Step back in time in Ethiopia

By Natalia Thomson
Ethiopia may not top the list of global heritage tourism hot spots, but with a history dating back to the second century B.C. it really should. Located in the Horn of Africa, this destination offers incredibly rich traditions, rugged natural scenery and colorful cultural experiences.

Not only is it home to eight cultural World Heritage Sites, its Simien National Park was declared a natural World Heritage Site in the 1970s due to its spectacular jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and such rare animal species as the Simien fox and gelada baboon.

The Simien Mountains, within the national park, are situated in northern Ethiopia, with the tallest peak rising as high as 15,000 feet above sea level. Surprisingly, the rugged, high mountain range is dotted with villages linked by tracks.

Another of Ethiopia’s superb natural spectacles and arguably one of Africa’s most spectacular natural attractions, Tisisat Falls, or Blue Nile Falls, can be visited in Ethiopia, while no fewer than 14 wildlife reserves have been demarcated in the country.

Tisisat Falls is located about 22 miles from Bahir Dar, on the southern shore of Lake Tana. There are a number of islands on the lake that are home to some of the world’s oldest churches and monasteries; tours of those historical structures can be arranged.

Culturally, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s traditions are deeply entrenched in the social fabric of the country. Visitors can be exposed to examples of the church’s influence on Ethiopian culture and civilization at such destinations as Lalibela, home to no fewer than 11 cave churches from the 13th century. Lalibela is a revered Ethiopian Christian site and is today considered a pilgrimage destination for followers of the religion.

Over a third of Ethiopia’s population is Muslim and thus it is no surprise that the religion has had some influence on the development of certain areas within the country. Harar Jugol, a fortified town in the east, is a sacred Muslim city regarded as the fourth-holiest city of Islam, with some 82 mosques and 102 shrines. Three of these mosques date to the 10th century.

Lalibela Monk EthiopiaBut the heart of ancient Ethiopia is perhaps best explored in the northern Ethiopian city of Aksum, where visitors will find ruins dating from between the first and 13th century, including royal tombs and ancient castles.

Giant obelisks characterize Aksum, which dates back to 400 B.C. Most notable of these obelisks is the Obelisk of Axum, a 78-foot tall granite obelisk weighing 160 tonnes with two false doors at its base.

Also located in Aksum is the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, the most important church in Ethiopia and the church said to be site where Ethiopian emperors came to be crowned.

Up until as late as the mid 1970s, Ethiopia was ruled by an emperor, and as a result examples of royal architecture dot the country. The fortress of Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar, yet another must-see attraction, was the residence of Ethiopian emperor Fasilides and his successors. The city is surrounded by a wall enclosing churches, monasteries and palaces.
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