flows generally south from Lake Tana and then west across Ethiopia and northwest into Sudan. Within 30 km (18.6 mi) of its source at Lake Tana, the river enters a canyon about 400 km long. This gorge is a tremendous obstacle for travel and communication from the north half of Ethiopia to the southern half. The power of the Blue Nile may best be appreciated at Tis Issat Falls, which are 45 m (148 ft) high, located about 40 km (25 mi) downstream of Lake Tana. Despite the hazards and obstacles of the river, on January 29, 2005 Canadian Les Jickling and New Zealander Mark Tanner reached the Mediterranean Sea after 148 days becoming the first to have paddled the Blue Nile from source to sea.
Axum (also spelled as Aksum) is located in the northern tip of Ethiopia. It was believed to be founded in the 2nd century BC after the decline of Yeha and the seat of an empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, had its own note and notational system, constructed great engineering works and dams.
Queen of Sheba was one of the famous Axumite rulers whose capital and residence was the town of Axum itself. Today in the remains of the queen`s palace; one can see among other things, the bathing rooms, a throne rooms, and a large kitchen of brick ovens. The Old Testament states that the Abyssinian Queen “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of King Solomon of Jerusalem”. Makeda, as the Queen is known in her country, conceived from King Solomon, and as a result bore him a son, Menelik I, King of Ethiopia. Legend has it that Menelik I, the founder of the Solomonic Dynasty, traveled to Jerusalem to visit his father. Up on his return, he secretly brought the “Original Ark of the Covenant” to Axum. Now it is housed in St. Mary cathedral, the first church in sub Saharan Africa. This ancient city is frequently referred to as “the sacred city of the Ethiopians”. It accepted Christianity as early as the 4th century AD, and almost immediately built the church of St. Mary of Tsion (Zion), the first church in sub Saharan Africa. King Ezana and Frumentius, Ethiopia`s first bishop, played the decisive role in the rapid Christianization of the country. Since then, Axum has become the most revered Christian city of Ethiopia. Axum is renewed for its seven mysteries monolithic Stelae, which are hewn from single pieces of solid granite. The most notable are carved to resemble multi story houses. The tallest fallen stele is 33.3 meters high and weights 500 tones. The second stolen but returned after 68 years now standing in its original place is 23 meters high, and the third still standing 21 meters stele are found. These structures are the tallest structures on earth carved out of a single rock. Furthermore, Aksum was the only African state to mint its own currency in ancient times, in the 4thc A.D. Due to all these things, the city has never lost its special apple to the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians.
The colossal granite obelisks of Axum provide striking opportunities for thought and speculation. Nobody knows for certain how, when or why they were erected and what mechanisms were deployed in carving and transporting them. Tradition states that the immense powers of elephants were used in moving the stones. ''The steles were erected with the aid of earthen ramps and tremendous human effort,'' guesses Munro-Hay. Professor Richard Pankhurst and Graham Hancock helplessly but perhaps rightly conclude: ''There are no easy answers to such questions, and the visitor today will find his mind turning superstitiously to thoughts of magic, and of the mysterious intervention of the Gods in the affairs of men. '' Nonetheless, these great relics, many of them still standing, are living testimonies to the unparalleled status Axum had once occupied in the world.
Axum accepted Christianity as early as the 4th century AD, and almost immediately built the church of St. Mary of Tsion, The first in Sub-Saharan Africa. King Ezana and Frumentius, Ethiopia’s first Bishop played the decisive role in the rapid Christianization of the country. Since then, Axum has become the most revered Christian city of Ethiopia. For the majority of Ethiopians, Axum is synonymous with Christianity and history.
Furthermore, Aksum was the only African state to mint its own currency in ancient times. According to Pankhurst and Hancock, Aksum, during the 9th or 10th century, had more than 500 types of coins 170 in gold, 18 in silver, and more than 300 in bronze.
The issue of coinage was a very important propaganda instrument for Aksum, because it was used to convey a message to its neighbors, foe and friend alike, that Aksum was a sovereign state. It also helped to simplify trade.
The city of Aksum was not only a capital and religious center but also a coronation site for Ethiopian kings. King Zara Yaqob (1434-68) was the first king to reintroduce the ancient coronation rites at Axum. Today, Axum is eclipsed by its ancient history. The modernizations are all overshadowed by the, Mai Shum, Queen Sheba's pleasure bath, the Queen's ruined palace, King Kaleb's tomb, and many other legacies of the age-old history, culture, and religion.
Aksum is also very much known for its colorful religious ceremonies. The commemorative day of St. Mary of Zion is among the notable. It occurs every year on the 21st of Hidar (9th of December in most years). The occasion is always accompanied with cultural rituals and dances. Aksum can be reached by plane and land from Mekelle and Addis Ababa.
The Mekelle-Axum roads via Adigrat and Abbi Addi are accompanied by relics adorned with forked environments. As discussed earlier, the region possesses stupendous rock-hewn and mud constructed churches found perched on stone- pinnacles, flat-topped cliffs and mountain sides. The surrounding embraces the obelisks, stele, statues, palaces, thrones, tombs, artistically hewn holes, myths and other reverend places.
The environment is dotted with hilltop villages intervened with crop-fields and thread like footpaths. There are several accommodations that meet the needs of those in search of beauty.
The area provides an opportunity to share lives with peasants whose ancestors bequeathed the present generation with such wonders. The vicinity that also holds colorful annual religious festivals provides open air markets swathed with rustic charms.
Axum can be approached from the capital city of the country via Gondar. The road that runs between these tourist destinations appears most appealing at around the Tekezze Bridge. The localities, in addition to the dense forest, hold historic relics. Rock-drawings found near the town of Amba Madre and the monastery of Debre Abay is also noteworthy.