Ethiopia is a country in which the whole story of Man from his first beginnings million of years in the past, through all the stages of his evolution and development, may be studied with awe and wonder. The discovery of Lucy (3.25 mil years old) or Dinknesh at Hadar in Ethiopia by Dr Donald Johanson of Cleveland University rocked the world of palaeonthropology by pushing back the ancestry of our species at least a million years further into the past. The finder of the fossil says, “ Its bones will make Ethiopia the hominid – fossil center of the world” - as others attest Ethiopia as the ‘Cradle of Mankind’.
Though it is said that Ethiopian history begins with Axum, Semitic tribes from Southern Arabia arrived in Africa in the middle of the first millennium BC. According to the Ethiopian legend, it began in the 10th and 9th century before Christ. One of these legends is related with the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon of Jerusalem, and their son – Menelik I who is supposed to found the Solomonic Dynasty, which is one of the longest uninterrupted dynasties in the world. Two of the pre-historic structures before Axum became capital of Ethiopia are the supposed palace of the Queen of Sheba and her swimming pool (9th Century BC) and the well-preserved stone temple that stands 12m high, consists of up to 52 layers of masonry, and was built at least 2,500 years ago.
The first written records pertaining to Ethiopia date back to the period between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago, when this process of specialization was just began. Axum, which is the earliest capital of Ethiopia, served its purpose from the 1st century BC to the 6th Century AD. Some of achievements during this period were the carvings of some of the tallest monolithic steles in the world (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the introduction of Christianity in the 4th Century, the development of Ethiopia’s unique language and writings.
After the collapse of Axum’s maritime trade routes signaled the end of the Axumite importance around 750 AD, it was regarded as a period of isolations from the outside world until 1270 AD. This period is often known as Ethiopia’s Dark Age. Then the Axumites’ Solomonic Dynasty was replaced with the Zagwe Dynasty whose capital was set at the then Roha, the present day Lalibela.
It was during this period that Ethiopia’s top tourist site – the 11 incredibly hand carved rock churches of King Lalibela (1181 – 1221) came to existence. Lalibela is one place in Ethiopia that no tourist should miss. These churches are unofficially referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
In the period between 1528 – 60, when the country was busy with the Muslim -Christian war, Harar served as the Muslim capital of the country. The spiritual heart of Ethiopia’s large Islamic community, Harar is considered by some Muslims to be the fourth holiest city in the world after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, while travel scribe John Graham rates it as ‘the most pleasant city to visit in Ethiopia’. Harar lies at the center of a fertile agricultural area that is renowned for its high- quality coffee and Chat – a mild stimulant. The main attraction of the region is Harar itself, or rather the walled city of Jugal that lies at its ancient heart. This walled enclosure measures about 1 sq km in area and is strongly Muslim in character – its more that 90 mosques, are said to form the largest concentration of such shrines in the world. The other attractions of Harar are the people of Adere (Harari) with their unique and clean houses, and the ‘Hyena Man’ who feeds wild hyenas in the evening at one of the gates of Harar.
The next fixed capital of the country was Gondar (1635 – 1855). It is probably the most immediately impressive of Ethiopia’s major ex-capitals. The city was in 1635 by Emperor Fasiladas who started the tradition of building beautiful and huge castles and churches. The Royal Enclosure or the Imperial Castle Compound of Gondar lies at the heart of the modern town and gives the city much of its character. Surrounded by high stonewalls, the enclosure covers an area of 70,000 m2 and contains six castles, a complex of connecting tunnels and raised walkway, and several smaller buildings.
The other structure that a visitor to Gondar must not miss is the church of Debre Birhan Sillassie. Founded by the grandson of Emperor Fasiladas, Iyasu the Great, it is the most important church in th18th – century Gondar, when it was the site of several royal burials. The most interesting part of the church is the prolific paintings inside. The much-photographed ceiling, decorated with paintings of 80 cherubic faces, is probably the most famous single example of ecclesiastical art in Ethiopia.
185 km south of Gondar is where Ethiopia’s largest water body (Lake Tana – 3,673 km sq) – the source of the longest river in the world – Blue Nile, is located at – with its 37 islands of which about 20 shelter churches and monasteries which are decorated with beautiful and colorful religious paintings from the 16th century. The largest city and most important tourist center in the Tana region is Bahir Dar, which lies on the southern lakeshore close to the Nile outlet, and is the base for a trip to the Blue Nile Falls, 32 km far from the town.
The capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, situated at the heart of the country, as a capital should, at an altitude of 2,400 meters (makes it the third highest capital in the world) is the largest city in Ethiopia with a population of more that 5.5 mil. Addis Ababa, translated as ‘New Flower’ in Ethiopia’s national language, is regarded as the ‘Capital of Africa’ as it is the seat of the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and more than 100 embassies and consulates. Addis Ababa was founded in 1886 and was made the official capital of Ethiopia in 1891 by its founder – Menelik II.
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