Northern Ethiopia, an open air museum in a magnificent landscape
Most people travel to Africa for safari or to see wildlife and tribes. But, in the north of Ethiopia you will discover a completely different Africa with monuments that speak of an ancient civilization which can be compared with the Greek and Roman civilizations, 17th century castles where kings lived in excessive luxury, playing their political games and also innumerable rock hewn churches, hidden jewels in the rough landscape of Tigray. Contact us to get more information or book a tour to see the treasures of North Ethiopia with your own eyes. See also our Tour program Historical North or book for the group tour with fixed departure date.
Many treasures are still hidden under the earth, waiting to be excavated. Many mysteries still have to be unravelled. Who has made the design for the 12 Rock Hewn Churches in Lalibela and what techniques were used to cut oaltut a perfectly shaped church from one single piece of rock?.......How were the huge Axumite Obelisks erected? Was it really by the power of the ark of the Covenant, as the priests in Axum will tell you?......Who has built the temple of the moon in Yeha, more than 2500 years ago and who were their ancestors?
Besides that, while travelling through north Ethiopia, the landscape and nature will never be boring. Planes with vivid green Teff, rough and capricious shaped mountains, breathtaking descents analtd views, rivers in deep gorges and moon-like landscapes pass your eyes.
Colourful markets can be visited in different places. In the small coffee houses, you can taste the real Ethiopian coffee and atmosphere or you can visit a restaurant or bar to enjoy traditional music and dance. The hospitable people of Amhara or Tigray will joyfully receive you in their houses as a honoured guest to taste something of daily life and culture in an Ethiopian family.
Highlights of northern ethiopia
"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 altLalibela (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. In reality, Lalibela is not so very well accessible! 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 altperfectly 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 Churches of Tigray
These churches prove that there has been a long tradition of building rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia before the churches in Lalibela were constructed. Probably this technique started in the Axumite time. There are more than 120 known churchesalt in Tigray. Many of them are difficult to access, cut out in steep cliff faces or in caves, most probably for reasons of security. And indeed, the churches have survived more than 1000 years of battles and wars.
The most famous is Debre Damo monastery, built in the 6th century A.D. as locals tell you, only accessible by climbing a steep cliff using a rope. For ages and ages, monks have been living here a retired, self-sufficient life. The monastery is only accessible to men. The biggest church is built in the Axumite style with beautiful carved wooden panels on the beams and ceiling.
Axum was the capital of the great empire of Axum (0 - 700 A.D.), also called "the last of the great altcivilizations of Antiquity to be revealed to modern knowledge". It is the birthplace of Ethiopian civilization. Axum became powerful because of trade via its harbour Adulis, on the Red sea. In the first century, its imports from Egypt, Arabia and India are mentioned by a Greek speaking Egyptian sailor. Nowadays Axum is a small city filled with monuments such as the huge 2000 years old Stellaes, tombs, ruins, carvinaltgs and inscriptions which are silent testimonies of its glorious past. This is only a fraction of its treasures of which 98% are still hidden under the earth.
It is said that the original biblical "Ark of the Covenant", built by Moses by the order of God,is kept in the old St. Mary of Zion Church. As the legendl tells, the ark was brought to Ethiopia by Menelik, the son of king Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba, around 900 B.C. Whether you believe it or not, Axum is really a city of mysteries.
Not far from Axum the remains of the oldest known capital of Ethiopia can be visited. This was Yeha, probably built by Sabeans from southern Arabia. The most important ruins there are from the temple of the moon, a pre-Christian temple built in the 5th - 8th century before Christ. It has an astonishing construction of big sandstone blocks which fit perfectly together. Contact us to get more information or book a tour to discover the unique beauty of North Ethiopia with your own eyes! See also our Tour program Historical North or book for the group tour with fixed departure date
This is a very important historical place. Here the Italians were defeated by the Ethiopians in 1896, one of the very few occasions when a colonial power was defeated by a native force. Thus Ethiopia became a shining example for other African nations in their struggle for freedom. To this day, the victory of Adwa is celebrated annually. The surrounding of Adwa with its capricious shaped mountains makes it worth a visit.
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, colourful wall paintings of biblical scenes and medieval history. From the ceiling, 80 angels with Ethiopian features are watching you with their big brown eyes.
Bah Dar and Lake Tana
Bah Dar has always been a centre 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, colourful markets and handicraft and weaving centres, 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 maltonks 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.
The source of the Blue Nile has long been a mystery that fascinated the ancient Romans and Greeks. It was not until the expeditions of such great travellers as Brualtce, Burton and Speke that the secret was revealed and it was confirmed that the Blue Nile pours out of Lake Tana.
Thirty kilometres downstream, the Blue Nile thunders down a 50 metre drop and forms the 400 metre wide, magnificent Tissisat Falls. This means "smoke of fire". For every visitor, it is always an impressive and magnificent experience to stand at the foot of the waterfall in the constant spray of mist which cloaks the surrounding cliffs, creating iridescent rainbows and hearing the thunderous noise of the water plunging down. Unfortunately, because of the construction of several dams upstream, the fall can only occasionally be seen in its full power, when the dams are opened.
The Blue Nile Gorge is another impressive manifestation of The Blue Nile. Take time to enjoy the magnificent Grand Canyon like view before going down into the gorge more than 1000 metres.
Click on Semien Mountains to read about this magnificent National Park