AXUM (Ethiopia’s Ancient Civilization)
The early history of Ethiopia (also called Abyssinia) begins with the glorious but little known kingdom of Axum. The origins of the Axumite state are now dated to the middle of the 2nd century BC. At the height of its power, between the 4th and 7th centuries AD, the Axumite kingdom controlled most of present-day Ethiopia, including territories in the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The achievements of this grand culture are recorded today in the ruins of its cities, reservoirs, temples and, most remarkably, its towering black granite obelisks (stelae). The tallest of the monoliths, now fallen and broken into six massive pieces, was 33.3 meters tall and weighed an estimated five tons (the largest Egyptian obelisk is that of King Tutmosis, 32.16 meters high). The tallest obelisk still standing at Axum today is 23 meters.
These stelae are known to be the tallest single pieces of stone ever quarried and erected in the ancient world. Due to their proximity to nearby tombs, the stelae may possibly have been used as memorials to deceased kings and queens and believed to have been carved and erected around the beginning of the 2nd century AD.
An even greater mystery surrounds the ancient city of Axum. In the compound of St. Mary of Zion, the holiest place of the nation, a strange looking, fenced off and heavily guarded “treasury” said to contain the true Arc of the Covenant.
DEBRE DAMO MONASTERY
Built in the 6th century, Debre Damo is the oldest monastery in Ethiopia while its stone church is said to be the oldest still standing. The monastery is off limit to females. Once you are on the spot climbing up a 30 meter high sheer cliff is must to get in to the monastery.
ROCK CHURCHES OF TIGRAY
There are numerous ancient churches all over Ethiopia set in the most dramatic surroundings with intriguing architectural designs and religious artifacts. The most outstanding ones are in Tigray and are most definitely worth a visit.
ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
Lalibela is famous for its architecture. Lalibela is a city carved from legend a mediaeval settlement in the Lasta area of Wollo that is the site of eleven remarkable rock- hewn monolithic churches, believed to have been built by king Lalibela in the late 12th or early 13th century. These notable structures are carved inside and outside of the solid rock, and are considered among the wonders of the world. Each building is architecturally unique, some lie almost hidden in deep trenches, and others stand in open quarried caves. All of the churches are carved below ground level, some reaching more than 30 feet high, and are linked together by a complex network of tunnels and narrow passageways. Many of the interiors are adorned with beautiful, well preserved frescoes.
BAHIRDAR (Lake Tana, Island Monasteries, Blue Nile Falls)
Bahirdar located on the southern shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, with its ancient island monasteries and both the Blue and the white Niles most spectacular feature, the “Tiss Issat (smoking water)” water falls (Blue Nile falls).
GONDAR (Medieval Castles)
Imperial capital of Ethiopia in the 17th century, Gondar is known as the ‘City of Castles’ and lies beneath the Simien Mountains in a strategic hilltop location at 2,200 metres.(7,217 ft) Surrounded by high stone walls, the Fasil Ghebbi (or Royal Enclosure) lies at the heart of the town and gives the city much of its character. No fewer than 5 castles can be found here, including the impressive two-storey Palace of Emperor Fasildas, hewn out of brown basalt and showing a unique combination of Portuguese, Axumite and even Indian influences. Gondar was also a religious centre, with more than a dozen churches. The most important standing today is the superb church of Debre Birhan Selassie, whose ceilings are covered with paintings of 80 winged angels, and which is generally regarded as containing the finest art of its period anywhere in Ethiopia.