Trip Highlights:

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is a bustling African city,
dotted with Italian architecture, interesting churches and friendly
inhabitants. It is also a city of immense contrasts – the Addis
Sheraton, with its ‘singing fountain’ is one of the most luxurious in
all of Africa, yet you only need to travel a few streets away to find
yourself among busy markets, dirt roads and the odd goat or two
wandering the streets. The city is a relatively new city established
by the Emperor Menelik II in 1887, and at 2,400m has the
distinction of being the third highest capital in the world. Although
Ethiopia was the only African nation never to be colonised, parts
of it, including Addis, were briefly occupied by the Italians in the
twentieth century, and in many parts of the city their legacy lives
on in the form of old art deco buildings and coffee shops,
particularly in the area known as the Piazza.


One of Addis Ababa’s greatest treasures is the National Museum,
home to an excellent collection of artefacts and remains from
Ethiopia and around. Most people come here to see ‘Lucy’, the
replica of the famous remains of one of the earliest known
descendants of humans, but there are also many other sights to
see which provide the visitor with a good background to this
fascinating country.


A pleasant town situated on the shores of the impressive Lake
Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and the source of the Blue Nile.


The famous explorer James Bruce, when he first laid eyes on the
Blue Nile Falls, described them as ‘a most magnificent sight, that
ages, added to the greatest length of human life, would not
deface or eradicate from my memory.’ Flowing from the mighty
Lake Tana, the Blue Nile Falls were once the second largest in
Africa, after Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. However, since the
construction of a hydro-electric dam upstream in 2003, the falls
have been reduced somewhat, and are quite different to those
seen by Bruce. The walk to the falls takes you through the village
of Tis Isat, then crosses the river using an old and picturesque
bridge built by the Portuguese sometime in the seventeenth
century, before winding through small homesteads and ending up
at a viewpoint over the falls.


Lake Tana, one of the fabled sources of the Nile, is one of
Ethiopia’s greatest natural treasures. With a surface of around
3,600 square kilometres, the lake is also famous for the series of
ancient monasteries and churches located on twenty of the
islands that are found within the waters. Life on Lake Tana goes
on as it has done for centuries, and local people traverse the lake
tankwas, boats made from papyrus that are capable of holding
enormous weights. The monasteries themselves are fascinating
and unlike any others outside Ethiopia, often decorated with
bright frescoe. Because of their isolation they were used to store
art treasures and religious relics from all over the country. Local
history says the Ark of the Covenant was kept on one of these
islands when the city of Axum was under threat, and the remains
of five Emperors - including the renowned Fasilidas - are to be
found at Daga Istafanos.


The town of Gonder is often described as ‘The Camelot of
Ethiopia’, and when you approach the
Royal Enclosure, situated
in the middle of the town, it’s easy to understand why. The city
itself was founded by the Emperor Fasiladas around 1635, and
soon became dominated by a collection of almost European
looking castles and buildings, still standing in an excellent state of
preservation today. Different stories abound as to who built them
– some say Portuguese craftsmen, others believe they were built
by Ethiopian hands. Whatever the truth, the Royal Enclosure has
to be one of the most of the most striking and unusual sights in all
of Africa, standing as it does in utter contrast to everything
around. The highlight is without a doubt the two storey
Palace, an almost intact fortress castle complete with turrets and
battlements. The complex also houses many other intriguing
buildings, including a library, chancellery, a lion house and many
other palaces.


Around 2km northwest of the city centre lies Fasiladas’ Bath. A
large, rectangular sunken pool is overlooked by a small but
charming two storeyed-tower, surrounded by a stone wall. Once a
year, Fasiladas’ Bath is filled with water for the important TIMKAT


The superbly preserved
church of Debre Berhan Selassie is seen
by many as Ethiopia’s finest, it’s not hard to see why. Dating back
to the seventeenth century, it was the only original Gondar church
to escape destruction at the hands of the Dervish of Sudan in the
19th-century, reputedly saved by a swarm of bees. The interior of
the church contains amazing frescoes dating back centuries, and
even the ceiling is completely covered with religious images.


To the south east of the Simien Mountains lies Lalibela, a small,
dusty town in the Lasta Mountains that is home to some of the
most fascinating sights in the country. Dispelling the myth that
sub-Saharan African had no indigenous ‘civilisations’ before the
European colonization, Lalibela and its environs house an
amazing collection of
rock-hewn churches, many excellently
preserved and all begging more questions than they give
answers. There are many stories concerning the origin of these
churches, but the most popular local legend is that they were built
by angels in a single night. The churches have been dated back
to the reign of King Lalibela sometime in the eleventh or twelfth
centuries. Many of the churches are connected by underground
tunnels and narrow walkways built into the rock, and they are still
a site of pilgrimage today as they have been for centuries. In
some of the churches hermits and monks live in tiny caverns in
the walls, barely big enough for them to stretch out, staying here
for years on end. While in Lalibela you may also be lucky enough
to witness one of the religious festivals that often take place here.
The jewel of Lalibela’s churches is Beta Giorgis, a cross shaped
church rising out of the earth surrounded by the walls of the pit
into which it was dug, which houses a wooden box said to have
been carved by King Lalibela himself. Although there are many
churches within the town itself, some of the most spectacular are
found in the surrounding mountains.


A once important centre of Islamic scholarship. For many years
the city was closed to Christians and early explorers were forced
to enter in disguise, at their peril.

Harar, an ancient city surrounded by great walls, has the most
colourful market place in Ethiopia. Harar was for centuries the
main center for Islamic learning and culture in Ethiopia, and a
prosperous centre for the caravan trade. Harar is the spiritual
heart of Ethiopia's large Muslim community. With almost a
hundred mosques in a small city of less than one square mile (the
highest concentration in the world), Harar is considered by some
to be the fourth holiest Muslim city in the world. The city was
founded in the early 12th century. The great walls surrounding
Harar were built in the 1600s to keep out powerful neighbouring
hostile groups. Harar remained an important centre of Muslim
learning and trade throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The
first European to visit Harar was the British explorer Richard
Burton. Burton spent 10 anxious days there in 1854, not sure
whether he was a guest or prisoner of the Emir. Harar's autonomy
ended in 1875 with its capture by Egypt. The Egyptians left in
1884 after continued resistance. However, Harar was once again
captured , this time by Menelik II, three years later. It has been
part of Ethiopia ever since. Today, Harar remains a lively, friendly
cosmopolitan city.


Houses a museum dedicated to the French poet. One room in the
museum contains a series of illustrated panels about the poet’s
life, as well as housing a small collection of books, letters and
writing about the poet.


generation, and only one person fills the role at any one time.
Although this practice has been carried out for many years, there
are of course certain risks associated with it. Essentially the
hyenas, although extremely used to human contact, are wild
animals, and there is no fence or barrier separating them from any


Built in 1896 in the traditional octagonal shape by the Emperor
Menelik II to commemorate his victory against Italian forces at
this small cathedral is dedicated to the national saint of
Ethiopia – the same saint that serves as the British patron saint.
The museum that is housed within the grounds contains a wide
collection of important religious paintings, crosses of many
designs, historic books and parchments, and beautiful
handicrafts, and is an excellent introduction to the religious life of
Ethiopia – an extremely important element of society here. There
are also fine examples of modern paintings by the famous
Ethiopian artist Afewerke Tekle.
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Ethiopia - Jan 2006