This voyage leads to the rich historic sites; passes through scenic highlands and spectacular panoramas. The monasteries on lake Tana with the Blue Nile Falls, the 13th Century monolithic Rock-Hewn churches of King Lalibella, the stele & tombs of the Axumite Kings, the rock churches found in Tigray region, other churches dating back to the 4th –15th Centuries and 7th C mosque of Negashi in Tigray, shrines in Harar, Dire Dawa, Sof Omar, Sheik Hussein and others are parts of the package.
In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645 km from Addis Ababa, eleven medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksum Empire.
There are two main groups of churches – to the north of the river Jordan: Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), Biete Mariam (House of Mary), Biete Maskal (House of the Cross), Biete Denagel (House of Virgins), Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael); and to the south of the river, Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos), Biete Gabriel Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael), and Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread). The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches.
The churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc. This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.
Gondar Fasil castel
For their seat of government, they had to make do with what are known in the historical literature as ‘roving tent capitals’. Tired of this migratory and nomadic lifestyle of so many of his forefathers, Emperor Fassiledes founded Gondar in 1636 and had the first and most magnificent of the castles built. Succeeding Emperors made their own additions mostly within the same castle compound. Although the exact date of construction of this imposing edifice is not known, a Yemeni ambassador visiting Gondar in 1648 described it as “one of the most marvelous of buildings”. Emperor Fassil is to be admired for another pioneering endeavor in the history of Ethiopian civil works. No less than four stone bridges (two on the Blue Nile and the other two on the rivers around Gondar) are credited to him.
Axum – Mysterious Monoliths
Among all the different narratives, the Ethiopian Legend – where Sheba’s name becomes Makeda – is the richest and the most convincing. It appears in the ‘Glory of Kings’ (the Kebra Negast), the Ethiopian national saga written in the 14th century.
Christianity came to the Axumite Kingdom early in the 4th century when two Christian youths from Syria, Frumentius and Adesius, landed from a ship on the Axumite coast. During Ezana’s rule Frumentius was appointed the Kingdom’s first Archbishop, after which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church continued to recruit Axumites to the Christian faith.
The oldest church in Africa, south of the Sahara, is the first St Mary of Zion Church, originally built around the 4th century. Emperor Fasilidas replaced it with a newer church around 1635 which is still a place of active worship, notable for its crenellated, fortress-like walls.
The modern Chapel next to St Mary of Zion church is said to contain the sacred Ark of the Covenant, but no one except the Orthodox priest who serves as the chapel’s custodian is allowed to enter the building.
Still accessible today are underground vaults believed to be the tombs of the 5th century King Kaleb and his son, King Gabre Meske!’ Steep steps made of large blocks of neatly-carved stone, which fit together precisely without any mortar to hold them in place, lead down to a labyrinth of galleries containing what appear to be coffins. Coins minted in the reign of King Kaleb are among the thousands of Axumite gold, silver, and bronze coins unearthed since that period.
Although is largely desert and low-lying savannah, Harerge’s northern reaches are mountainous and fertile, and it is there where the country’s only stretch of railway bisects the tip of the zone, leading from the nation’s capital to the port of Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.
This railway, which plays an extremely important role in the modern Ethiopian economy, carrying a large share of its imports and exports, was first conceived by the Swiss craftsman Alfred Ilg, who arrived in the country in 1877 to take up the post of technical adviser to Emperor Menelik. It was a mammoth undertaking and fraught with problems.
For every kilometre of line, more than seventy tonnes of rails, sleepers, and telegraph poles had to be transported not to mention sand, cement, water, and provisions for the workers. The terrain was difficult: two large viaducts and many smaller earthworks had to be built within the first fifty or so kilometres of line, and others further inland. To minimize cost, a narrow gauge of only one metre was adopted, but expensive iron sleepers had to be used in view of the presence of termites, which could be expected to consume anything made of wood.
The national museum is one of the places within the city frequented by tourists. Set within Haile Selassie’s former palace, the museum contains numerous antiquities, various historical relics, archaeological, paleontologist objects including the 3.5 million-year-old skeleton of Lucy.