Ethiopia’s historic sites are extremely wide-ranging and possibly the most extensive in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. The following are some of the major historical sites:
Axum is an ancient town in northern Ethiopia. It lies at an elevation of about 2100 meters just west of Adwa in Tigrai region. Once the seat of the kingdom of Axum, it is now a tourist town and religious centre best known for its antiquities tall granite obelisks, 126 in all, stand (or lie broken) in the central square. Once measuring 33 meters, now fallen, is said to be the tallest obelisk ever erected. The obelisks range from nearly plain slabs to intricately inscribed pillars. Door and window-like shapes are carved into some of the pillars, giving them the appearance of slender buildings. The most recent of the obelisks announces the adoption of Christianity in the 4th century by king Ezana. At least 27 carved stone thrones have been unearthed in the overgrown ruins of the ancient palace.
Damo is unique and unforgettable although, as with most Ethiopian monasteries, women are not allowed to enter it. Even so, there is a daunting obstacle to the monastery: the only means of access is a climb of twenty-five meters up a sheer cliff. Monks lower a safety rope which visitors tie around their waists. Then they use a second, thicker rope to climb with. Some may reflect, as they make their way to the top, that because of this arduous, dangerous ascent the art treasures of Debra Damo have remained intact through the monastery-s 1,400 tumultuous years of history.
Gondar is 50 kilometers north of Lake Tana, 700 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and nestles in the foothills of the Semien mountains at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level. Gondar, founded byKing Fasiledes in 1936, was the capital of Ethiopia for nearly 200 years. This fact is reflected by the number of palace buildings in the castle compound.
The city’s main imperial precinct, known as the Royal Enclosure, covers an area of 7.7 hectares and contains five castles raised walkways and connecting tunnels surrounded by high stone walls. The oldest of these is the Castle of Fasiledes, built of stone in the mid-17th century, reflecting a number of influences, mainly Axumite, Portuguese and Indian. The upper storey offers panoramic views and Lake Tana is visible on a clear day. The castle has been renovated recently. Fasiledes’ grandson.Iyasu the great, built his own castle and decorated it with ivory, gold and precious stones but an earthquake in the early 19th caused severe damage.
Harar is located in the eastern part of the country and part of the historic circuits. The walled city of Harar is an ancient city with rich and colorful history.Harar is 523 kilometers east of Addis Ababa, the capital. The most dominant feature of Harar is its strong encircling wall, which embraces the town, its exciting market places, and its 99 mosques. Harar is the fourth holiest city after Makka, Madina and Jerusalem.Harar in the old days could be reached only by a long caravan or mule journey of many days, weeks, or months; today, however, the city is little more than an hours drive from Dire Dawa, a modern Ethiopian railway town, with an international airport and several first-class Government and private hotels.
Lalibela, a medieval settlement in the Lasta area of Wello, lies at the centre of an extensive complex of rock churches.Lalibela has 11 remarkable rock-hewn monolithic, semi-monolithic and cave built churches, built by one of the Zagwe Dynasty rulers,King Lalibela in the late 12th and early 13th century.
These notable structures are carved, inside and out, out of one solid rock, and are the unofficial eighth wonders of the world. Each building is architecturally unique but each reflects beautifully executed craftsmanship, and several are decorated with fascinating paintings.
Four are completely free-standing, attached only to the surrounding rock by their bases. These are Beta Medhane Alem, the House of the Savior of the World; Beta Ghenetta Mariam, the House of Mary; Beta Ammanuel, the House of Emanuel; and Beta Ghiorghis, the House of St George. Although their individual dimensions and configurations are extremely different, the churches are all built from great blocks of stone, sculptured to resemble normal buildings and wholly isolated within deep courtyards. They represent, as one authority has put it, the ultimate in rock-church design.One is amazed at the technical skill, the material resources and the continuity of effort.which such vast undertakings imply.
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. To get there, head east for twenty kilometers (Bahar Dar is a town 12 miles ) to Adwa. Continue along the main road towards Adigrat for another twenty-four kilometers (15 miles) and then turn north on to a short dirt track, where you will see the imposing ruins of Yeha’s Temple of the moon about four kilometers (2.5 miles) to the right of the track.
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.
Archeological research at Yeha has unearthed many historical treasures, including a number of Sabean inscriptions and a variety of animal figurines. Several of these antiquities are on display in the National Museum in Addis Ababa.