Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a heritage dating back to the first century AD. Axum was the capital of a great empire. This realm became one of the first Christian lands of Africa. Late in the 10th Century, Axum declined and a new Zagwe dynasty, centered in what is now Lalibela, ruled the land. Axum, Lalibela and Gonder now provide the greatest historical legacy.  In the 19th Century, under the leadership of the great Emperor Menelik, the country's passage to modernization began. The following are some of Ethiopia's historical attractions.
Like many other African countries, Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state. Many differences have been blurred by intermarriage over the years but lots of also remain. The differences may be observed in the number of languages spoken an astonishing 83, falling into four main language groups: Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan. There are 200 different dialects. The Semitic languages of Ethiopia are related to both Hebrew and Arabic, and derive from Ge'ez, the ecclesiastical language. The principle Semitic language spoken in the north-western and central part of the country is Amharic, which is also the official language of the modern state. Other main languages are Tigrigna, Guraginya, Adarinya, Afan Oromo. The Tigrigna and Amharic speaking people of the north and centre of the country are mainly agriculturists. The most southerly of the Semitic speakers, the Gurage, are also farmers and herders, but many are also craftsmen. 
The Cushitic Oromo, formerly nomadic pastoralists, are now mainly engaged in agriculture and, in the more arid areas, cattle-breeding. The Somali, also pastoral nomads, forge a living in hot and arid bush country, while the Afar, semi-nomadic pastoralists and fishermen, are the only people who can survive in the hostile environment of the Danakil Depression.
The natural beauty of Ethiopia amazes the first-time visitor. Ethiopia is a land of rugged mountains, (some 25 are over 4,000 metres high) broad savannah, lakes and rivers. The Great Rift Valley, formed about 20 million years ago, is the single largest geographical feature on the African continent. Its gradual expansion has been accompanied by a large amount of volcanic activity: the valley floor is studded with dormant and extinct volcanoes such as Fenatle in Ethiopia.
The Rift Valley runs through Ethiopia from the Red Sea to the Kenya border. In northern Ethiopia it forms the Danakil Depression, an inaccessible and inhospitable desert that dips to the lowest point on the earth's surface.

Along with the historical circuit in the north, the southern Rift valley is probably the most visited part of Ethiopia, with easy access on public transport and fair tourist facilities. Tisisat, the Blue Nile falls, ranks as one of the greatest natural spectacles in Africa today. There are 14 major wildlife reserves. Birdlife abounds, and indigenous animals from the rare Walia Ibex to the shy wild ass, roam free just as nature intended. Ethiopia, after the rains, is a land decked with flowers and with many more native plants than most countries in Africa. Here are a few of the many natural and historical tourist attractions

Debre Damo.

  Some 76 km from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo, which is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one of the nine Saints, built the church in the 16th Century. The Monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley. It is worth noting that the monastery is closed to women  


Axum, Ethiopia's most ancient city, and capital of one of the most glorious empires of the past, is one of the most illustrious links in the Historic Route. The Axumite Empire flourished 3,000 years ago. Its riches can still be pictured on the magnificent stelae or obelisks, the graves of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskal, and the legendary bath of the Queen of Sheba.
The 16th Century Cathedral of St Mary of Zion was built based on an earlier 4th Century church, and is the holiest church in Ethiopia. In its sanctuary is said to rest the original Ark of the Covenant.
The churches and monasteries of Axum houses are richly endowed with icons, and some of the historical crowns of ancient emperors.



King Lalibela is credited with the foundation of the 11 rock-hewn churches in the 12th Century. One of the world's most incredible man-made creations, they are a lasting monument to man's faith in God. These remarkable edifices were carved out of solid rock, in a region where the rugged landscape still protects the churches from mass tourism. The 11 man made churches are found in and around the town of Lalibela. Other churches are reached by a 45-minute drive by 4x4 vehicle, or a three hour mule ride.
The venue for some of the most famous church festivals in Ethiopia, a visit during the great celebrations of Timket (Epiphany) is particularly rewarding


Bahar Dar


Bahar Dar is a small town set on the south-eastern shore of Lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats. It is just 30 km from the spectacular Tisisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates "Smoking Water" an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below.
From Bahar Dar you can explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built around Lake Tana, or on its many Islands. These include Dek Stephanos with its priceless collections of icons, the remains of several medieval emperors, Kebran Gabriel and Ura Kidane Mehret with its famous frescoes. The colourful local market at Bahar Dar is renowned for its weavers and wood workers.



  Gonder was the 17th Century capital of Ethiopia and is notable for its medieval castles and churches. The City's gonderunique imperial compound contains a number of castles built between 1632 and 1855 by the various emperors who reigned during this period. These dramatic castles, unlike others in Africa, display richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia. Other treasures of Gonder include the 18th century palace of Ras Beit, the bath of Fasilades, the ruined palace of Kusquam, and the church of Debre Berhane Selassie with its unique murals  



Although Lalibela is unique, it is not the sole site of Ethiopia's famous rock-hewn churches. In Tigray near Makale, over 200 fine examples of these monuments to man's devotion to God, as well as his building skills, may be seen.
The capital of the Emperor Yohannnes IV (1871 - 1889), Makale is now the main town of Tigray, the northern most Ethiopian region. The emperor's palace has been turned into a particularly interesting museum, with many exhibits of his time and subsequent history. The town is also well known as a transit point for the camel caravans bringing salt up from the arid lands of the Danakil Depression. Intrepid visitors can also make excursions into the Danakil to visit some of the Afar nomads that trek across the region.




Dating back to 1520, the city of Harar is an ancient and holy city. Always an important trading centre, the city is famous for its ancient buildings, its great city walls and with 99 mosques; the town is also known as a centre of muslim learning. The city is noted for its superb handicrafts that include woven textiles, basketware, silverware and handsomely bound books. Harar has been a place of pilgrimage from all over the world for many years.
         (Source: - Ethiopian Airlines magazine)