Axum and Historical sights
The Axumite Empire (sometimes called the Kingdom of Axum), was an important trading nation in northeastern Africa, growing from the proto-Axumite period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD.
It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire and Ancient India and the Axumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency.
The state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, and would eventually extend its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.
Under Ezana Axum became the first major empire to convert to Christianity and was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China Its ancient capital is found in northern Ethiopia named as Axum. The Kingdom used the name “Ethiopia” as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.
In this regard, Axum is the most ancient city of Ethiopia and the site of many remarkable monolithic stone stele or obelisks which represent the ancient civilization and footprints. This ancient city also houses different ruins of ancient palaces and tombs including Queen of Sheba’s.
The prominent areas include. a visit at stele square, Kaleb tombs, the 4th centaury Christian inscription of King Ezana, Queen of Sheba’s ruined palace, Archeological museum and Tsion Mariam Church; where the original arc of the covenant is housed.
Bahir Dar and Lake Tana
Bahir Dar has always been a center of trade. Still the Tankwa’s (small papyrus boats) are used for trade and transport. Situated on the shores of Lake Tana, with palm-lined avenues, colorful markets and handicraft and weaving centers, it is a pleasant place to stay.
It is also a good base for tours into its surroundings. A boat can be rented to visit some of the numerous islands on Lake Tana with their age old monasteries. The construction of these monasteries started around 1400 A.D. Most monks of these monasteries spend their days in meditation and cultivating their gardens so they live a completely self-containing life. The churches are sometimes built in African stye, like a big round hut. Many of them have beautiful wall paintings and the monks will show you age old hand written Bibles and other church treasures.
It is said that in one of the monasteries, Tana Cherkos, the Ark of the Covenant was hidden for 800 years before it was brought to Axum. Indeed, you can see there are some pillar-like remains from what must have been an altar. The tops of the pillars are hollow and have been used as containers for blood of sacrificed animals. In the old temple in Jerusalem, animals were sacrificed in the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.
Set in a landscape of incomparable beauty, Gondar became the royal capital of Ethiopia in the 17th century under Emperor Fasiladas who built the first and most famous of its castles. His son Yohannes I built two more castles one of which was used as a library.
His grandson Lyasu I built another a castle. Ivory, gold and precious stones were inlaid within its interior and it was described as “more beautiful than the house of Solomon”.
When you wander around the compound and through the abandoned halls, you can easily imagine the big banquets that were held here and the court intrigues that took place. Fasiladas bath, set in a beautiful shady compound is worth a visit. Nowadays it is filled with water once a year, on the big Timkat Feast to be the centre of a joyful celebration.
The Debre Berhan Selassie church, built by Lyasu I is famous for its beautiful, colorful wall paintings of biblical scenes and medieval history. From the ceiling, 80 angels with Ethiopian features are watching you with their big brown eyes.
Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches
“By vast expense and hideous pain, the rock a church became”, wrote a historian in the 17th century. Lalibela is also described as the “African Petra” or “New Jerusalem“. Undoubtedly the 12 rock hewn churches, whose construction started during the reign of king Lalibela (13th century), are one of the foremost wonders of the world.
The legend tells that Lalibela received a heavenly vision and angels helped to finish the work in a short time. But it is more likely that Lalibela received his inspiration during his exile in Jerusalem, which gave him a longing to built a kind of “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia, accessible for all Ethiopians.
Lying in the rugged Lasta mountains it is still a rather isolated place and the little town has not changed since the building of the churches 700 years ago. When your walk around in the perfectly shaped churches, using the underground tunnels to go from one church to another and hearing the distant chanting of the monks, you feel as if a time-machine has brought you back to a mysterious middle age world.
In the rough mountain landscape which surrounds Lalibela, interesting tours can be made, walking or on the back of a donkey, to enjoy the splendid views on your way to the several rock-hewn churches in the environs of Lalibela.
Rock Hewn Churchs of Tigray
Hidden from the rest of the world, the highlands of Ethiopia have hundreds of rock-hewn churches and monasteries, with all their mysteries and precious relics.
Before 1966, the rock-hewn churches of Tigray have been described by the British academic Ivy Pearce as the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people. Most of these architectural gems remain in active used today, several house paintings and other sacred medieval artifacts, and every one of them is imbued with and aura of spirituality that seeps from the very rock into which they are carved.
Located in north of Gondar along the road to Axum, the Simien Mountains offer a uniquely wonderful sight: high peaks and deep gorges, valleys and rivers, golden barley field’s as far as the eye can see.
The highest mountain (4439 meters) is Ras Dejen, hut a lot of the peaks are above 4000 meters. Only a few roads on the Simien Mountains are reachable by car, but the entire area is crossed by tracks used by locals to travel from village to village or to lead their animals to pasture. This makes it the ideal place for trekking: you can walk through for days. along easy paths, occasionally passing through villages amid breath-taking views, frequently encountering colonies of ‘gelada ‘baboons and, at nightfall, among the steep gorges, sighting Waliyas and, frequently, the Ethiopian Wolf.