Ethiopia has a wide range of tourist attractions from abundant species of wildlife, historical sites, religious sites and cultural attractions including more than 80 tribes all with different traditions.
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 C. The first settler of this area, the Sabeans, was 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.
Axum, which lies about 1,000 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, was the second capital city of Ethiopia. This prominent Christian attraction is simply an open-air exhibition of Ethiopia's pre- and post-Axumite civilization i.e. from the 3rd C. BC to the 10th C. AD. This ideal site has been visited frequently for the last two millennia.
The Axumite kingdom was founded on the northern tip of Ethiopia at a place called Axum by the native Sabean people. The creation of this kingdom was an indication of a power shift from the capital at Yeha to the fertile lands of Axum.
Due to its proximity to the Red Sea in the North-East and the Indian Ocean coastal trade routes to the South, trade prospered in the kingdom. Axum grew as a prominent commercial center in the first century AD. Trade with the Arabs, Indians, Turks, Greeks, Persians, Romans and others strengthened Ethiopia's connection with the rest of the world.
The Axumite Empire came into existence thanks to its hard working people. It witnessed tremendous growth between the first and sixth centuries AD. With a perfect continuation of successful governance, Axum grew to the level of an empire. Language flourished so much that three languages came into existence as a communication medium. Greek was the language of the royal court, Sabean was used by the common people and Ge'ez, a later-developed language, with its roots in the Sabean scripts, became a church language.
Coin mintage, as a result of strong economic dominance, was another development at this time and helped the Axumites to develop trade. Gold, silver and bronze coins, which began to be minted around the 4th C., are still found exposed on the plains of Axum.
The introduction of Christianity in the early 4th c. AD was one of the greatest achievements of the Axumite rule. It was during the time of King Ezana in 337 AD that Christianity arrived in Axum. Since it was the king who was the first to convert, Christianity easily reached the people under his rule. Since then, Ethiopia has remained a strong Christian state. The coins of King Ezana and his successors depict a cross, clearly indicating that the kings were Christian. The coins of kings before King Ezana in the pre-Christian era depict motifs such as moons, indicating paganism.
Axum reached its peak in terms of economic, political and social development in the fifth and sixth centuries. By then Christian Axumite kings were increasing their influence by expanding their territory across the Red Sea. The whole horn of Africa, including Yemen, was incorporated under the Axumite Empire. It was at this time that Axum became known as one of the four great empires of the age. Then in the 7th century Islam was brought to Axum by Muslim followers who came in exile to escape from severe executions in the Middle East.
Located in the north-east of Ethiopia, Lalibela is another renowned historical destination. Placed third in historic sequence, its site hosts the “eighth wonder of the world”, the Lalibela rock-hewn churches. UNESCO has recorded this site as one of the world wonders. It is also holy land for Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians. Today the town of Lalibela hosts eleven rock-hewn churches and all, apart from their historic significance, are renowned for their excellent and unique rock-carvings.
displayed on the rocks dates
from the twelfth century yet is
still intact and in great shape.
An active pilgrim site, the town
is extensively visited and a
source of admiration for
architects and tourists alike. It took King Lalibela his entire reign and more than 60,000 men to finish the work. According to local accounts, the work was assisted by angels. Other erected and cave churches built during this period are found at a short distance from the town. These monolithic churches were originally thought to have been built in the 12th century during the reign of King Lalibela, but some have been dated back to the 10th century. There are eleven churches, assembled in three
The Northern site: Bete Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. It is linked to Bete Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bete Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.
The Western site: Bete Giyorgis, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.
The Eastern site: Bete Amanuel , Bete Merkorios, Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael.
Further a field laid the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church
Gondar is the 17th-century capital of Ethiopia. Bordering Sudan and located on the northern shore of Lake Tana, it is one of the prominent historical areas in Ethiopia.Officially founded by King Fasiladas in 1632, the Gondarine period is considered to be the third major dynasty after the Axumite and Zagwe
The dynasty is historically important for the renaissance king's mobile camp and the introduction of a permanent capital. The attempt by King Fasiladas to end the Zagwe dynasty was successful and set Gondar as Ethiopia's capital from 1632 to 1868.
Gondar's 17th century castles reflect the strong dynasty and the power of progressive rulers. The biggest and most magnificent castle of all, King Fasiladas' castle, which is still intact, was the first to be built. Seven of the dynasty's kings had their own castles built to show their power and independent, efficient ruling styles. What is special about the castles is that they demonstrate the progress in Ethiopian building styles and follow on from the rock-building traditions of the Axumite and Zagwe kings.
Additionally, Gondar was and is still noted as an active religious center. Among the churches in town, Debre Berhan Selassie is famous for it’s typically Gondarine style and its ceiling.
The town of Bahir Dar is located 180km south of Gondar on the shores of Lake Tana in the north of Ethiopia. It came into prominence in the 18th C. as a commercial destination for trade caravans to and from Gondar and the surrounding area.
Today, it is one of the
most attractive towns in
Ethiopia and serves as a
destination. It hosts the fabled Blue Nile
falls, the beautiful highland
Lake Tana and 14th-century island monastic churches.
The River Nile, the longest river in Africa, in Ethiopia. From Lake Tana, the Blue Nile, known locally as Abbay, which flows from Ethiopia to meet the White Nile in Khartoum to form the great river that gives life to Egypt and the Sudan. It has been said that the Blue Nile contributes up to 80% of the Nile’s flow.
Nowhere is it more spectacular than
when it thunders over the Tisisat Falls near Bahar Dar. Here millions of gallons of water cascade over the cliff face and into a gorge, creating spectacular rainbows, in one of the most awe-inspiring displays in Africa, earning its name ‘Smoking Water’. The Blue Nile falls can easily be reached from Bahar Dar and the Scenic beauty of the Blue Nile Gorge, 225KM from Addis Ababa, can be enjoyed as part of an excursion from the capital.
Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile from where it starts its long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are scattered about the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monasteries, some of which have histories dating back to the 13th Century. However, it should be noted that most of the religious houses are not open to women. The most interesting islands are: Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasiledes, Kebran and Debre Maryam. Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery which can be visited by male tourists from Bahar Dar with its impressive Cathedral-like Building first built at the end of the 17th Century. Dega Estephanos, which is also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and is reached by a very steep and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only one hundred years old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of the monastery is a prime attraction with the remains of several emperors, as well as their robes and jewels.
On the banks of the lake are many more religious houses such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie, many of which are open to women.
Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important.
A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to see this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar. Along the lakeshore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidas Island, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the Lake Tana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to rain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.
Historically significant, Harar, the regional capital of the Hararghe region, is located in the very east of the country. Mentioned among the historic sites of Ethiopia, this relatively small but eventful town began in about 1520.The
hyena man's live show of
feeding the wild hyenas
from mouth to mouth is
Harar's special claim to
16th-century stronghold of
Muslim sultanates is still
predominantly inhabited by the
Muslim tribes of the Adare,
Oromo, Somali, and Argoba, who
were ruled by successive Muslim
Emirs. Harar town, recognized as
the fourth Muslim sacred place
(next to Mecca, Medina and
Jerusalem) is now receiving
pilgrims. It possesses a
16th-century wall built by the
Adare to protect themselves from
the aggression of the
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
90 mosques, Harar is home to the friendliest people in Ethiopia.
Sof Omar is one of the most spectacular and extensive underground cave systems in the world. Formed by the Wabi River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved out a new channel through limestone foothills, the Sof Omar systems is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty.
The cave which is now an important Islamic Shrine was named after the saintly Sheikh Sof Omar who took refuge here many centuries ago. The cave has a religious history that predates the arrival of the Muslims in Bale – a history calculated in thousands of years.
The Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is part of the famous East African Rift Valley, comprises numerous hot springs, beautiful lakes and a variety of wildlife. The valley is the result of two parallel faults in the earth’s surface, between which in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. Ethiopia is often referred to as the ‘water tower’ of Eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off the high tableland.
Great Rift Valley’s passage
through Ethiopia is marked by a
chain of seven lakes. Each of
the seven lakes has its own
special life and character and
provides ideal habitats for the
exuberant variety of flora and
fauna that make the region a
beautiful and exotic destination
Most of the lakes are suitable and safe for swimming and other water sports. Lakes Abiata and Shalla are ideal places for bird watchers. Most of the Rift Valley lakes are not fully exploited for tourists except Lake Langano where tourist class hotels are built. The Rift Valley is also a site of numerous natural hot springs and the chemical contents of the hot springs are highly valued for their therapeutic purposes though at present they are not fully utilized. In short, the Rift Valley is endowed with many beautiful lakes, numerous hot springs, warm and pleasant climate and a variety of wildlife. It is considered as one of the most ideal areas for the development of international tourism in Ethiopia.