Sights to See

The Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES) was established in 1963 with three major components: a research and publications unit, a library, and a museum. The aim of the institute is to collect documents, analyze and disseminate knowledge about languages, cultures and the history of Ethiopia. As Ethiopia is a cradle of mankind, a crossroads of cultures and civilizations, it is known as “a museum of nationalities”. This museum, therefore, shoulders the responsibility of capturing the heritage of the past and presenting it for posterity. The main focus of the museum is traditional art and material culture of nationalities. The IES Museum brings the many diverse ethnic groups of Ethiopia under one roof. The layout follows the story of life from birth to death, and beyond, and how the different stages of life are viewed and experienced by different ethnic groups in Ethiopia.  Appropriately, the museum is in the old palace, Genete Le’ul, of the late Emperor Haile Selassie, a building that welcomes all visitors with dignity and grace.

The museum is accommodated on two floors, comprising the bedroom of the late Emperor and ethnographic section on the lower floor and the art gallery on the upper floor.
The bedroom reminds us that the building was once a palace in the formative period of modern Ethiopia. It is the first modern palace imitating European style. We see here the bed, which Emperor Haile Selassie used for more than ten years, and some personal gifts received by the late Emperor.  The reception hall now hosts ethnographic items of more than 80 language groups. It is divided into two parts. The first introduces the general socio-economic conditions of the country and displays production tools and some techniques of craftsmen.

The second part provides a quick visit through Ethiopia. Here, assorted items from each region in the country are represented. Although the space is not large enough to show all the beauty and diversity of the culture of Ethiopia, it creates a strong urge to know more about it.  The second floor is a gallery where the ‘high art’ of the country is displayed. The exhibit concentrates on the history of sacred, and a few examples of the secular, art of Ethiopia. The time span of some items could go as far back as the 14th century.

The Entoto Mountains or Entoto Hills lie immediately north of Addis Ababa, in the central region of Ethiopia. They are the highest point of the city with views over the capital. According to the Bible Society in 2011, thousands of women work on the mountains carrying very heavy loads of eucalyptus wood on their backs to the city below, for an income of less than 50 pence a day.

The National Museum of Ethiopia (also referred to as the Ethiopian National Museum) is the primary museum in Ethiopia. The museum houses the nation's artistic treasures as well as many of the most precious archaeological finds such as the fossilized remains of early hominids, the most famous of which is "Lucy," the partial skeleton of a specimen of Australopithecus afarensis. Recently added to the basement gallery is a display on Selam, found between 2000 and 2004. Estimated to be 3.3 million years old, this A. afarensis specimen is considered to be the earliest child.

In 1936, the concept of a museum was first introduced in Ethiopia when an exhibition was opened, displaying ceremonial costumes donated by the royal family and their close associates. The current NME grew from the establishment of the Institute of Archaeology, which was founded in 1958. The institute was founded to promote and facilitate the archaeological research mission in the northern part of Ethiopia by French archaeologists.

The museum started its activities by exhibiting objects from these excavation missions. With the establishment of the Ethiopian Cultural Heritage Administration in 1976, the idea came up to open a National Museum, which was supported by the Government. The NME began to operate under the National Act which provides for the protection and preservation of antiquities, and has legislative authority governing all sites and monuments throughout the country of Ethiopia.  Later, the National Museum diversified its activities and organised into three working department, i.e. the conservation department, the documentation department and the exhibition and research department.

The NME at present has four main exhibition sections. The basement is dedicated to archaeological and paleoanthropological sections. This area show the previously mentioned hominids. The first floor contains objects from ancient and medieval periods, as well as regalia and memorabilia from former rulers, who include Emperor Haile Selassie. The second floor show art work in a chronological order, from traditional to contemporary works. These include murals, Afewerk Tekle and other Ethiopian artists. Finally, the third floor has an ethnographic display. Here, the museum tries to give an overview of the cultural richness and variety of the peoples of Ethiopia.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, known in Amharic as Kidist Selassie, is the highest ranking Orthodox cathedral in Addis Ababa.  It was built to commemorate Ethiopia's liberation from Italian occupation and is the second most important place of worship in Ethiopia, after the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum.  The cathedral bears the title 'Menbere Tsebaot', or 'Pure Altar'. The church compound is the burial place for those who fought against the Italian Occupation, or those who accompanied the Emperor into exile from 1936 to 1941. Emperor Haile Selassie I and his consort Empress Menen Asfaw are buried in the north transept of the cathedral. Other members of the Imperial Family are buried in the crypt below the church.  In the south transept of the cathedral is a recently added chapel of St. Michael, which houses the Tabot or Ark of St. Michael the Archangel, which was returned to Ethiopia in February 2002 after being discovered in Edinburgh. This relic was taken by British forces from the mountain citadel of Magdalla in 1868 during their campaign against Emperor Tewodros II.  Holy Trinity Cathedral is the official seat of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. The Patriarchs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church are enthroned at Holy Trinity Cathedral and all Bishops are consecrated there as well.

The tombs of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I and Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen Asfaw, and other members of the Imperial Family, are inside Holy Trinity Cathedral. The late Patriarch, Abune Tekle Haimanot of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, is buried in the churchyard, as is the famous British suffragette and anti-fascist activist Sylvia Pankhurst.

Lake Shala (also spelled Shalla) lies in Ethiopia south of Addis Ababa, in the Abijatta-Shalla National Park. The lake is 28 kilometers long and 12 wide, with a surface area of 329 square kilometers.  It has a maximum depth of 266 meters and is at an elevation of 1,558 meters.  As such, it is the deepest of Ethiopia's Rift Valley lakes.  Known for the sulphur springs on the lake bed, its islands are inhabited by Great White Pelicans, one being known as Pelican Island.  Lake Shala is surrounded by hot springs filled with boiling water, and the earth surrounding the lake is filled with cracks due to erosion and earthquakes. Due to steam rising from the boiling water in the springs, the atmosphere around the lake is relatively foggy. At the southern end of the lake, there are various species of flamingoes and birds that frequent the lake.

Simien Mountains National Park is one of the National Parks of Ethiopia. Located in the Semien (North) Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, its territory covers the Simien Mountains and includes Ras Dashan, the highest point in Ethiopia.  The Semien Mountains is home to a number of extremely rare species, including the Ethiopian wolfGelada Baboon, and the Walia Ibex, a wild goat found nowhere else in the world. The Caracal also occurs within the Simien Mountains. More than 50 species of birds inhabit the park, including the impressive Bearded Vulture, or Lammergeier, with its 10-foot (3m) wingspan.
The park is crossed by an unpaved road which runs from Debarq, where the administrative headquarters of the park is located, east through a number of villages to the Buahit Pass, where the road turns south to end at Mekane Berhan 10 kilometers beyond the park boundary.

The park was established in 1969, having been set up by Clive Nicol, who wrote about his experiences in From the Roof of Africa.  It was one of the first sites to be made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1978). However, due to serious population declines of some of its characteristic native species, in 1996 it was also added to the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress-enclosure located in Gondar.  It served as the home of Ethiopia's emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its unique architecture shows diverse influences including NubianArab, and Baroque styles. The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.  This complex of buildings includes Fasilides CastleIyasu's PalaceDawit's Hall, a banqueting hallstablesMentewab's Castle, a chancellerylibrary and three churches: Asasame Qeddus MikaelElfin Giyorgis and Gemjabet Mariyam.  The origins of the Fasil Ghebbi can be found in the old tradition of the Ethiopian Emperors to travel around their possessions, living off the produce of the peasants and dwelling in tents. Reflecting this connection, this precinct was frequently referred to as a katama ("camp" or "fortified settlement"), or makkababya the same name applied to the imperial camp in the Royal Chronicle of Baeda Maryam.

Emperor Fasilides broke with this tradition of progressing through the territories, and founded the city of Gondar as his capital; its relative permanence makes the city historically important. Within the capital, he commanded the construction of an imposing edifice, the Fasil Gemb or Fasilides castle. The area around the Fasil Gembwas delineated by a wall with numerous gates. Subsequent Emperors built their own structures, many of which survive either in whole or part today.  Visiting the Fasil Ghebbi in the late 1950s, Thomas Pakenham observed that "dotted among the palaces are what remains of the pavilions and kiosks of the imperial city".

The Fasil Ghebbi covers an area of about 70,000 square meters. To its south lies Adababay, the market place of Gondar, where Imperial proclamations were made, troops presented, and criminals executed; it is currently a city park. The complex is enclosed by a curtain wall which is pierced by twelve gates.

This rural town is known around the world for its churches carved from the living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are 13 churches, assembled in four groups:
The Northern Group: Bet Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum. 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 Group: Bete Giyorgis, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.
The Eastern Group: Bete Amanuel (possibly the former royal chapel), Bete Merkorios (which may be a former prison), Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace), linked to a holy bakery.

There is some controversy as to when some of the churches were constructed. David Buxton established the generally-accepted chronology, noting that "two of them follow, with great fidelity of detail, the tradition represented by Debra Damo as modified at Yemrahana Kristos." Since the time spent to carve these structures from the living rock must have taken longer than the few decades of King Lalibela's reign, Buxton assumes that the work extended into the 14th century. The great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; abundant evidence exists to show that they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. The churches are also a significant engineering feat, given that they are all associated with water (which fills the wells next to many of the churches) exploiting an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.

The Church of St. George (Amharic: Bete Giyorgis) is one of eleven monolithic churches in Lalibela, a city in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Carved from solid red volcanic rock in the twelfth century, it is the most well-known and last built of the eleven churches in the Lalibela area, and has been referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". The dimensions of the trench are 25 meters by 25 meters by 30 meters, and there is a small baptismal pool outside the church, which stands in an artificial trench.
According to Ethiopian cultural history, Bete Giyorgis was built after King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty had a vision in which he was instructed to construct the church; Saint George and God have both been referred to as the one who gave him the instructions.  As of 2006, Lalibela is still a pilgrimage site for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church; the church itself is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site"Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela".

The major Aksumite monuments in the town are stelae; the largest number lie in the Northern Stelae Park, ranging up to the 33-metrehigh, 3.84 metres wide, 2.35 metres deep, weighing 520 tonnes.  Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction. The tallest standing is the 24-metre (20.6 metres high 2.65 metres wide 1.18 metres deep, weighing 160 tonnes)King Ezana's SteleAnother stele (24.6 metres high 2.32 metres wide 1.36 metres deep, weighing 170 tonnes) removed by the Italian army was returned to Ethiopia in 2005 and reinstalled July 31, 2008. This stele was already broken into pieces before being shipped. Three more stelae measure 18.2 metres high 1.56 metres wide 0.76 metres deep, weighing 56 tonnes; 15.8 metres high 2.35 metres wide 1 metres deep, weighing 75 tonnes; 15.3 metres high 1.47 metres wide 0.78 metres deep, weighing 43 tonnes. The stelae are believed to mark graves and would have had cast metal discs affixed to their sides, which are also carved with architectural designs. The Gudit Stelae to the west of town, unlike the northern area, are interspersed with mostly 4th century tombs.  Other features of the town include St Mary of Zion church, built in 1665 and said to contain the Ark of the Covenant (a prominent twentieth-century church of the same name neighbours it), archaeological and ethnographic museums, the Ezana Stone written in SabaeanGe'ez and Ancient Greek in a similar manner to the Rosetta StoneKing Bazen's Tomb (a megalith considered to be one of the earliest structures), the so-called Queen of Sheba's Bath (actually a reservoir), the fourth-century Ta'akha Maryam and 6th-centuryDungur palaces, the monasteries of Abba Pentalewon and Abba Liqanos and the Lioness of Gobedra rock art.  Local legend claims the Queen of Sheba lived in the town.

The Church of Our Virgin Mary of Zion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the most important church in Ethiopia, and is located in the town of Axum in the Tigray Province. The original church is believed to have been built during the reign of Ezana, the first Christian emperor of Ethiopia, during the 4th century AD, and has been rebuilt several times since then.

Since it’s founding during the episcopacy of Frumentius ("Our Father of Peace the Revealer of Light") the Church of Mary of Zion has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice. Its first putative destruction occurred at the hands of Queen Gudit during the 10th century. Its second, confirmed, destruction occurred in the 16th century at the hands of Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, after which it was rebuilt by the Emperor Gelawdewos, then further rebuilt and enlarged by Fasilides during the 17th century.

St. Mary of Zion was the traditional place where Ethiopian Emperors came to be crowned. And indeed, if an Emperor was not crowned at Axum, or did not at least have his coronation ratified by a special service at St. Mary of Zion, he could not be referred to by the title of "Atse".  The dome and bell tower of the new Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, built by Emperor Haile Selassie in the 1950s.

In the 1950s the Emperor Haile Selassie built a new modern Cathedral next to the old Cathedral of Our Lady Mary of Zion that was open to both men and women. The old church remains accessible only to men, as Mary, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant allegedly resting in its chapel, is the only woman allowed within its compound.  Reportedly, the Ark was moved to the Chapel of the Tablet adjacent to the old church because a divine 'heat' from the Tablets had cracked the stones of its previous sanctum. Emperor Haile Selassie's wife, Empress Menen paid for the construction of the new chapel. It remains a significant center of pilgrimage for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, especially during the main Festival of Zion Maryam on 30 November (21 Hidar on the Ethiopian calendar).

St. Mary of Zion claims to contain the original Ark of the Covenant. According to tradition, the Ark came to Ethiopia with Menelik I after visiting his father King Solomon. Only the guardian monk may view the Ark,in accordance with the Biblical accounts of the dangers of doing so for non-Kohanim. This lack of accessibility, and questions about the account as a whole, has led foreign scholars to express doubt about the veracity of the claim. The guardian monk is appointed for life by his predecessor before the predecessor dies. If the incumbent guardian dies without naming a successor, then the monks of the monastery hold an election to select the new guardian. The guardian then is confined to the chapel of the Ark of the Covenant for the rest of his life, praying before it and offering incense.

Omo National Park is one of the National Parks of Ethiopia. Located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region on the west bank of the Omo River, the park covers approximately 4,068 square kilometers, about 870 kilometers southwest of Addis Ababa; across the Omo is the Mago National Park. Although an airstrip was recently built near the park headquarters on the Mui River, this park is not easily reachable; the Lonely Planet guide Ethiopia and Eritrea describes Omo National Park as "Ethiopia's most remote park."  The lower reaches of the Omo river were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, after the discovery of the earliest known fossil fragments of Homo Sapiens that have been dated circa 195,000 years old.  There is virtually no tourist infrastructure within the park and little support for travellers. It was reported in 1999 that none of the tourist agencies within or outside Ethiopia would arrange tours in the park. The Walta Information Center announced 3 October 2006 that US$1 million had been allocated to construct "roads and recreational centres as well as various communication facilities" with the intent to attract more visitors.

The MursiSuriNyangatom, Dizi and Me'en are reported in danger of displacement and/or denial of access to their traditional grazing and agricultural land. This follows the demarcation of the Park boundaries in November 2005, and the recent management takeover of the Park by the Dutch African Parks Foundation (also known as African Parks Conservation). This process threatens to make the Omo people 'illegal squatters' on their own land.  There are reports that these tribal peoples have been coerced into signing documents they could not read by Park officials.  On October 2008 African Parks Network (APN) announced they were giving up the management of the Omo National Park and leaving Ethiopia. APN stated that sustainable management of the Ethiopian parks is incompatible with ‘the irresponsible way of living of some of the ethnic groups’. The organization has trouble dealing with the indigenous population trying to continue its traditional way of life within the park borders. 

The South Omo Research Center and Forum for Transcultural Understanding has been created as part of the new policy of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University, which supports the development of new research centers in different regions of Ethiopia. The new centers are meant to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation between the various peoples of Ethiopia.

The central idea underlying SORC is that the very process of seeking to gain an understanding of one's own and the other's culture will enhance friendship rather than perpetuate existing animosities. That is, the programme of the center is built on the premise that once the many linguistically and culturally diverse groups of southern Ethiopia are offered the opportunity to jointly debate their differences, they will also soon come to discuss their similarities and the possibility of working jointly together in the future. 

Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is the largest lake in Ethiopia. Located in Amhara Region in the north-western Ethiopian highlands the lake is approximately 84 kilometers long and 66 kilometers wide, with a maximum depth of 15 meters, and an elevation of 1,840 meters.  Lake Tana is fed by the Lesser AbayReband Gumara Rivers and its surface area ranges from 3,000 to 3,500 km² depending on season and rainfall. The lake level has been regulated since the construction of the control weir where the lake discharges into the Blue Nile, which regulates the flow to the Tis Abbai falls and hydro-power station.

The lake has a number of islands, whose numbers vary depending on the level of the lake; it has fallen about 6 feet (1.8 m) in the last 400 years. According to Manoel de Almeida (who was a Portuguese missionary in the early 17th century), there were 21 islands, seven to eight of which had monasteries on them "formerly large, but now much diminished." When James Bruce visited the area in the later 18th century, he noted that the locals counted 45 inhabited islands, but stated he believed that "the number may be about eleven." A more modern geographer named 37 islands, of which he believed 19 have or had monasteries or churches on them.

Remains of ancient Ethiopian emperors and treasures of the Ethiopian Church are kept in the isolated island monasteries (including Kebran Gabriel, Ura Kidane Mehret, Narga Selassie, Daga Estifanos, Medhane Alem of Rema, Kota Maryam and Mertola Maryam). On the island of Tana Qirqos is a rock shown to Paul B. Henze, on which he was told the Virgin Mary had rested on her journey back from Egypt; he was also told that Frumentius, who introduced Christianity to Ethiopia, is "allegedly buried on Tana Cherqos." The body of Yekuno Amlak is interred in the monastery of St. Stephen on Daga Island; other Emperors whose tombs are on Daga include Dawit IZara YaqobZa Dengel and Fasilides. Other important islands in Lake Tana include DekMitrahaGelila ZakariasHalimun, and Briguida

The monasteries are believed to rest on earlier religious sites and include the fourteenth century Debre Maryam, the eighteenth century Narga Selassie, Tana Qirqos (said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant before it was moved to Axum), and Ura Kidane Mehret, known for its regalia.

The Blue Nile Falls are a waterfall on the Blue Nile river in Ethiopia. They are known as Tis Abay in Amharic, when translated, means "smoking water" They are situated on the upper course of the river, about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The falls are considered one of Ethiopia's best known tourist attractions.  The falls are estimated to be between 37 and 45 metres high, consisting of four streams that originally varied from a trickle in the dry season to over 400 metres wide in the rainy season. Regulation of Lake Tana now reduces the variation somewhat, and since 2003 a hydro-electric station has taken much of the flow out of the falls except during the rainy season. The Blue Nile Falls have isolated the ecology of Lake Tana from the ecology of the rest of the Nile, and this isolation has played a role in the evolution of the endemic fauna of the lake.  A short distance downstream from the falls sits the first stone bridge constructed in Ethiopia, built at the command of Emperor Susenyos in 1626. According to Manuel de Almeida, stone for making lime had been found nearby along the tributary Alata, and a craftsman who had come from India with Afonso Mendes, the Catholic Patriarch of Ethiopia

Tigray, Ethiopia’s northern most region, has more than 120 rock-hewn churches. It was in 1966 that a religious father named Abba Josief who astonished many people by reading out the list of the churches. Before then, however, only two or three churches were known to scholars.

The rock churches are found in Gheralta, Tsaeda Imba, Atsbidera, Haramat, Ganta afeshum and in many other places scattered unevenly over an area of 180 x 140 Kms. Gheralta, northwest of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, is the home of a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abune Yemata (Guh), Mariam Korkor, Debretsion (Abune Abraham), Yohhanes Maequddi, Abune Gebre Mikael and Selassie Degum are in the very heart of Gheralta, making it the home of rock churches. 

Some four hour’s drive from Axum-plus a further two hours, stiff uphill walk from the road ends - lies the monastery of Debre Damo, situated on a cliff top in one of the wildest part of Tigray. Debere Damo is unique and unforgettable. The bluff on which Damo stands is a real-life Shangri-la. Remote and beautiful, far from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, the cool celestial island of rock offers panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and complete seclusion and peace for the hundred or so monks and deacons who live there. The monastery’s treasures include an extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts and the intricate carving on the beams and ceiling of the ancient church around which the monastery is built.

The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular. The view of the graceful mount Gheralta and the far-reaching Hawzien plain is a rare combination of extraordinary beauty. George Gerster, the Swiss photographer, in his book churches in Rock writes, ‘Gheralta with its ‘western film’ scenery of mountains seems to be a kind of Ethiopian Arizona. An Arizona, however, without motels or desperados but nevertheless an Eldora do with the choice intellectual pleasure of constantly stimulation and satisfying the passion for discovers’

Ethiopia’s proximity to the equator and great habitat diversity means it has one of the richest avifauna in Africa. Taking in to account birds that were first recorded in Ethiopia after 1971, or have only been described since then, a total count of around 826 birds is a realist estimate.

It is quite possible that further species awaits discovery in the little-known forests of the south and west, or elsewhere- a new and presumably endemic species of nightjar was discovered as recently as 1992 in the very accessible Nech Sar National Park.  About 40% of Ethiopian tourism comes from bird watchers and this nevertheless underscores the growing popularity of the pastime, as well as Ethiopia’s significance as a birding destination. One major reason for Ethiopia’s high profile among birdwatchers is the large number of species that are endemic or near endemic in Africa, comparable only to South Africa and Tanzania. Another is that, while the total species count is not as high as some other African countries, it is probably easier to amass a trip list of 400 species over a normal length holiday in Ethiopia than it is in any African country.