Ethiopia is most well known as being the possible cradle of humankind. Fossil remains (the famous Lucy) discovered in northeastern Ethiopia have been dated to roughly 3.5 million years, making them the earliest known example of an upright walking hominid. The oldest known stone tools, dating to 2.4 million years, were also found in this same region. But Ethiopia has numerous other claims to fame, including the mysterious granite obelisks of Axum, the extraordinary rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and - most enigmatic of all - the church of St. Mary of Zion, probable location of the Holy Arc of the Covenant.

Northern Ethiopia

With a history dating back over 2000 years, Axum is a centre of lovely legends, splendid monuments and ongoing archaeological research. Legend has it that the queen of Sheba lived here and that the ruined palace to be seen in the town today was built by the legendary queen. Her son, Menelik I. fruit of her-sojourn with King Solomon, is also supposed to have been born here. Legend further elaborates that Menelik brought with him from Israel the Ark of the Covenant, which is now housed in a guarded sanctuary. Axum is a holy city to Ethiopians, for it was to Axum that Christianity was brought in the 4th century in the region of King Izana, by Freminatus, who was letter consecrated Bishop of Axum by St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria. The great stone monoliths of Axum, called stelae, are awe-inspiring. The largest of them all, once standing 34 meters, now tying broken in the ground, - was the tallest standing monolith in the world.

Lalibella, the site of 11 spectacular rock- hewn churches is an important historical attraction in Ethiopia. King Lalibella (r.1180 - 1221) was one of the kings of the Zagwe Dynasty which flourished after the fall of the Axumite Empire in the 10th century A.D. According to some sources king Lalibella constructed the churches in an attempt to create the second Jerusalem at the heart of Ethiopia. The area on which the churches are found covers about two square kilometres. The churches were excavated in the red volcanic stuff of mount Abuna Joseph in massive rectangular blocks. Out of these blokes the craftsmen chiselled the ceilings and walls 30 to 50 feet high, floors on varying levels, individual rooms, windows, columns and arches. They surrounded the churches with an extensive system of drainage ditches.

The eleven churches differ widely from each other, yet have certain typical features in common in their magnificent architecture. They are all basilica inform. There is no piece of wood in all of the construction. The columns which divide the nave and aisles, the altars, the windows the relief and paintings exhibit the fantastic skill of the masons and sculptors. The rock- hewn churches of Lalibella have long been one of the most constant sources of fascination of all the wonders which Ethiopia offers to world. They are one of world's most incredible man made creations, and lasting monuments to man's faith in God. A Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvarez, who visited the churches in 1520 wrote as follows, "It wearied me to write more of these works, because it seems to me that they will not believe me if I write more, and because as to what I have already written they will accuse me of untruth. Therefore, I swear by God, in whose power I am, that all that is written is the truth and there is much more than I have already written, and I have left it that they may not tax with its being false hood." Even today many tourists say the same thing with Alvarez about the Lalibella churches but using different words.

For visitors who are interested to see more rock- hewn churches, the surrounding area of Lalibela and Tigray offer many more. Some are situated in inaccessible places so that travel to visit them can be only managed by walking, mule transport and even rope - the famous "Chains of Heaven" at Debre Damo.

Two imperial castles are reminders that at one time Mekele was the capital of Ethiopia. In the market, the rock salt carried from the Danakil dessert is still bartered today. Mekele is a rapidly developing town, center of agriculture and industrial development. From Mekele, excursion can be made to see the most beautiful of innumerable medieval rock-hewn churches, cut and hidden in the r

Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia between the 17th and 19th century. It became the royal capital in 1636, in the time of Emperor Fasiledes, who built the first and most famous of the castles. The establishment of the city marked a major turning point in Ethiopia's long history. For the previous half millennium the country had been without long-enduring capital and its rulers had indeed spent much of their times marching from camp to camp until their last resting place. The emergence of Gondar marked the end of this era of moving capitals for the city remained the centre of Ethiopian government until the second half of the 19th century. Emperor Fasiledes erected fine two storied castle at Gondar. It is marvellous building, worthy of admiration, and the most beautiful of the outstanding wonders. Another building constructed by Fasiledes was the Bathing place now called after him. The pool is still filled with water each year for the annual Timket, or Epiphany, celebrations. The development of the city which had been begun by Fasiledes was continued by his son, Yohannes I and grandson Iyasu I. These and other kings constructed other castles.

In the hills North West of the city of Gondar, was also site of numerous impressive buildings. Mintwab, the mother of Iyasu II was instrumental in the construction of these palaces. The palace is one of the most attractive of the Gondar buildings.

Situated on the southern extremity of Lake Tana, Bahir Dar is a decidedly attractive town with palm-lined avenues and pretty lakeside vistas. Nearby Lake Tana, 1,800 meters above sea level, is one of the long hidden source of the Nile. The Tissiat falls (meaning water that smokes) are 30 kms down from where the Blue Nile leaves the lake towards Khartoum. Approached by foot up a long winding path and crossing a 17th century bridge built by Emperor Fasiledes, the falls cascade down 50 metres over a 400mts area. Lake Tana's 3600 sq.kms surface is dotted with more than 30islands, many of which are the sites of monasteries and churches, some dating from the 14th century in the reign of Emperor Amde Tsion. A motor boat takes you from the charming market town of Bahir Dar to Ura Kidanemihret, a monastery on the mainland peninsula at Zhegie, where a treasury of ancient illuminated bibles is stored. Along the way, papyrus canoes are used by the local people since ages past for fishing and gathering firewood.

Southern Ethiopia

Arba Minch city is located about 505kms from Addis in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State. Arbaminch Paradise Lodge is situated on the hilly side of Setcha surrounding itself with the natural beauty of the environment.

Basing itself among the forty springs found in the deep jungle of Arba Minch, one feels like touching the natural beauty of the place.

There is also the natural "God's Bridge" which seems to hug lakes Abaya and lake Chamo with love to add to the beauty of the surrounding scenery.



Image Gallery