Welcome to Ethiopia

Historical journey in time from 10th BC to present civilization

Ethiopia:Welcome to Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a land of contrast and extreme diversity. From the lowest lowland on earth to the second highest mountain in Africa, from the least complicated fascinating tribes of southern Ethiopia to the capital city and headquarter of Africa, Ethiopia is quite a contrast of historical, cultural and natural attractions.

Traveling in Ethiopia is the same as traveling through time. The rich history of northern Ethiopia – Axum, Lalibela, Gondar, Bahir Dar, Harrar and others dates back more than 3000 years. The fascinating tribes of southern Ethiopia – Konso, Mursi, Surma, Hamer and others make you fall in love with the originality and simplicity of different human living styles.

All these, coupled with the breathtaking natural scenery and wildlife abundance of the country, makes Ethiopia a first travel site to be visited in Africa.

Ethiopia is the earliest known home of humankind. A skeleton of an older human ancestor Australopithecus Afarensis was discovered in 1974 in the Afar region. Anthropologists have established that the skeleton covering 40% of the human body had belonged to a twenty-years-old female that lived 3.5 million years ago. Registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage, the site of the discovery is called Hadar.The Skeleton is popularly known as Lucy or Dinkinesh. The discovery has completed the missing link between apes and men – paving the way for the search to human origins.

In addition, the earliest known hominid, 4.4 million years old Ardipithecus Ramidus was discovered in the Middle Awash in 1992. The recent discoveries include Australopithecus Garhi, 2.5 million-years-old hominid. Garhi means ‘surprise’ in the Afar language – a language spoken in the internationally acclaimed archaeological site.

Independent for three millennia, Ethiopia has survived dynamic historic changes and is the birthstone of great endogenous civilizations. Today’s Ethiopia was once in control over the entire East African territory. At that time it was a world-famous influential powerhouse with absolute control over the Red Sea, Indian Ocean trade routes and South Arabian countries Ethiopia is a country of variety, extremes, uniqueness, freedom, colourful culture, religions, legends, natural beauty and much more. On the map of East Africa, Ethiopia is easily found in the area called the horn of Africa. Covering a total area of 1,112,000 sq. km., Ethiopia shares boundaries with Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea. Ethiopia ranks second in Africa for population size. With close to 87 million people, Ethiopia hosts about 83 different tribal groups, all of which speak different languages and have their own cultural codes. The cultural variety, which is a result of immense tribal differences, can be seen among the individual tribes. Rich in culture and a variety of dialects, Ethiopia prides itself on being the only nation in Africa to have its own language (Amharic) and alphabet (Ge’ez).

Ethiopia was the first country to build a Christian church on African soil. Christianity crossed the border in the 4th Century AD during the time of the Axumite kingdom. Even now this church shelters the original Ark of the Covenant brought from Israel by King Menelik I of Ethiopia. It is found in the town of Axum in northern Ethiopia. In addition it is here that the famous pre-Axumite obelisks stand. It is believed that the erection of these obelisks dates back to 300-200 BC. The tallest (33m) has fallen down; the second (27m) was stolen but the third (23m) still stands. These structures are the tallest on earth to be carved out of a single rock.The 12th-century town of Lalibela, located in north-west Ethiopia, has been home to the extraordinarily carved rock-hewn churches since the reign of King Lalibela (1181-1221 AD). These eleven rock-hewn churches are sometimes referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.

Gondar, the town of castles and the 17th century Ethiopian capital, has great historical significance. It was here that King Fasiladas relocated the former capital. The best example of a medieval-period church is that of Debre Berhan Selassie, which adds to Gondar’s charm.

Southwards, the Rift Valley system is another wondrous region where many other attractions are sited. The six or seven Rift Valley crater lakes are home to a large number of bird and marine life. They are also a paradise for nature and water lovers. National parks with their exotic birds, animals and plant life add to the beauty of the Rift Valley region. Beautiful landscapes and natural features are the most enjoyable components of the system. Salt lakes, active volcano sites and caravan routes still number among Ethiopia’s great attractions in the Rift Valley.

Further south is the Omo Valley with its popular ethnic treasures. This is where about 50% of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups live: the Konso with their terraced agriculture and rituals; the Mursi with their clay lip plates and barbarian life style; the Hamer with their bull-jumping ceremony, which young men must experience in order to qualify for adulthood; and the Karo with their body painting and adornment. Here unusual traditions such as dance, music and rituals from birth to marriage and burial are still observed in their genuine and original forms.

Nothing in this planet is quite as spectacular as the Danakil Depression. Bubbling volcanoes light up the night sky, sulphurous mounds of yellow contort into monstrous shapes and mirages of camels cross lakes of salt. Laying 100m below sea level the Danakil depression is about the hottest and most inhospitable place on earth. This will be the best opportunity to visit the fascinating religious celebrations.

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Ethiopian World heritage sites

According to the UNESCO World Heritage list, Ethiopia has the biggest number of world heritage sites in Africa. With a total of nine natural and cultural heritage sites the country tops the list.

Ethiopia and Morocco are first and second, respectively, among African countries on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Although they both have nine world heritage sites each, Ethiopia has been ranked higher because of two main reasons.

Ethiopia not only has the highest number of world heritage sites on the African continent, but one of the sites, the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, was one of the first sites that were chosen as a heritage site for the African continent at the list’s conception.

Among Ethiopia’s sites on the list of World Heritage Sites, UNESCO has made attempts to increase the awareness of the importance of the African human origin sites in Ethiopia. The aim is to conserve and protect the areas from deteriorating.

The full list of Ethiopia’s natural and cultural heritage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list (by year of inscription):

Located in Lalibela, a town in the Amhara Region, the site is home to 11 medieval cave churches that were built in the 12th century. Built during the reign of King Lalibela it was intended to create a new Jerusalem after the capture of the original Jerusalem in 1187 – hence Lalibela also being known as “New Jerusalem”. The plan appeared to the saint king in his dreams.

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The only natural heritage site in Ethiopia is also located in the Amhara Region of the country. The territory of the park encloses the Simien Mountains range that includes Ethiopia’s highest – Mount Ras Dashen. The park is home to a multitude of endangered species. Among them are the Ethiopian Wolf (also known as the Red Jackal), the walia ibex, the gelada baboon – all which are endemic to Ethiopia – and the caracal.

At the moment, this natural heritage site is the only one of the Ethiopian natural or cultural heritage sites that is also on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.

 The Simien Mountains National Park was established in 1969 by Clive Nicol who wrote about his experiences in his book From the Roof of Africa.

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Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress and castle that is located in Gondar, a city in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. It was built by Emperor Fasiledes who ruled Ethiopia from 1632 to 1667.

Covering an area of 70,000 Sq. m. Fasil Ghebbi also has many structures in its enclosure. It has palaces, churches and monasteries and even a market place. The first person to observe that “dotted among the palaces are what remains of the pavilions and kiosks of the imperial city” was Thomas Pakenham (Author of The Mountains of Rasselas: Ethiopian Adventure) who visited Fasil Ghebbi in the late 1950’s. The city has a mixture of building styles from Arab, Hindu to the Baroque style that was brought by Jesuit missionaries.

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Axum is a city that is located in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. It is the site of royal tombs, ruins of castles and, most importantly, stelae and obelisks that date from the 1st to the 13th centuries that were built during the time of the ancient Axum Empire – one that was said to have given birth to the a state that was the most powerful one between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. Axumites traded with ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Asians. They had fleets that sailed as far Ceylon.

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The Lower Valley of the Awash can be considered the exact location of where mankind was born. Located in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, it is the place where the approximately 3.2 million years old Lucy (Australopithecus) was discovered in 1974.

A place that has yet to yield all of its secrets was to also be the place where Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), a fossil that was 4.4 million years old (1.2 million years older than Lucy), would be found in 1994. In 2000 Selam (Austrolopithecus afarensis) or “Lucy’s baby” (despite the fact that she dies about 120,000 years before her) would be discovered.

Lucy, mankind’s earliest fossil, was given the name because after discovering her Donald Johanson and his crew were celebrating in camp and were listening to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – a popular Beatles song.

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This cultural heritage site is located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region in the southern part of Ethiopia. It is the location of many fossil findings, the most famous of them being Homo gracilis.

On the banks of the Omo River archeologists have found fossil fragments like the important finding of the now extinct Australopithecus man and Olduwan hominids of the early Pleistocene era.

 The Omo region is the yardstick by against which all other ancient deposits in East Africa are measured by. Evidence was researched for the site to establish bio-stratigraphical, radiometric and magneto-stratigraphical scales spanning between one and 3.5 million years.

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Another cultural heritage site in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region Tiya is also an archeological site. The site contains 36 monuments (including 32 carved stelae that, as of date, are covered with symbols that have not been decrypted). It is assumed that the stelae are of funerary significance because there are tombs scattered around the stelae.

The site is from an age of ancient Ethiopian culture that is yet to be precisely determined.

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Harar Jugol is a fortified historic town that is found in the Harari Region of Ethiopia that was founded by Arab immigrants from Yemen in the 7th century. The city is encircled by a wall. It encompasses 102 shrines and 82 mosques making it considered to be the fourth-holiest city of Islam. Some of the mosques date back to the 10th century.

When the Addis Ababa – Djibouti Railway was being built it was intended to run through Harar. But because of geographical and financial constraints the line had to be diverted away and the city of Dire Dawa was born in 1902. It is sometimes known as “New Harar“.

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The Konso Cultural Landscape, found in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region, is a cultural site that features 55 kilometers of stonewalled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia.

The fortified settlements constitute of a spectacular example of living in a cultural tradition that stretches back 21 generations (more than 400 years). The whole area demonstrates the shared values, social cohesion and engineering knowledge of the people.

It also the ingenuity of mankind and how he can not only survive but also thrive in a hostile (dry and rocky) environment.

The terraces are used to not only retain the maximum amount of water needed but to also discharge the excess – all this while protecting the soil from erosion.

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