Axum, Ethiopia’s most ancient city, and capital of one of the most glorious empires of the past, is one of the most illustrious links in the Historic Route. The Axumiet Empire flourished 3000 years ago. Its riches can still be pictured on the magnificent stelae or obelisks, the graves of Kings Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, and the Legendary Bath of the Queen of Sheba. The 16th century Cathedral of St.Mary of Zion was built in the compound of an earlier 4th century church, and is the holiest church in Ethiopia. In its sanctuary is said to rest the original Ark of the Covenant. The churches and monasteries of Axum are richly endowed with icons, and some of the historical crowns of ancient Emperors.Axum is the birthplace of Ge’ez which evolved into the main languages of modern Ethiopia. And more significantly, for Ethiopians, it is where Christianity was introduced to its people in the fourth century, becoming only the second country to embrace it as a national religion (after Armenia.) Axum is certainly one of the most important historical sites in Africa.
Yeha Temple, also known as the Great Temple of Yeha, is possibly the oldest standing building in Ethiopia, dating back, it is thought, to around 700 BC. It harks back to the earliest religions of the area and contains some Judaic artefacts, perhaps giving some credence to claim of the early dynasty of their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.It is also thought that the Yeha Temple was used in the sixth century AD as a Christian church, a theory which would explain its good state of preservation. A remarkable aspect of the Yeha Temple is that it was constructed without the use of mortar.Other places of interest at Yeha include a burial ground and ruined buildings containing, amongst other things, some interesting square columns. There have been some archaeological digs in the area, dating back to the early 1950’s
The Axumite Kingdom
Axum, was a great commercial civilization trading with distant lands, such as Egypt, Arabia, Persia,India, Ceylon, etc. Its main exports were gold, ivory, rhinoceros-horn, hippopotamus hide and slaves. It imported mainly textiles, finished metal wares, and metals to be used for the manufacturing of local crafts.
Famous Aksum Oblisks
Aksum or Axum is widely identified by the famous obelisks, or monolithic stelae . In ancient times,seven of these monoliths of granite stood together; but the biggest, the largest monolith ever made anywhere in the world – measuring over thirty-three metres (108 feet) and weighing about 500 tons – fell at some remote period in the past and now lies smashed on the ground to the right of the standing stelae. The second-largest stelae, about twenty-four metres (79 feet) high, also fell and was stolen during the Fascist Italian occupation on the personal orders of the dictator Mussolini. It finally returned to Ethiopia in xxxx and erected at its original place.The third-largest stelae,measuring twenty-three metres (75 feet), still stands in Axum.All seven giant stelae are made of single pieces of granite and have identical decoration. Each resembles a tall, slender multi-storeyed house in the architectural style of the Axumite houses and palaces and is decorated with representations of doors, windows and, in some cases, door handles.
St. Mary of Zion.
The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is the most important church in Ethiopia, and claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant. It is located in the town ofAxum in the Tigray Province. The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana, the first Christian ruler of the Kingdom of Axum , during the 4th century AD, and has been rebuilt several times since then St. Mary of Zion claim to contain the original Ark of the Covenant.
Although Axum was the dominant power of the past, power shifted to the town of Mekele, when it became the capital of Emperor Yohannes IV (1871 – 1889). It is also the present main city of Tigray,and perhaps the fastest growing city in Ethiopia these days.The Emperor’s palace has been turned into a particularly interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent historical remains.The city is also well known as a transit point for the Camel Caravans that bring up salt from the arid lands of the Danakil Depression. This makes the market place an interesting sight to visit.Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region
Rock-hewn churches of Tigray
Hidden from the rest of the world, the highlands of Ethiopia have hundreds of rock-hewn churches and monasteries, with all their mysteries and precious relics.Before 1966, the rock-hewn churches of Tigray have been described by the British academic Ivy Pearce as the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people. Most of these architectural gems remain in active used today, several house paintings and other sacred medieval artifacts, and every one of them is imbued with and aura of spirituality that seeps from the very rock into which they are carved.
Debre Damo Monastery
The Debre Damo Monastery offers the most spectacular experience of all the monasteries. Situated on a flat-topped mountain in the northeast, the monastery is surrounded by steeply sloping cliffs. The complex was build between the 6th and 11th centuries by the Holy Za Mikael Aregawi and is one of the oldest monasteries in the country. Legend says that he scaled the steep rock walls to the plateau with the help of angels. The angels commanded a snake to help the saint, who used it as a rope to pull himself up the steep rock face.Even today, accessing the monastery requires a climb – only now it is done with a 15 metre long rope! Women are not allowed access. Located on the plateau are two churches in addition to community buildings and monk’s residences. The older of the two churches dates back to the 6th century and was built in the style of the Axumite Empire. The layout follows that of an early Christian Oriental basilica with a timber frame filled with stone and rubble. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, Debre Damos was seen as a safe haven against unrest. During the crusades of the Imam Gragn in the 16thcentury the royal family was brought here to safety.Visits from noblemen were also frequent in Debre Damo, where on the flat plateau of the mountaintop,princes were often held captive as a means to secure the power of the reigning monarch.
Lalibela Rock Hewen Church and its surrounding
Queen Gudit was born in Lasta (Agew region) near Lalibela. Her father was a Felasha (Beta Israel or Jewish) king called Gideon. It is said that at that time the Felashas refused to pay taxes to the Aksumite kingdom and the king of Aksum sent troops to the Felasha regions and forced them to pay taxes. The Aksumites raids frustrated the Felashas. In tenth century, Queen Gudit united the Felashas, and marched on Aksum to try to remove Christianity and the Aksumite dynasty from Ethiopia once and for all.She destroyed Aksum, overthrew and killed the King and Princes ending the Aksumite kingdom. This led to the rise of the “Zagwe Dynasty”. Queen Gudit is remembered asevil and a destroyer of churches. This period of history is known in Ethiopian tradition as “end of the first millennium”.Following Queen Gudit’s campaign against Aksum, Marara Teklehaimanot formally founded the “Zagwe Dynasty” in 1137. He became the first Zagwe King and ruled from Lasta. In 1270, the Zagwe Dynasty ended and Yekuno Amlak took the throne and restored the “Solomonic Dynasty”.Lalibela stands on soft red volcanic rock and was originally known as Roha. It was later renamed Lalibela when King Lalibela was credited with building the rock-hewn churches there in the twelfth century. Lalibela is now regarded as one of the greatest Ethiopian architectural wonders and is ranked the eighth most incredible historical site in the world by UNESCO. Aksum and Lalibela have in common architectural and stone works, which illustrate Ethiopian civilisation at great length.In Lalibela there are 11 churches cut out of solid red volcanic rock, which are constructed to represent Jerusalem. The churches are divided into Northern and Eastern groups of churches by a rock-cut channel (river) called Yordannos (Jordan River) and connected by narrow and deep passages. Bieta Medhane Alem is the largest and most impressive monolithic church. Of all the churches, Bieta Giyorgis (Saint George) is particularly stunning and beautiful, situated apart from the other churches to the west, intricately carved into the shape of a cross. All the churches are still used as places of worship.
Yemrehanna Kristos * Yemrehanna Kristos is located in a spectacular natural rock grotto. During the rainy season a waterfall pours over the entrance and under the grotto lies a large, fresh water lake hidden amongst the rocks. The monastery is believed to have been built in the 11th century under the reign of King Yemrehanna Kristos, a predecessor of King Lalibela. The complex includes two structures –a church and an abbey. In contrast to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, both structures were built as additions to the cave rather than excavated from the cave itself. The design is late-Axumite, with dark wood beams alternating between layers of white-plastered granite rock.In the middle ages, the Yemrehanna Kristos monastery attracted thousands of pilgrims. According to legend, these distant travellers came in search of a holy land for their final resting place. The remains of hundreds of unknown pilgrims and many mummified bodies can still be found in the back of the dark cave, an unsettling sight for many visitors.
King Nakuto Le’Abe, king Lalibela’s nephew and successor, abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and started living a hermit’s life in a cave, which has ever since become a monastery. This cave church, 7 km from Lalibela, is a simple but attractive little church, built on the site of a much older shrine.This monastery houses one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses,illuminated manuscripts and other icons some of which are attributed to its founder Nakuto Le’Abe.These pious four Zagwe kings ruled until the thirteenth century, when a famous priest,Tekla Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favor of a descendant of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty.What motivated this persuasion is not clear. It may be the fact that the Zaqwe kings were more inclined to be hermits and monks rather than statesmen. As a result, a power vacuum may have been created that external aggressors may take advantage of, and their handling of the affairs of the state may have suffered. Whatever the reason is however, a single priest brought about the smooth transition from one dynasty to the other.
Asheton Maryam * The Asheton Maryam monastery is located high above Lalibela on Mount AbunaYosef at an altitude of nearly 4,000 metres. The semi-monolithic church was carved out of a vertical cliff face and the surface quality of the rock is much rougher than in most other churches of Lalibela. The Asheton Maryam monastery has many interesting treasures and a breathtaking panorama, making the ascent (which can be done on mule back) worthwhile.
Gondar and its surrounding
ondar was the 17th century capital of Ethiopia, renowned for its medieval castles and churches.The primary attraction is the “Royal Compound” with many majestic castles. Outside this enclave,there are fascinating historic sites such as the Bath of Fasiledes, the Monastery of Qusquam and the icon rich Monastery of DebreBerhan Selassie.
Debre Berhan Selassie
in particular, represents a masterpiece of the Gondarene School of art. This finest Gondarene church was built during the reign of Emperor Iyasu ( 1682-1706), and was never destroyed. It is said that when the Dervishes tried to burn it in 1881, they were attacked and dispersed by bees. The church is rectangular, similar to those of ancient Axumite architecture. The inside walls of the front room are covered with paintings on cloth, glued to the surface. The ceiling is built with thick beams and it decorated with winged angel heads looking down. The wall paintings depict scenes from the life of Christ,Mary, the Saints, the Trinity, and others. The unique murals are awesome and have stood the test of time for centuries. Flanked by twin mountain streams at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters, Gondar commands spectacular views over farmlands to the gleaming waters of Lake Tana. The city retains an atmosphere of antique charm mingled with an impression of mystery and violence.Gondar was once a vigorous and vital center of religious learning and art. For more than two hundred years skilled instruction in painting, music, dance, poetry and many other disciplines thrived. Fasilidas and his successors saw their elegant capital as a phoenix and so patronized the arts.The treasures of Gondar include the stone bathhouse of Emperor Fasiladas The ruined Palace of Kusquam The castles display a richness in architecture that reveals the influence of Arabia as well as Axumite traditions, and are said to be the largest concentration of such structures in Africa.
Bahir Dar and Lake Tana Monasteries
There are 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of Lake Tana, out of which some 20 shelter churches and monasteries of immense historical and cultural interest. These churches are decorated with beautiful paintings and house innumerable treasures. Because of their isolation they were used to store art treasures and religious relics from all parts of the country.Access for some of the churches is closed to women, although they are allowed to land on the banks of the island but not permitted to proceed further.However women are permitted to visit churches on Zeghne Peninsula and nearby church of Ura Kidane Mehret, as well as Narga Sellassie.
It is renowned for a magnificent manuscript to the Four Gospels which is believed to date back to at least the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century.
Ura Kidane Mehret
It is more decorative with a huge, conical thatched roof is painted with scenes from Biblical lore.
It is considered one of the most sacred on Lake Tana, and said to have served as a temporary hiding place for the Ark of the Covenant. On this stands the church of Saint Stifanos which houses the Holly Madonna painted around 1434. The real historic interest lies in its treasury where there are glass-sided coffins containing the mummified remains of several of the former emperors of Ethiopia.
This ancient monastery is found on the eastern shore of Lake Tana.Tradition tells us that St. Mary rested here under a wall during her flight to Egypt, and stayed for three months and ten days. The monks claim that they owned a necklace which she left when she departed.It is also said that the monastery was a sacred place of the Jews. Menelik I and the Jewish nobles,after fleeing from King Solomon, brought the Ark of the covenant to this monastery and built a temple over it, which was decorated with precious stones. Six hundred years later, the Ark was brought to Axum.
HARAR (HOLY CITY)
Harar is one of the most impressive Ethiopia’s historic destinations pulls remoteness and ancient history as part of the long and colorful existence of the country, Ethiopia.Located strictly East of Ethiopia it has survived since the late first millennium BC being a strong hold of Islam. Happen to be a strong Muslim sultanate, Harar has been ruled by seventy two successive Imams since its formation i.e. 1900s till Mid 1500s through which time quite unique,strong and authentic Muslim tradition was created. As it has a vast territory, friendly tribes namely Adare, Somali, Oromo and Argoba are the main settlers with all Muslim background.It for long time had long trade relation with the Mediterranean and Arab world and religious interaction with the Middle East over Indian ocean and red sea which pays a great deal of contribution for its Economic and especially religious growth. Indeed the Sultanate has a lose but continuing contacts with the mid and North Christian Kingdom of the country through trade till it defuses and administration falls under the central governing Kingdom in mid 1500s. From here onwards Harar has opened the second phase in history being an ideal example of religious integrity with brotherly Christians and survived a new mix of tradition sustained to this day. Surrounding the old town, Harar today is a big capital city in the Eastern part of Ethiopia.Today, Harar, next to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem is one of the main Muslim pilgrim sites in the world. Harar’s most determined attraction, the old and walled town of Harar, was particularly established in 1540’s following the downfall of the Imams’ rule with the defeat of the strongest Imam who ruled Harar. The Long and destructive war launched by this Imam, locally named Ahmed the left handed, to the Christian Kingdom and its gradual failure forced the town residents to built a great wall around the town to protect themselves from any possible attack from surrounding tribes.In this walled and old town, more than 90 mosques are built and are still service active. And with all its uniqueness, the town is known by locals as “Jegol”, a name everybody notices.It also worth a visit to the unique attraction of Harar, also could be mentioned a special tradition of just a selected family members in Harar, to feed the wild Hyenas in a daring close to mouth close manner. It gives the glimpse that Harar’s people friendly enough to domesticate wilds. It’s an amazing fact that driving off the main town Harar South wards, one will face a real fact of unique 1000 years old tradition and way of life which makes Harar to be a cultural destination as well. It will take full day excursion to visit the stone and mud built houses in a round and rectangular shaped manner all identically designed and Muslim tradition tuned interior decorations. Scattered through the most beautiful highlands of Harar, and owned by the most welcoming peoples of Harar is an ideal exploring through the first Millennia history and culture indeed gives an ideal trekking option through its splendid scenery.House styles and interior decorations are unique to Harar. The house of the 19th-century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, is one of the most preserved in this town. Every house in Harar has almost the same inside partitions and all are colorfully decorated with traditional utensils. With its more than 40 mosques, Harar is home to the friendliest people in Ethiopia.
Harar’s attractions are:
- The City Walls
- The City Walls, and the narrow streets lined with traditional Harari gegar houses.
- Rimbaud House
- A Fine building traditional house dating from the period when the French poet Rimbaud lived in Harar.
- Feeding Hyenas in Harar One of the most popular tourist attractions in Ethiopia, most people would be absolutely mortified to do this. At two different locations in the city you are able to feed the Hyenas every single night.
- The city of Harar is also extremely interested being the 4th most holy city for Muslims.
- The Hyena Man As evening falls, local men attract wild hyenas to the city in a bizarre spectacle as they bravely feed these dangerous scavengers.
Dire Dawa is city in Harar region, Ethiopia. It is a commercial and industrial center located on the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railroad. Manufactures include processed meat, vegetable oil, textiles, and cement. There are also railroad workshops in the city. Dire Dawa was founded in 1902 when the railroad from Djibouti reached the area, and its growth has resulted largely from trade brought by the railroad.