Category: Historical Attractions

The sixth century BC, Ethiopia’s historic route begins with a glance at the tantalizing remains of Yeha –the country’s earliest high civilization. In a remote part of Tigray region, Yeha rests several hours drive from the more accessible city of Axum, the journey takes you on rough tracks through dramatic highland scenery and eventually ends in a beautiful and serene agricultural hamlet. It is there, close to a much more recent Christian church, that you may see the towering ruins of Yeha temple of the moon –built than 2,500 years ago, in Sabaen times.

The temple is an imposing rectangular edifice. Thought it has been long since it is lost its roof and upper story, the ruins stand some twelve meters in height. As evening falls, the temple’s finely dressed and polished limestone reflects the glow of the setting sun with warmth and brilliance that cannot be accidental. The huge, precisely fitted block from which the inward –inclining walls are formed seem to the bear out ancient opinion that Sabaean building could be filled with water without a single drop being lost.

Temple of Yeha

It is an important pre-Axumite archaeological site mainly known by the large square temple and dated to 500B.C. The temple was built using stone blocks without mortar, and is supposed to be the oldest building in Ethiopia. The ruins of the temple consist of a single roofless oblong chamber. The remaining one wall of the temple is still standing to a height of 12 meters. Many stone-carved inscriptions were also discovered in and around Yeha. They are most likely the earliest inscriptions that have ever been discovered in Ethiopia.


Tigray, the north part of Ethiopia, pervades an area of 53,638 sqm. Endowed with picturesque land features, the region with altitude that varies from 600-2700 meters above sea level .it has a population that number about 3.6 million.

As the birthplace of Ethiopian civilizations, Tigray house many treasures of interest to historians and tourists who wish to learn more of its two to three-thousand-year-old past. Sites such as Yeha and Axum revels monuments attesting to very early engineering feats, architectural skills, and techniques. During its time as a major world power, the Axumite Empire maintained trade relations with Rome, Greece, Persia, and India and also as recently discovered, China. It reached the peak of its development in the first centuries of the Christian era. Then beginning in the 4th century, it was linked to the Coptic church of Alexandria Egypt. Due to its gifted nature of land the region has several clusters of rock Hewn churches, such as Wokro Cherkos, Abrah-Atsebaha, Atsbi Wonberta, Mikael Barka, Debreselam-Mikael, Mikael Imba, Mikael –Milhaizengi, Medhane Alem Adi Kesho, Gheralta cluster, and Maria Wokoro are some of the list mentioned rock-hewn churches of Tigray region

Rock-hewn Churches of Tigray

Tigray is recognized as the cradle of the ancient Ethiopian civilization. The Yeha temple and the Axumite monolithic steleas testify to this. Numerous archeological sites underline the long history of the region, where the first Christian state in the world was established in the fourth century. Thus the old churches of Tigray are the testimony to this history.The rock-hewn churches are a landmark achievement of church building in Ethiopia. Lalibela being the most famous, but so many others to be found in Tigray. Abreha Atsbeha is one of the outstanding rock hewn churches, found beautifully situated between Wukro and Hawzien. The spacious high barrel-shaped ceiling contains various artful ancient works of art.


The first European to describe the rock churches of Lalibela ascribe the creation to one of the last kings of the Zagwe dynasty, Lalibela, who reigned about 1200A.D.The Zagwe Dynasty had come to power in the eleventh century, one hundred years after Queen Judith a ferocious woman warrior had led her tribes up from semein Mountains to destroy Axum, the capital of the ancient Ethiopia Empire in the north.

The Zagwe kings ruled until the thirteenth century, when a famous priest, tekel Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favor of the descendant of the old Axumite dynasty.Lalibela grew up in Roha, where his brother was king. It is said that bees prophesied his future greatness, social advance and coming riches. In Lalibela you will find main groups of churches, one on each side of the river Jordan and the other church set apart from the rest. The town of Roha –Lalibela lies between the first and the second group of churches.

There are twelve churches and chapels, including various shrines. Four churches are monolithic in the strict sense; the reaming are excavated churches in different degrees of separation from the rock .the churches in group are set on several levels .to carry off the heavy summer rains. The trenches serve as a drainage system to the river Jordan .with churches whose placing conforms to the slope of the terrain, the ridge of the roof ,gutter edges the base of the plinth are slanted in line with it .

Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela

The beginning of rock-cut churches in Ethiopia is dated to the 6th century by the Nine Saints. This rock-church tradition is associated with the birth and burial places of Jesus Christ, which were a cave in Bethelem and carved rock in Gologotha, respectively. In addition to this symbolic importance, churches were built from rocks perhaps for their physical durability and long-lasting.

Although the tradition of rock-hewn church excavation was started earlier in 6th century, it reached at its high level of development during the period of Zagwe Dyansty, particularly during the reign of King Lalibela in the 12th century. In this regard, the famous rock-hewn churches of Laiblea are best examples.
The prominent rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are eleven in number and situated in three groups separated by the seasonal river Jordan. Churches of the first group are believed to have been built first and are usually visited first by many of the tourists. They are Bete Medhane-Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Mesekel, Bete Denagel, Bete Golgotha and Bete Debre Sina. Churches of the second group are situated south of the Jordan River and comprise Bete Gabriel, Bete Amanuel, Bete Merkorios, and Bete Abba Libanos. In the third group, there is only one isolated church i.e Bete Giorgis. It is located a few minutes walk to the south west of both the first and second group of churches.


Harar was established by Sultan Abu Beker Mohammed in 1520. Harar, the Holy City of Ethiopia’s Muslim community, is believed to be the forth-holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The old City Wall of Harar is the main attraction and symbol of Islamic architecture. Harar has approximately 90 mosques, which form the largest concentration of mosques in the world. One of Harar’s main attractions is the hyena man who feeds hyenas on the outskirts of the town every night.

Harar is a walled city which stands on the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley. The city location gives wonderful views of the surrounding country, the vast Danakil desert to the north, the fertile Harar Mountains to the west and the cattle rich Oganden plains to the south. Harar was a fiercely religious city and was a forbidden city (closed to visitors) until 1887 when Menelik restored central rule .with its 99 mosques, including the 16th century grand mosques with its beautiful twin towers and slender minaret, it is considered to be the fourth most holy city in Islam after Mecca,Medina and the dome of the rock in Jerusalem .

Attractions; Medhane Alem church excellent examples of traditional regional art, the community museum have displays was of life in earlier times. The 16 century grand mosque, women are not permitted inside the mosque. The vibrant market place is regarded as one of the most colorful in all Ethiopia.
Ras mekonin’s house is where Haile Selassie spent most of his childhood. The Amhar Mountains around harar produce some of the best coffee in Ethiopia. Harar is famed for its silversmiths, and there are beautiful necklaces, bracelets and chains to be found in the market . The basketry is also impressive. There are two colorful markets in Harar , the Christian and the Muslim ,which are separated from one another.

The hyena Men of Harar collect offal and bones to feed to the wild hyenas usually about 100 meters outside the fallena Gate of the old city walls of the town . Hyenas appear just after sunset to take food from their hands .there is a charge for watching the display starts about 1900 finishing at about 2000.


Gondar, which Emperor Fasilides found as his capital in 1632, is the site of numerous castle – like palace, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The city was Ethiopia’s capital until the reign of emperor Tewodros II, also known as Theodre. During the long years when it was a capital the settlement emerged as one of the largest and most populous, city in the realm. It was a great commercial center .trading with the rich lands south of Blue Nile, as well as with Sudan , o the west , inhabitants include many rich catholic and Muslim merchants , as well as number of Falashas or Judaic Ethiopians also called Bete Israel ,who were predominately weavers, blacksmiths and potters , as well as palace and church builders .besides the famous palaces in the royal compound , visitors should inspect the so-called Bathing palace of Emperor Fasilidas , which is used or the annual Timket , or Epiphany , celebrations ; the ruins o the palace and abbey , of the redoubtable 18th century empress Mewntewab , at Qwesquam ,in the mountains just outside Gonder , and the church Deber Berhan Selassie ,with its remarkable ceiling decorated with winged angels.

Gondar and its medieval period


The historic Gonderine town is very popular mainly because of the marvelous castles in the royal enclosure. There are six graceful castles in the palace compound built by the successive Gonderine Kings of the 17th and 18th centuries. The tradition was first set by Emperor Fassiledes and then followed by his successors. The castle were built from local stone, hard dark brown basalt and red volcanic lava held together with lime mortar within the fortified royal compound at about 70,000 square meters. The 12 symbolic entrances (gates) of the palace compound have various names and represent the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ.


Some 76 kilometers from Axum city is the monastery of Debre damo (closed to women) which is the 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.

Debre Damo Monastery

Debre Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Debre Damo was built, in the 6th century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centered on the “Nine Saints” who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region. One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo. The other eight saints settled around Tigray countryside and all have their own church named after them.

Debre Damo is only accessible by climbing up by a rope, which is made of “plaited leather”, lowered from the cliffs, which visitors tie around their waist and are then pulled up by a monk at the top of the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and male animals. Women and even female animals are forbidden to set a foot into the monastery, and must remain under the cliffs and pray from there.


Bahar Dar meaning lake shore city, is 560 km far from Addis Ababa. Bahar Dar is the capital regional town of the Amhar region. It has a daily flight of Ethiopian airlines, a number of good hotels and it is located on the southern shore of Lake Tana. This is the source of the Blue Nile, with its most spectacular feature, the Tis Isat waterfalls. many of the lake Tana Island have historic churches , such as the island of Dega .on the island of Dega Esatifanos you will find the monastery of Dek Setifanos which has a priceless collection of icons and manuscripts and houses the mummified remains of a number of Ethiopian emperor.


The legacy of the queen of Sheba lies just below the shifting sands, and hewn churches out of the sheer rock attract wide-eyed tourists. the African nations historic route begins in the ancient city of Axum .which date to about 100 B.C the capital city was the first place In Ethiopia to adopt a new religion Christianity. According to the Old Testament, the queen of Sheba was born in Axum but traveled to Israel to meet King Solomon .they had a son named Menelik, who later become the first emperor of Ethiopia. Menelik brought the original arc, which once housed the ten commandments .remains well hidden in Axum .it is guarded by a selected group of monks, whose sole commitment is to protect the sacred vessel.

Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculptures that are more than two thousand years old .their significance is still under investigation by archaeologists. Ethiopia oldest city, Axum dates back some 2,000 years to when it was the hub of the Axum empire .the queen of Sheba made it her capital 1,000 years before Christ. The Ethiopian Orthodox church was founded here in the fourth century .made of single blocks of granite, the tallest stood over 33 meters high – the largest monolith in the world. The biggest now standing is 23 meters high. The 1,700 years old Axum obelisk has arrived back to Ethiopia, 68 years after it was looted by Italian fascists. seized back in 1937 by Italian troops, it was taken to Rome where it remained .the 16th century church of St Mary of Zion is the holiest Christian sanctuary in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia believe that the church house the arc of covenant containing the tables on which Moses wrote the ten commandments.

 Axum and Its Ancient Civilizations

For a large number of years in ancient time, Axum had been served as a political and religious center of Ethiopia. It was the capital of the Axumite Kingdom and considered as the first well-known permanent capital in the history of the country. It has still a considerable symbolic role for the Ethiopian church and state. During its long history, Axum greatly contributed too many human developments. It has been a repository of tremendous archeological and historical treasures including the steel, the rock-tombs, temples, the palaces, the stone thrones and others.


Ankober was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Shoa, with Merid Azmatch Amha Iyesus (1745-1775), a ruler descended from the Solomonic dynasty, credited as being the founder. His descendents ruled from Ankober for around a hundred years and a number of Shoan rulers are buried in churches in the area.
During the reign of Emperor Menelik II, Britain, France and Italy established diplomatic missions in Ankober, and the sites of their missions can still be distinguished. Menelik married Itegue Taytu at the Ankober Medhane Alem Church, where the golden wedding cloak is still kept. In 1886 Menelik decided to move the capital to its current location, Addis Ababa.
There are many famous Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries and churches in the area surrounding Ankober, including Mantiq a nearby monastery with Judeo-Christian traditions. The nineteenth century Catholic missionary, Aba Massayas, started missionary activities in neighboring Fiqre Gimb, making the area one of the most important historical centers of Catholicism in Ethiopia. Ankober Palace hill overlooks the spectacular scenery of the Rift Valley, stretching from the Red Sea to the plains of Afar Region.