One of Ethiopia’s primary attractions is her abundance of historical sites, unique in sub-Saharan Africa. While much of the history is impenetrably bound up in myth and legend, a great deal of it is well documented. The path to Ethiopia’s famous and fascinating historic sites takes you through magnificent scenery to places with names, which could be out of a fairy tale.
According to the Orthodox Church the original Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of stone with the 10 commandments, lies in Axum. Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, brought it with him when he returned from a visit to Jerusalem to see his father. The Ark is now rests in the St. Mary of Zion church, the oldest church in Ethiopia, under close guard of a priest. Nobody is allowed to see it. Not even the high priest of Axum.
African Adventure Tours can organize special itineraries to visit the rock churches of Tigray. By car, combined with trekking and camping (there are also a few new lodges appearing in the area) you could visit quite a few churches in about 4 or 5 days.
Abraha We AtsbehaA newly built gravel road leads to the church of Abreha We Atsebha, which is situated 15 km west of Wukro.
Some 180 km from Bahir Dar, on the northern shore of Lake Tana, lays Gondar, famous for its spectacular castles, also known as Africa’s Camelot. Emperor Fassiledes, hoping for a better residence during the raining season, founded the city in the 17th century with the construction of his first castle and the developing village. During the following decades, Gondar became the capital of the empire and remained so until the middle of the 19th century. The city was an important hub between caravan routes of the north and the south of Ethiopia.
The history of Gondar is full of murders, poisonings and court intrigues, which lasted until the reign of King Bakaffa and his clever wife Mentwab, who outlived her husband. Trying to prove their status by surpassing their elders as well as their rivals, it seems that each emperor built his own castle, ignoring those of his ancestors.
The Churches of Lalibela
According to legend Lalibela was born as the brother of the ruling Zagwe king in the 12th century. As a child he was covered by a swarm of bees, which his mother saw as a sign of his later reign. His brother, not happy with the prophecy, tried to poison him, but did not succeed. Still, Lalibela spend three days in a deep sleep, time during which he was carried away to heaven and instructed to build the rock town he has seen there. At the same time his brother had a vision in which Jesus ordered him to resign in favor for his younger brother.
As soon as Lalibela became king, he began to gather craftsmen and workers for the construction of the rock-hewn churches. According to legend angels worked beside his men as they cut each one from the rock, so the construction was developing fast. The town, formerly known as Roha, became known as Lalibela and began to draw thousands of pilgrims. Although his dynasty was overthrown, Lalibela is still referred to as a saint.
It doesn't matter when you visit Harar. When the coffee bushes are in flower and the air is heavy with their strong scent, or when the ripe fruit of the orange trees glow in the sunlight, it is always lovely in Harar. Many of the Harari houses have courtyards with green plants, pots and benches, which give a sense of peace and order so characteristic for traditional Islamic life.
With its numerous mosques and shrines, Harar is considered an important Islamic centre after Mecca, Mediana and Jerusalem. This old city which claims more than a millennium of history is warm and inviting and still radiates an aura of lived culture, which gives the city the touch of a living museum. The ancient wall, narrow streets lined with Harari houses, colorful, buzzling markets known for basketry and filigree silver handcraft make Harar worth a visit. Another attraction is locals who feed the wild Hyenas of the region at dusk.
Bahir DarIn a scenic location, on the southern shore of Lake Tana at 1830 m altitude, lays Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara people. The wide avenues lined with palms and flamboyant trees as well as its relaxed atmosphere and lake side resorts make Bahir Dar a charming resort destination.
Lake Tana and it's island monasteriesLake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile. From here it starts its long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean. The lakeshores and the islands offer a variety of habitats and make with their local and migratory birdlife an ideal place for birdwatchers.
Thirty of the lakes thirty-seven islands host churches and monasteries of considerable historical and cultural interest, some of which have histories dating back to the 13th century. Most of the churches are only open for men, but on the banks of the lake are many more such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie on the Zege peninsula, which are also open for women.
Haiq EstifanosNorth of Dessie lays the famous monastery of Haiq Estifanos, built in the 13th century. In former times the church was a great supporter of the Solomonic dynasty of Lalibela. Only monks live and serve here. The monastery preserves wooden and stone relics of the days of its foundation.
Gishen MariamIf you follow the winding road west of Dessie, crossing the Bishlo River you will come to one of the most sacred churches in Ethiopia, situated between marvelous table lands. Underneath of the church a original fragrance of the "True cross" is buried, which was brought to Ethiopia by Emperor Zerea Yeaekob in the 15th century. Thousands of pilgrims come here every year on October 1st to commemorate the occasion.
Refer to: Pilgrimage Tours