The ancient city of Axum is located in Tigray National Regional State. It is about 1,025 kilometers North of Addis Ababa.The giant stelae, the Axum Zion Church, the Ruin palaces tombs and many other archeological findings are all the symbols of the glorious Axumite Civilization signifying this ancient city as a center of Civilization, religion and Administrative.
The fallen obelisk with a height of 33 meters is the tallest obelisk carved out of a single stone. The 24 meter high obelisk is still standing and the other one with a height of 27 meters was cut in to three parts and taken to Rome in 1937 and returned back to Axum in 2005. They are all regarded as one of the finest examples of engineering from the height of the Axumite Empire. Due to its historical value, Axum and its archeological sites were included in the List of World Heritage Sites in 1980.
The Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela were cut out of a living rock during the time of King Lalibela, who ruled Ethiopia from his capital Roha, now Lalibela. The churches are 11 in number, located in three groups. The first groups of Churches are, Bete Medhane Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Meskel, Bete Dengil, Bete Golgota, and Bete Michael. The second groups of churches are Bete Gebriel and Rufael, Bete Amanuel, Bete Markorios, connected by a long underground tunnel, Bete Abba Libanos. The last church is Bete Giorgis, a free standing church with architectural elegance and perfection.
The churches were curved in the 12th and 13th Centuries. It is believed that the carving of all the churches took some 24 years. Archaeologists say it would have taken the work of 40,000 work force to carve these churches, courtyards and caverns out of a living rock.
Described by most travel writers as the eighth wonder, the churches were registered under the list of World Heritage Site in 1978.
The historic Gonderine town is very popular mainly because of the marvelous castles in the royal enclosure founded by Emperor Fasiledes, Gonder was the Capital city of Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The founder of Gonder, Emperor Fasiledes built his Palace in 1632. His successors built their castles within the Royal Enclosure. Fasil Ghebbi means the premise of King Fasiledes in Amharic, the working language of Ethiopia.
The Castles of successive Emperors who ruled the country from Gonder are surrounded by a 900 meters long wall. The castle were built from local stone, hard dark brown basalt and red volcanic lava held together with lime mortar with in the fortified royal compound at about 70,000 square meters. The 12 symbolic entrances (gates) of the palace compound have various names and represent the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. As a true evidence of an architectural beauty deeply marked by the country’s ancient civilization, the Royal enclosure (Fasil Ghebbi) was registered by UNESCO as s World Heritage Site in 1980.
The Simien Mountains National Park
The Simien Mountains National Park is found in Amhara National Regional State North Gonder administrative Zone. This National park is 140 kilometers North of Gonder, the 17th and 18th Centuries Capital of Ethiopia. The park is one of the first sites to be included in the list of World Heritage in 1978.
The park includes one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. With jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 m. The highest Peak is Ras Dashen, the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the fourth in Africa, with an altitude of 4,620 meters, it is also home to some extremely rare animals that are endemic to in Ethiopia such as the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia Ibex. There are also varieties of flora in the park found nowhere, but in Ethiopia.
The park was listed under endangered sites in 1996 as a result of the decline of the number of Walia Ibex due to human intervention in the park. But the number of these rare species is now in the rise.
The Lower Valley of Awash
The Lower Valley of Awash is found in Afar Regional State. This is a site of Paleo-anthropological research. Tremendous findings are registered in the area contributing a lot in the search for human origin and evolution. The most spectacular discovery of Lucy, Australopithecus Afarensis, a 3.2 million years old hominid in 1974, paved the way for more achievements in the study of human origin. The discoveries registered by the Middle Awash Research Project, an international, multi-disciplinary scientific Study with the objective of establishing an accurate geological information for elucidating human origins and evolution, has established the region as one of the world’s most important paleontological sites with the discovery of the most ancient hominids dating between the time period of 5.3 – 3.9 million years. The recent achievement with the discovery of Selam, a fossil that is the most complete and 150,000 years older than Lucy, is another testimony for the importance of the region for the study of human origin. The Lower Valley of Awash was included in the list of World heritage sites in 1980.
The Lower valley of Omo
The Lower valley of Omo is found in South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State. The discovery of many human and animal fossils and stone tools in the valley has been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution.
Omo is a river that is 760 kilometers long that stretches from the high lands of West Shoa to Lake Turkana, one of the Great Rift Valley lakes. The entire Omo river basin is an important geologically and archaeologically. Several hominid fossils and archaeological localities have been excavated by French and American teams. The oldest ever found stone tools dates back to about 2.4 million years ago.
Because of its importance for the understanding of the human evolution the site was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.The area is also home to people with diverse cultures and natural beauty with national parks and an amazing flora and fauna.
Tiya is located in South Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State. It is found 90 kilometers South of Addis Ababa. The site contains 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols. They are believed to be marks of the large prehistoric burial complex. This archeological site was listed as World Heritage Site in 1980.
Harar was a major commercial and center of Islamic learning. It is a walled city. The wall was built during the time of Emir Nur Ibn Mujahid successor of Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi also known as Ahmad Gragn (the Left Handed) who conquered the Christian highlands in the 16th century.
The wall was constructed to protect the city as its people from possible attacks. It is a 3.5 kilometer long wall with a height of nearly 4 meters. It has five gates and the wall is still intact and is a symbol of the town. The presence of 99 mosques made harar to be considered as the fourth Holiest City in Islam next to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Harar is a symbol of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of peoples and religions.
In recognition of its cultural heritage, the Historic City of Harar (Jugol) was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2006.
Konso Cultural Landscape
Konso Cultural Landscape is a 55km2 arid properties of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It constitutes a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) adapted to its dry hostile environment. The landscape demonstrates the shared values, social cohesion and engineering knowledge of its communities. The site also features anthropomorphic wooden statues, grouped to represent respected members of their communities and particularly heroic events, which are an exceptional living testimony to funerary traditions that are on the verge of disappearing. Stone steles in the towns express a complex system of marking the passing of generations of leaders. Konso cultural landscape becomes World heritage site in 2011.
Demera (The Finding of the True Cross)
This vibrant national holiday has been observed throughout the country for centuries it has been celebrated by the Ethiopian Christians over 1,600 years. The word actually means “cross” in Amharic version and the feast commemorates the discovery of the Cross upon which Jesus was crucified by the Empress Helena, (250–330 AD) mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, at a date after 312 AD when Christianity was legalized throughout the Empire, travelled to the Holy Land, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor It was at this time that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves that were executed with him. By a miracle it was revealed which of the three was the True Cross. Many churches (including Ethiopian Orthodox Church) possess fragmentary remains which are by tradition alleged to be those of the True Cross.
The original event took place on 19 March, AD 326, but the feast is now falls annually between the 3rd and 4th week of the September. Many of the rites observed throughout the festival are said to be directly connected to the legend of Empress Helena.
On the eve of Maskel tall branches are tied together and yellow daisies, popularly called meskel flowers, are placed at the top. During the night these branches are gathered together in front of the compound gates and ignited. This symbolizes the actions of the Empress whom, when no one would show her the Holy Sepulcher, lit incense and prayed for help. Where the smoke drifted she dug and found three crosses. To one of them, the True Cross, many miracles were attributed.
Before the bonfire, celebration starts in the early afternoon priests in their bright vestments, students, brass, and bands singing a special Meskel song circling the Demera (bonfire).
Meskel also signifies the physical presence of the True Cross at the remote mountain monastery of Gishen Mariam located in the Welo region. In this monastery there is a massive volume called the Tefut, which is handwritten in Geez on beautiful parchment during the reign of Zera Yacob (1434-1468), which records the story of how a fragment of the Cross was acquired.
In the middle Ages, it relates, the Christian monarchs of Ethiopia were called upon to protect the Coptic minorities and wage punitive war against their persecutors. Their reward was usually gold, but instead the Emperor Dawit asked for a fragment of the True Cross from the Patriarch of Alexandria. He received it at Meskel.
During this time of year flowers bloom on the mountains and plains and the meadows are yellow with the brilliant Meskel daisy. Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires, and even gun salutes mark the occasion. The festival begins by planting a green tree on Meskel Eve in town squares and village marketplaces. Everyone brings a pole topped with meskel daisies to form the towering pyramid that will soon be a beacon of flame. Torches of eucalyptus twigs called chibo are used to light the bundle of branches called demera.
In Addis Ababa celebrations start in the early afternoon, when a huge procession bearing flaming torches approaches Meskel Square from various directions. The marchers include priests in their brightly hued vestments, students, brass bands, contingents of the armed forces, and bedecked floats carrying huge lit crosses. They circle the demera and fling their torches upon it, while singing a special Meskel song. Thousands gather at the square to join in and welcome the season of flowers and golden sunshine called Tseday. As evening darkens the flames glow brighter. It is not until dawn that the burning pyramid consumes itself and the big tree at the center finally falls. During the celebrations each house is stocked with tella, the local beer, and strangers are made welcome.
Fiche/Chembelala Sidama’s New Year
The Sidama people of Ethiopia have unique socio-cultural heritages. Fiche/chembelala sidama’s New Year is one of the foremost magnificent heritages which date back 2000 years or two millennia. Sidama people have a unique calendar that highly differs from Ethiopian or Gregorian calendar in that it mainly depends on lunar movements. Apart from other calendars, Sidama’s New Year doesn’t rest on fixed date every year; so many variables affect it.
Elected Sidama elites who have detailed knowledge of astrology often decide the new year’s date unanimously after days of stiff discussion & consultation among themselves as well as renowned Sidama elders & wise men till they logically reach to a binding consensus regarding the new year’s first day-fiche or chembelala. These astrologists are called ’’Ayyaanto’’ in Sidama. Around the end of the old year,4 to 6 days every month, the astrologists spend several hours after midnight studying, closely following up & analyzing the relative colors, shapes, distances & movements of the moon, the earth &stars both in groups & individually the astrologist will then seat for a discussion where by each one of them present their findings.
According to the sidama’s calendar each week has five days. There are days that are thought to bring about misfortune & misery by Sidama elites. There are also other days that thought to bring great luck, abundance, success, blessing, pleasure, peace & prosperity by these same Sidama elites. One would be advised to start serious life matters like building a house, marrying his sweetheart & investing in a highly profiting business on these blessed days. For this same reason, Fiche or chembalala –the first day of sidama’s New Year is often decided to be celebrated on one of these blessed days that are thought to bring about peace, prosperity & health.
Soon after, the, astrologists, the renowned elders & the wise men of Sidama reach upon a consensus regarding the chembalala/fiche day; public pronouncements will be made in the rural market places repeatedly announcing the new year celebration day. After this, all the Sidama people will be aware of the Chembelala day swiftly through word of mouth.
Ethiopia’s Sidama People New Year festival is inscribed in UNESCO as world heritage by fulfilling the required criteria on the 10th UNESCO meeting held in Namibia, and inscribed on December 2, 2015.