Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a heritage dating back to the first century AD. Traders from Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt knew of the riches of what is now Ethiopia, and by the first century AD, Axum was the capital of a great empire. This realm became one of the first Christian lands of Africa. Late in the 10th Century, Axum declined and a new Zagwe dynasty, centered in what is now Lalibela, ruled the land. Axum, Lalibela and Gondar now provide the greatest historical legacy. It was in the 16th Century that the son of the great explorer Vasco Digamma came to Ethiopia. He found a land of many kingdoms and provinces beset by feuds and war. In the 19th Century, under the leadership of the great Emperor Menelik II, the country's passage to modernization began. The following are some of Ethiopia's historical attractions.
Ethiopia has a proud and long history extending to the known beginnings of human kind. The Axumite kingdom was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world and has left behind the mystery of the great Steele found at Axum.In the late middle Ages great religious civilizations flourished in many parts of the country, particularly at Lalibela where churches hand carved out of massive monolithic red 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.
THE MYSTERIOUS MONOLITHS- 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 steele 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.
DEBRE DAMO- 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 treasured secrets within, kept intact throughout the country's 1,400 tumultuous years of history because of that arduous, dangerous ascent, include an extensive collection of 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.
THE CAMELOT OF AFRICA - 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.
EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD - 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 4x4 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 (Chris mass) and Timket (Epiphany) is particularly rewarding.
NEGASH -Negash is a small village located 60 Kms East of Mekele, the Capital of Tigray region. It is the place was 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. 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
SUSNEYOS - 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 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.
YEHA - 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. 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.
YOHANES - 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.
THE SMOKE OF FIRE - Known locally as Tis Isat - 'Smoke of Fire' the Blue Nile Falls is the most dramatic spectacle on either the White or the Blue Nile rivers. Four hundred meters (1,312 feet) wide when in flood, and dropping over a sheer chasm more than forty-five meters (150 Feet) deep the falls throw up a continuous spray of water, which drenches onlookers up to a kilometer away. This misty deluge produces rainbows, shimmering across the gorge, and a small perennial rainforest of lush green vegetation, to the delight of the many monkeys and multicolored birds that inhabit the area. After leaving the village, the footpath Meanders first beside open and fertile fields, then drops into a deep rift that is spanned by an ancient, fortified stone bridge built in the seventeenth century by Portuguese adventurers and still in use. After a thirty-minute walk, a stiff climb up a grassy hillside is rewarded by a magnificent view of the falls, breaking the smooth edge of the rolling river into a thundering cataract of foaming water. A rewarding but longer trek is to walk along the east bank all the way to the back of the falls; crossing the river by papyrus boat known as 'Tankwa'.