- Simien Mountain
No place for hyperbole’s here. No need to resort to over-worked adjectives. For the sights of the Semien are genuinely and universally awe-inspiring — forcing all simply to contemplation. One is compelled to want to know the forces and powers that have enabled these wonders. The Semien Mountains National Park has many summits above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) with Ras Dashen, the highest point in Ethiopia and the fourth highest in Africa being 4,620 meters (15,157 feet). With at least three general botanical zones, the park is known for its distinct ecology, animals and vegetation. Three of Ethiopia’s seven large endemic mammals — the Walia Ibex, Gelada Baboon and Simien Red Fox — are found here. Known as the “Roof of Africa” and located 120 km from Gondar, the Semien Mountains National Park was the first of the country’s nine World Heritage Sites to be designated Visitors to the park should be prepared for the possibility of warm days and the likelihood of sunburn. November and December are the coldest months — maximum temperature during the day is about 150C (600F) and at night it drops to 30 – 50C (350- 400F).
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS -“CHESS PIECES OF THE GODS
The Simien Mountains present the most dramatic mountain scenery in Africa: “the chess pieces of the Gods” as one writer described them, tower over precipitous gorges, river valleys and plains stretching all the way to Eritrea.
Some 200 years of relative peace and stability, made a renaissance of Ethiopian civilization known as the Gonderine period possible in the seventeenth century. At this time a rich and distinct expression of architecture, art, music and literature flourished. Great care and attention was also paid to the pursuit of leisure and to providing the luxuries for the elite classes of society. Embellishments such as Turkish bath installations, the kitchen complex of Mintewab’s palace, the amusement park of Fassil and the dedication of a mausoleum to a horse attest to this. Gondar was known for its medieval pageantry, gilded regalia and extravagant ceremonies.
THE GONDAR CASTLES
Following the demise of Lalibela toward the end of the 13th century, Ethiopia had no national capital for hundreds of years. The emperors had to keep on the move on constant campaigns to safeguard their vast empire and ensure allegiance to their rule. 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.
Bahir Dar has always been a center 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, colorful markets and handicraft and weaving centers, 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 monks 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 Blue Nile Falls are a waterfall on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. They are known as Tis Issat in Amharic, when translated,means “smoking water” They are situated on the upper course of the river, about 30 kilometers downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana.
A unique settlement that is considered to be a prime model for self-help and above all gender equality. Women have equal rights as men and there is no distinction in division of labor, men cook and women plow. The main means of livelihood for the community is weaving. There’s home for the elderly with 24 hour care and a committee that helps out new mothers, who also get three months of maternity leave.
The Ethiopian epic, the Kibre Negest (Glory of the Kings) tells us that Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the original Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum and thereby established one of the world’s longest known and uninterrupted monarchical dynasties.Impressive ruins, monuments and archaeological artifacts abound in and around Axum attesting to the solid, articulate, confident, literate and resourceful strength of this civilization. Axum’s most popular known insignia art is its mysterious monolithic stelae made of single pieces of granite with identical decorations. The biggest of them, now fallen is 33 meters high and weighs 500 tones, making it the largest monolith in the world.
Some 55 km east of Axum, this is the most important pre-Axumite site and perhaps Ethiopia’s oldest capital. The 5th century BC Temple at Yeha, displaying incredible skills in stonework, is the oldest building still standing in Ethiopia.
DEBRE DAMO MONASTERY
Situated atop a 3,000m-high amba (tableland), and accessible only with the aid of a leather rope operated by the monks, the founder Abune Aregawi – one of the nine holy men who immigrated from Syria – was carried up the 15 m-high cliff by a flying serpent, so the legend goes. Built in the 6th century, Debre Damo is the oldest monastery in Ethiopia while its stone Church is said to be the oldest still standing. The monastery is off limit to females.
This village is the site of the first Muslem settlement granted to Islamic refugees by the king of Axum at the time of Mohammed in 7th century AD. The present day mosque is said to stand on the site of the original, also dating back to the 7th century. The shrine has great significance to Ethiopian Muslims and is the focus of an annual pilgrimage and festival.
“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 Lalibela (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.
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 perfectly 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.
Genete Mariam is one of the most interesting outlying churches, a large monolith carved into a pink-tinged outcrop near the source of the Tekaze River. Supported by pillars, the church is very different from any of the excavation in Lalibela that it is not hidden within a trench, but carved openly on a rocky hilltop – though the cover of scaffolding rather detracts from the impact of seeing from afar according to tradition Genata Mariam was excavated during the reign of Yakuno Amlak, the king who ‘restored’ the Solomonic line in the early 13th century.
Yimrehanna Kristos Lying 42KM northeast of Lalibela,Yimrehanna Kristos it is an exquisite Church, a masterpiece of Axumite wood and stone construction and renowned for its interior decoration, it’s beautiful wooden coffer ceiling inlaid with hexagons and medallions with both figurative and geometric motifs.
Naakute Le’Abe King Nakuto abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. This cave has ever since became a monastery and has dramatic setting.
Asheten Mariam A 13th C. rock hewn monastery found about 8 kms from Lalibela lying on an altitude of almost 4,000m. It is carved out of a cleft into a cliff face. The setting of the church and the view on the way up is a rewarding experience.
Arbatu Enssessa An old church detached from the surrounding rock on two sides. The pillars and doors mimicking the Axumite design. It is dedicated to the four beasts, symbol of the four evangelists who followed Kidus Yohanesss.
Bilbala Giorgis Found 30 km North West of Lalibela ,this church is excavated only in the front and is often surrounded by a swarm of supposedly sacred bees. Powder made from crushed rocks near is believed to be a valuable skin treatment. Bilbala Cherqos A semi-monolithic church properly orientated and has been worked from a piece tuff from east to west. It is architecturally reminiscent of the facade of Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el and the admirable murals depicting saints and the Evangelists in the interior are of particular interest to the visitor.