Located in the far north of Ethiopia, Axum was the center of one of the world‘s most powerful kingdoms from the 1st to the 7th centuries A.D. converting to Christianity in the 4th century. The ruins of the ancient city are still clearly visible, comprising some 300 monolithic obelisks or stelae, Royal tombs, Palaces, Fortresses and Temples .In 1937,the Italians plundered a 24 meter,1,700 year old obelisk and took it to Italy where it was installed in Rome. The monument has recently been returned to Ethiopia and re-erected in Axum .The town is also the legendary capital of the Queen of Sheba, and the St Mary of tsion church compound is believed to contain the original Ark of the Covenant on which mosses had written the Ten Commandments and the throne of King David at the back. According to legend, the Ark was brought to Ethiopia, from Israel by Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This site is registered by UNESCO as world heritage and there are modern hotels and airport which can handle tourists of different interest. These days Axum is considered the holiest Orthodox city in Ethiopia and is the destination of many pilgrimages.
The ‘the new holy land which symbolizes both the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem’ or the second holy city of Ethiopia (next to Axum), Lalibela, is situated at 683 km distance from Addis Ababa roosted on the rocky mountain with an altitude of 2600 m. The city was established by the Zagwe dynasty in 11th century and had served as the capital city of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia for the next 200 years. The two story houses which are made of mud and grass as well as the rock churches of the Zagwe Kings reflect the historical back ground of the city. There are also mountains with biblical names which allow admiring the scenic view of the city.
Among the kings of the Zagwe dynasty, king Lalibela had left astonishing, mysterious and incomparable rock hewn churches to the world. King Lalibela, whose brilliant success was prophesized by the bees, had contributed to the expansion of the church by granting a land to the monasteries and constructing a church. He was also in harmonious relation with the Muslims both outside and inside Ethiopia.He is also among the four kings of Zagwe dynasy who are canonized by the church as saints.
Among the 11 rock churches Bete Giorgis, house of St. George, is unique for its symmetrical cruciform design and Bete Medhanealem, house of the Savior, is the grandest as well as the highly decorated church supported by 32 square columns from outside and 28 from inside. The techniques as well as the future of the rock churches of King Lalibela are still amazing, mysterious and mind-boggling to all architects, historians and tourists. The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are among the registered world heritage sites of UNESCO. Currently the city of Lalibela has modern hotels with a scenic view and can be accessed both by road and flight from Addis Ababa.
Gondar, which Emperor Fasiledes founded as his capital in 1636, is the site of numerous castle-like palaces, dating from the 17thand18th centuries. The city was Ethiopia’s capitals until the reign of the would-be reforming Emperor Tewodros II, also known as Theodora. Gonder had served as the capital city of Ethiopia for two hundred years. As compared to the moving capital city of the previous emperors, the permanence of Gonder as a capital city made it to play a great role in history of Ethiopia. Like the present time, the people and its culture were highly influenced by orthodox Christianity and there were numerous traditional schools of Ethiopian Orthodox Church which are the sources of church scholars and intellectual Emperors. Gonder was a strategic place for commerce and for it provides easy access to Blue Nile as well as other trade route. The Portuguese influenced Gonderian castles built from 16th century up to 17th century are registered by UNESCO as a world heritage. Currently Gonder is among the tourist destination of Ethiopia with comfortable accommodations and welcoming people. Drive only for 748 km or use domestic flight of Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa so as to get yourself in this 17th century historical city.
The historic walled city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia was a major trading cross roads and a center of Islamic learning. Fortified against invaders, its protective wall was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The wall of Jegol, which is still intact, is about 4 meters high and pierced by five gates. A sixth gate was added at a later date. The Harari women’s, whose beauty is magnified by their colorful dress, are very skillful in preparing souvenirs which are colorful and unique to the Harar. In Harar not only the people but also dangerous animals like Hyena are very familiar and peaceful to any human creature. You may not believe when you see a young Hyena man feeding dozens of Hyena giving a scrap of meet by holding on his mouth. The Harari hyenas are not feral that even you can feed them if you come to this historical city. The town is famous for the unique lay out of its houses, coffee, and for the trade in Chat-a stimulant leaf that is chewed. The narrow streets of Harar contain over 90 mosques and many consider it to be the fourth holiest city of Islam.Enjoying the tradition, appreciating the life style and visiting the historical sites of Harar will make you to be part of the relaxing community of Harar. Their friendly and easy behavior is also critical to safeguard your happiness.
Yeha is situated in the northern mountainous section of the Tigray region. Although today this small settlement survives as a shanty town, it was once a site of great pre-Axumite civilization. Believed to be Ethiopia’s first capital, Yeha was first uncovered in a complex archeological excavation around a courtyard at the beginning of the 20th Century. The first settlers of this area, the Sabeans, were the founders of the Axumite kingdom.
The temple of Yeha, with one side of its walls in ruin, is otherwise still intact and testifies to the advanced level of the people of those times. There is no trace of mortar being used to build the temple of which the inside of the walls was believed to be have been paved with gold.
The archeological excavations made in 1909, 1947 and 1973 respectively, reveal that this beautiful temple was destroyed by fire. Treasures such as gold rings, golden lions, stone-engraved inscriptions written in Sabean, stone-carved animals like the Walya ibex (one of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals), pottery works and others were uncovered. Some of these findings are displayed in the 4th century church museum found in the same compound as the temple while others are displayed at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. The twelve underground formations and four other very deep cave structures (which seem to lead to Yemen, Lalibela, Jerusalem and Axum), increase the area’s importance in terms of both archeological research and tourism.
Rock Churches of Tigray
Over 125 rocks hewn churches are recorded in Tigray region. The rock hewn churches of Tigrai do not function primarily as tourist attraction they were generally excavated using a very different method from that at Lalibela, the antiquity of most of the Tigraian rock-hewn churches remains largely a matter of speculate. Every church has its own oral tradition regarding its excavation, in many cases the church is dated to the reign of Abreha-we-Astebeha the twin Emperors of Axum who converted to Christianity in the middle of the 4th century. There are a number of explanation given as to why the rock-hewn churches of Tigrai were so often carved in to relatively inaccessible cliff face, was it for security, or for spiritual isolation, or simply because cliff face are inherently good place to carve churches and cliff face are inherently inaccessible? Certainly the mentioned facts keep away outsiders and made the rock churches intact. Some of these rock hewn churches are pre-Christian temples, which was changed to church after the spread of Christianity in the northern Ethiopia. Most of these churches are difficult to access since they are carved on the top of the cliff, thus visitors who are interested to visit have to be physically fit, the rock churches can be visited form the Mekele or on the way to Axum, from this wokro Churckos and Abreha-we-Astebeha are the most reachable. Most of these churches are found on the Gera-Alta chained Mountains Also these magnificent churches can be visited on the eastern and southern Tigray area.
Bahir Dar is a pleasant city situated at the eastern shore of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats. The ancient island monasteries on the lake are known for their very old treasures and parchment. They have been the site of pre-Christian shrine .These include Dek Stephanos 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. The Blue Nile Falls is one of the most spectacular falls in Africa. The thunderous noise and the rainbow formations combined with the luscious vegetation teem and variety of bird lives make it the most impassive falls amongst the whole Nile River. The colorful local market at Bahir Dar is renowned for its weavers and wood workers. Bahir dar is the capital of The Amahra regional state and there are modern hotels and international airport which can handle tourists of different interest. These days Bahir dar is considered the resort and conference city in Ethiopia and is the destination of many tourists.