Ethiopia has an unequaled range of natural habitats, ranging from the extraordinary peaks and ambas (flat-topped summits) of the Simien Mountains at over 4,000 meters, to the Danakil Depression, 120 meters below sea-level, one of the lowest points as well as the hottest place on Earth. There are Afro-Alpine highlands, moors and mountains, deep gorges, the Sof Omar caves (the most extensive in Africa), the Great Rift Valley and its many lakes, tropical rain forests, white-water rivers and rock climbing faces, savannahs, waterfalls, volcanic hot springs and a volcano or two. These are supplemented by a wealth of historic, cultural, religious, archaeological and anthropological sites, including the northern “historic route” which incorporates the former capitals of Gondar (17and 18th centuries), Axum (1st-8th centuries), and Lalibela (12th-13th centuries) with its spectacular rock-hewn churches, as well as the monasteries on Lake Tana (and the Blue Nile falls), and the numerous rock churches of Tigray region, many dating to the 14-16th centuries, or even earlier.
The capital, Addis Ababa, this year is celebrating the 125th year of its foundation by the Emperor Minelik in 1887. The story goes that he built a palace on top of the Entoto Hills a thousand metres above the future site of Addis Ababa. His wife, the Empress Taitu, finding the hilltop too cold and wet, removed to the hot springs at the bottom of the hill and refused to return. After waiting two years, Minelik had to relocate his palace as the only way to see his wife again. There is now a museum, the Entoto St. Mary Museum, on top of the Entoto Hills, the original site of the imperial settlement, 3,200 meters above sea level. It holds articles of historical significance including imperial crowns, ceremonial dresses of the Emperor Minelik and the Empress Taitu, and drums used on the march to the battle of Adwa where the Italians were defeated in 1896.The National Museum of Ethiopia holds the earliest hominid skeletons of Lucy (3.4 million years old) and Ramidus (4.4 million years old), as well as jewellery, costumes, paintings and sculptures. The Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is on the site of the former imperial palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and now part of Addis Ababa University. The Zoological Natural History Museum has displays of Ethiopia’s wealth of wildlife, including many examples of the country’s endemic species of rodents, bats, carnivores, primates, birds, snakes, lizards, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates. There are a number of church museums in the city with fascinating wall paintings. The Ethiopian Postal Museum has a collection of the country’s stamps, the Addis Ababa Museum in the former palace of Ras Biru built at the turn of the 19th century, has a collection of photographs depicting the development of the city, and the nearby Red Terror Museum contains details of the disastrous Red Terror 1977-78. The city has a number of parks including the Lion Park with its rare Black-maned Lions near the Addis Ababa University, the country’s oldest University at Sedist Kilo.
World Heritage Sites
Ethiopia now has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most recent of which is the Konso Cultural Landscape, a 55 sq km area of stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It is a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) adapted to a largely dry and hostile environment. It is features anthropomorphic wooden statues, grouped to represent respected members of their communities and heroic events, a testimony to funerary traditions that are on the verge of disappearing. Stone steles in the towns express a complex system of marking the passing of generations of leaders.
The other sites:
Aksum: The ruins of Aksum include monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient buildings many dating from the greatest period of the Axumite empire between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE. (Listed in 1980)
The fortress-city of Fasil Ghebbi at Gondar, started by the Emperor Fasilides in the early 17th century, was the imperial center for two hundred and fifty years. Surrounded by a 900 meter-long wall, the imperial enclosure and other buildings in the vicinity include palaces, churches, monasteries and various public and private buildings some showing Hindu and Arab influences, subsequently transformed by the Baroque style brought to Gondar by the Jesuit missionaries in the early 17th century. (Listed in 1979)
The walled and historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of the country. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, holds 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage. (Listed in 2006)The Lower Valley of the Awash which contains one of the most important groupings of palaeontological sites on the African continent. The remains found at the site, the oldest of which date back at least 4 million years, provide important evidence of human evolution. The most spectacular discovery came in 1974, when 52 fragments of a skeleton enabled ‘Lucy’ to be reconstructed. (Listed in 1980)The lower valley of the Omo, a collection of prehistoric sites near Lake Turkana, has produced many fossils there, especially those of Homo gracilis, and is of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution. (Listed in 1980)
The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, with 11 medieval monolithic cave churches in this 13th century ‘New Jerusalem’, is situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia. A central site of Ethiopian Christianity it remains a place of pilgrimage and devotion. (Listed in 1978)
Tiya is among the most important of about 160 archaeological sites discovered so far in the Soddo region, south of Addis Ababa. The site contains 36 monuments, including 32 carved stelae covered with symbols, most of which are difficult to decipher. They are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture which has yet to be dated or defined whose age has not yet been precisely determined. (Listed in 1980)Simien National Park – Massive erosion over the years on the Ethiopian plateau has created one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping as much as 1500 meters. (Listed in 1978)
Awash National Park is the oldest wildlife reserve in Ethiopia. It contains the Fantalle Volcano, numerous mineral hot-springs and extraordinary volcanic formations as well as the Awash River which has some spectacular waterfalls. Less than three hours drive east of Addis Ababa it is 225 kms from the city. Within its 720 sq. kms can be seen oryx, Soemmerring’s gazelle, bushbuck, waterbuck, dik-dik, zebra, cheetah, serval and leopard, anubis and hamadryas baboons, colobus and green monkeys, lesser and greater kudu, giant tortoise, hippopotamus, reedbuck, aardvark and caracal and klipspringer. Over four hundred species of birds have been recorded in the park, ranging from ostrich to Secretary Birds and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, from Carmine Bee-eaters, and Abyssinian Roller to Coucal, Turacos, Go-away Birds and a wide variety of birds of prey and savannah species.
The Bale Mountains Park is an area of high altitude plateau broken by numerous spectacular volcanic plugs and peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and rushing mountain streams. From the plateau rise several mountain peaks, including Tullu Deemtu the second-highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4,377 m above sea level. It is the largest area of Afro-Alpine habitat in the whole of Africa, and offers unsurpassed mountain walking, horse trekking, scenic driving and the chance to view many of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals, notably the Mountain Nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck and the Semien Fox. Endemic species of birds include the thick-billed Raven, Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, and Rouget’s Rail. Other species include the Black-winged Love-bird and Yellow-fronted Parrot, Abyssinian Catbird, Abyssinian Longclaw, Black-headed Siskin, Ruddy Shelduck, Wattled Crane, Lammergeier and Steppe Eagle.
The Gambella National Park is 600 kms west of Addis Ababa situated on the Baro River which flows into the Nile in Sudan. The park includes extensive plains of tall Sudanese grass along the riverside, home to the Nile lechwe, buffalo, giraffe, tiang, waterbuck, roan antelope, zebra, bushbuck, Abyssinian reedbuck, warthog, hartebeest, lion, elephant and the white-eared kob, though they are difficult to find. More common are the Olive Baboon, the local variety of vervets and colubus monkeys. The Baro has hippopotamuses as well as large crocodiles and Nile Perch of up to 100 kilos or more can be caught. Birds include a number of West African as well as tropical savannah species.
The Omo National Park in the south west of the country is the largest in the country, covering over 4,000 sq. kms. It is a true wilderness, next to the Omo River and has been described as one of the richest and least-visited wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Africa. Eland, oryx, Burchell’s zebra, Lelwel hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, waterbuck, kudu, lion, leopard and cheetah can be found within the park. In the open gallery forest of tamarinds and figs along the river are colobus monkeys and monitor lizards, and birds include goliath herons, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-cheeked turacos, emerald-spotted wood doves and red-fronted bee-eaters. Abundant wildlife,white water rapids, waterfalls, sheer canyons and hot springs are to be found along the river. The valley is also rich in palaeo-anthropological remains dating back several million years.
The Mago National Park is one of the newest parks, established in the east bank of the Omo River in 1979. Covering over 2,100 sq kms it is one of the wildest and most remote of the parks. It contains Mount Mago (2528 m) but is predominately grass savannah with some forested areas and some wetlands around Lake Dipa. It has large concentrations of buffalo, giraffe and elephant as well as over 50 other species including lelwel hartebeest, topi, leopard, gerenuk, lion, cheetah, burchell’s zebra, oryx and greater and lesser kudu. Bird varities include bustards, weavers, hornbills and starlings. Among the people living in the park are the Mursi.
The Simien Mountain Park is a spectacular landscape, a mountain massif that is one of the major highlands of Africa. It includes Ethiopia’s highest mountain, Ras Dejen (4620m), the fourth highest peak in Africa. Snow and ice appear on the highest points. The plateau of hardened basalt is divided by gorges of up to 1,000 metres deep which have left sharp edged crags and buttresses on which can be found the Walia (Abyssinian) ibex, Simien red fox and Gelada baboon, all endemic, as well as hamadryas baboon, klipspringer and bushbuck. The park was created primarily to protect the Walia Ibex, and over 1000 are said to live there. Birds include the lammergeyer, augur buzzard, Verreaux’s eagle, kestrel and falcons. The lower areas are cultivated and grazed and much of the former forests of the alpine regions had gone. The areas above 3,600 metres are mountain grasslands with heathers and Giant Lobelia.
The country’s wildlife is impressive with numerous endemic species of mammals and birds. There are over 240 listed mammal species of which at least 42 are endemic.