Ethiopia’s uniqueness makes it a fascinating destination for every kind of traveller, but in particular for the traveller who wants that bit more. Ethiopia’s historic sites are extremely wide-ranging and possibly the most extensive in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Experts claim that such sites are only a fraction of what Ethiopia has to offer given that a further 95% remain to be discovered and excavated.
Seven of Ethiopia's cultural heritage sights are included in the world cultural heritage list:
1. The Simien Mountain National Park (North Gondar Zone)
The Simien mountain is one of the major highlands of Africa, rising to the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen (4620m), which is the fourth highest peak in the continent. Although Simien is in Africa and not too far from the equator, snow and ice appear on the highest points and night temperatures often fall below zero.
The national park has three general botanical regions. The higher lands are mountain grasslands with fescue grasses as well as heathers, splendid Red Hot Pokers and Giant Lobelia. The park was created primarily to protect the Walia Ibex, and over 1000 are said to live in the park. Also in the park are families of the unique Gelada Baboon with its scarlet ‘bleeding heart on its chest,’ and the rare Simien fox. The Simien fox, although named after the mountains is rarely seen by the visitor. Over 50 species of birds have been reported in the Simien mountains.
Access to the park is from Debark, 101km from Gonder, where riding and pack animals may be hired. This should be arranged in advance through your local tour operator or the Office of the Wildlife Conservation Department.
2. The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (North Wollo Zone)
Lalibela, 642 kilometres from Addis Ababa, is internationally-renowned for its rock-hewn churches which are sometimes called the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Physically prised from the rock in which they stand, these monolithic churches were originally thought to have been built in the 12th century during the reign of King Lalibela, but some have been dated back to the 10th century. There are eleven churches, assembled in three groupings:
The Northern Group: Bete Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. It is linked to Bete Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bete Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.
The Western Group: Bete Giyorgis, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.
The Eastern Group: Bete Amanuel , Bete Merkorios, Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael.
Further a field lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church.
3. The Castles of Gondar and other monuments (Gondar)
748 kilometres from Addis Ababa is the graceful city of Gondar, founded by Emperor Fasilidas in 1635. The city was Ethiopia's capital until the reign of the would-be reforming Emperor Tewodros II, also known as Theodore. During its long years as a capital city, the settlement emerged as one of the largest and most popular cities in the realm. It was a great centre of commerce, trading with the rich lands south of the Blue Nile, as well as with Sudan to the west, and the Red Sea port of Massawa to the north-east.
Gondar is famous for its many medieval castles and the design and decoration of its churches. The earliest of the castles was created by Fasilidas himself and is still in such an excellent state of repair that it is possible to climb its stats all the way to the roof, which commands a breathtaking view over much of the city.
Besides the famous palaces, visitors can inspect the so-called "Bathing Palace of Emperor Fasilidas" which is used for the annual Timket or Epiphany celebrations, and the abbey of the redoubtable eighteenth century Empress Menteweb at Qwesquam, in the mountains just outside Gondar.
4. Awash Lower Valley palaeontological and prehistoric sites
Awash Lower Valley
5. Axum historical and archaeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region)
Axum historical and archaeological sites, central Tigray (Tigray Region) Rightly famous for its obelisks, Axum was the capital of the Axumite kingdom – once one of the four kingdoms of the world. It was also home to the Queen of Sheba whose ruined palace and bathing pool can still be found in and near the town.
6. Valley of the Omo, palaeontological and prehistoric sites (South Omo zone)
Valley of the Omo, palaeontological and prehistoric sites (South Omo zone)
7. Tiya pre-historical and archaeological sites.