An ancient slumbering giant awakening to a new dawn, its multiple delights just waiting to be discovered.
This is modern Ethiopia – once home to fabled queens and emperors,now relishing its stunning cultural diversity, rich ancient archaeological marvels, a history with Biblical roots,an abundant animal kingdom, awesome natural beauty and modern cities. From here came the Queen of Sheba, a woman of legendary beauty and wealth who beguiled King Solomon when she visited Jerusalem. It is also the land of other famous royals such as Emperor Haile Selassie, Emperor Menelik II, Yohannes IV, also known as King John, and other famous people, including philosophers, humanists, fashion models, educators, scientists, martyrs, saints, scholars, filmmakers, and many more. Officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, its central
location on the global map makes it easily accessible from any continent.
Land of Origins
Recently Ethiopia embarked on a complete overhaul of its tourism offering, hoping to significantly bolster the annual number of foreign visitors and use tourism to help create jobs and eradicate poverty. This initiative has already paid off: in 2015 the European Council on Tourism and Trade selected Ethiopia out of 31 countries as the year’s top holiday destination in the world.
Unlike its main Eastern African rivals, Kenya and Tanzania, this landlocked country does not rely on palm-fringed beach holidays or safaris. Instead it is promoting its ancient past and natural splendours, its 3,000 year-old archaeological heritage, and centuries of unique social, religious, imperial and cultural development. Rebranding itself as the “Land of Origins”, and despite attracting close to a million foreign tourists in 2015/16, the country is still unknown to many and has a vast wealth of attractions just waiting to be discovered. It certainly is a country of many original “firsts” and other unique claims.
Ethiopia is one of the only African countries that never lost its independence,defeating its would-be Italian colonisers in battle in the late 1800s. It is herewhere some of the oldest evidence of anatomically modern humans who were the first to walk upright, has been found. Scientists believe it is also from this region that modern humans first migrated to the Middle East and
many parts of the world beyond, giving rise to the modern diversity of human populations around the world. Tracing its roots as a nation back to the 2nd millennium BC, Ethiopia was ruled as a monarchy for most of its history, until its last monarch, Emperor Haile Selassie, was overthrown in a Soviet-backed coup in 1974. Selassie is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible by the global Rastafari movement.
In turn the communists were overthrown in 1991 and the country became a federal democracy. The landlocked country shares borders with Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. It has a population of close to a 100 million, making it the world’s most populous landlocked country and the second-most populous nation on the African continent after Nigeria. Emerging from the “Red Terror” of communist rule, its vibrant revival is evident everywhere as cities are modernising, brand new highways and other infrastructure are appearing across the country, and tourism is flourishing.
Meeting place of nations
The first Afroasiatic-speaking people lived here and established the ancient civilisation that endures to this day. Ethiopia was the first independent African member of the 20th-century League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, and a founding member of the Group of 24 (G-24), the Non-Aligned Movement, G-77 and the Organisation of African Unity. Its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa, which is also the seat of the African Union, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Aviation Training HQ, the African Standby Force, and many global NGOs working in Africa.
It is also here, in a place called Kaffa, located in what was the medieval Kingdom of Kaffa, that the coffee bean was first discovered, giving the world its favourite breakfast hot drink. The country’s ancient Ge’ez script, also known as Ethiopic, is one of the oldest alphabets still in use around the world today, as is the Ethiopian calendar. A slight majority of Ethiopians are Christians; around one-third are Muslims with the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa found here; while Ethiopian Jews
are considered to be descendants of the Tribe of Dan, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of the Jews (in the 1980s many of them relocated to Israel). And it is the spiritual home of Rastafarians. Truly a meeting point of the major religions of the modern world, and a melting pot of cultures.
The Ethiopian Highlands are home to Africa’s largest continuous mountain ranges, and Africa’s largest cave is found among the Sof Omar Caves. Dallol in the Danakil Depression is the hottest and lowest inhabited place on Earth. Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia, is the source of the Blue Nile, which gave rise to the great river-valley civilization stretching all the way to the Mediterranean.
Addis Ababa, with a population of over 4 million, was founded in 1886 and christened by Queen Taytu, consort of Menelik II. Today it is a modern, pulsating metropolis with wide tree-lined avenues, great architectural variety, cosy espresso bars and patisseries reminiscent of Italy, bustling outdoor markets, many cafes and shops, a vibrant nightlife, and the ever-present aromas of spicy cooking, coffee and incense. Tall office buildings and the palatial seats of international organisations stand alongside elegant villas, luxury hotels, many conference halls, functional
bungalows, theatres and modern shops.
Venture to the outskirts and these make way for traditional homes of wattle and daub, surrounded by cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. While most of the city’s population still makes use of traditional minibus taxis and buses for transport, the city is now also home to sub-Saharan Africa’s first metro rail system built in conjunction with China. Brand new modern
highways criss-cross the city. A unique feature of the city is that it has no designated city centre because, until very recently, due to a lack of any urban planning the city simply grew in a natural, organic way, and its present appearance reflects this unforced and unstructured evolution.
Beyond the capital, in every direction, the country’s natural beauty is displayed in dramatic contrasts, ranging from deserts, highlands and mountains, to tropical jungles, cool forests, many rivers, active volcanoes, underground caves, majestic waterfalls and lakes. The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, but with wide topographic-induced variations, and the highlands, which cover most of the country, is generally cooler.
9 World Heritage Sites
Add to all of this the fact that Ethiopia has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa – nine of them – and it becomes clear why this country is such a phenomenal tourist attraction. Perhaps one of the most iconic heritage sites in all of Ethiopia is Lalibela, also known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and famous for its monolithic churches cut out of sheer rock. This town in northern Ethiopia is one of the country’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is renowned as a centre of Christian pilgrimage.
Its population is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, Ethiopia having been one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, with historical roots dating back to the time of the Apostles. The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem and have been dated to the period immediately following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslim leader, Saladin.
The city of Axum in the north, also known as Aksum, was the original capital of the Kingdom of Aksum and a centre of marine trading which predated the earliest mentions in Roman era writings. The city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa. Here you will also find the famous Obelisk of Axum: a 1,700-year-old, 24-metretall granite obelisk, weighing 160 tonnes. This and many other stelae in the city are believed to have been carved and erected during the 4th century A.D. by subjects of the Kingdom of Aksum, as “markers” for underground burial chambers.
Many imperial structures have been preserved at Gondar, a mere 48 kilometres from the capital, and once home to a number of emperors and warlords, courtiers and kings. The oldest among these buildings is the impressive 17th century palace of Emperor Fasilidas, who founded the city in 1635 that became the capital of Ethiopia at the time. Fasilidas, his son, Emperor Yohannes, and later his grandson, Iyasu I, constructed many more palaces, other buildings, roads and bridges in the city.
Staring down a volcano
In the eastern part of the country lies Harerge, home to some of the best coffee in the world. In the south, Somali-speaking nomads and their herds of camels and cattle wander across endless red wastes of savannah. The landscape is dotted with termite mounds, while relentless winds stir up clouds of dust.
At the Erta Ale Volcano, one can venture to the very edge of an active lava lake within the relatively small crater. Peering down into this awesome sight, you see the different layers of the earth’s broken crust, and in the centre below, the brown-black pool containing the leaden mass of molten lava criss-crossed by bright orange stripes of fire…a sight never to be forgotten.
In south-western Ethiopia one finds the lower Valley of Omo with its agesold sedimentary deposits revealing to scientists some of the oldest fossils of importance in the study of human evolution. Other important archaeological sites are found in the lower Awash Valley and in the Konso Cultural Landscape. The latter is a 55 square km area of stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements where a spectacular example of how people here adapted to harsh conditions and lived more than 400 years ago, has been preserved. It is also here that, two million years ago, some of our earliest human ancestors lived and later spread across the world.
While the list of fabulous sites and structures of archaeological and historical importance goes on, there is also an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty on offer in Ethiopia. Many of the country’s lakes and rivers lie within the basin created by the Great Rift Valley, a geological fault system that extends from northern Syria to central Mozambique.
Wildlife and reserves
Ethiopia has some 284 species of mammals, of which 31 are endemic and 7 are among Africa’s large animals. Prehistorically the African wild dog was widely distributed in the region, but is thought to be potentially extinct here now. But the Ethiopian wolf, perhaps the most researched of all the endangered species within Ethiopia, lives on.
Ethiopia is also a global centre of avian diversity. The country has 861 species of birds of which 17 are endemic to Ethiopia. This wildlife population can be found in a great variety of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries all over the country.
Some of the better-known or more popular ones include Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park, Awash National Park, Bale Mountains National Park, Gambella National Park, Mago National Park, Omo National Park, and the Simien Mountains National Park. Simien Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is but just a small sampling of what this fascinating country has to offer. There is truly so much more that will fill any visitor with awe, unique experiences and many fond memories.