Imagine Ethiopia…

Ethiopia is truly a land of contrasts and extremes; a land of remote and wild places. Some of the highest and most stunning places on the African continent are found here, such as the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains, one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites - and some of the lowest, such as the hot but fascinating Danakil Depression, with its sulphur fumaroles and lunar-like landscape. Ethiopia is old; old beyond all imaginations. As Abyssinia, its culture and traditions date back over 3,000 years. And far earlier than that lived "Lucy" or Dinkenesh, meaning 'thou art wonderful', as she is known to the Ethiopians, whose remains were found in a corner of this country of mystery and contrasts.

Many people visit Ethiopia - or hope to do so one day - because of the remarkable manner in which ancient historical traditions have been preserved. And, indeed, the ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, open a window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. In no other country is it possible to find yourself so dramatically transported back in time or to participate with such freedom in the sacred rituals of an archaic faith.











Thousands of years history & diverse culture

Ethiopia's rich historical heritage is unique in sub-Saharan Africa. The country looks back on a history of more than 3,000 years when the city of Axum became the centre of an empire stretching from the Nile River across the Red Sea to the Yemen. Even today, ruins of palaces and monuments, old inscriptions and underground catacombs demonstrate the city’s ancient magnitude. While the medieval capital of Lalibela (12th century) is home to a cluster of incredible monolithic rock-hewn churches built in the 12th and 13th century, the imperial city of Gondar is best known for its 17th century castles built by Emperor Fasiladas and his successors and the beautifully decorated church of Debre Birhan Selassie.

In the east of the country lies the old walled city of Harar with its numerous mosques and shrines, considered a holy city among Muslims. Or would you like to discover the ancient and secluded island monasteries of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile? Or be one of the few visitors to Ethiopia’s remote rock-hewn churches, testimonies to the country’s centuries-old Christian legacy?

A dreamland for nature lovers
Apart from its historical sites, Ethiopia offers exceptional natural features and a rich bio-diversity. The country’s scenery varies from high mountain ranges with alpine flora and fauna, like the Simien and Bale Mountains, to deep gorges, wide valleys, volcanic lakes, savannahs, and semitropical forests, to the lowlands of the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression (Dallol), one of the earth’s hottest places. Connected with Ethiopia’s extraordinary geography are its diverse ecosystems, placing the country among the foremost in the world for its numerous endemic mammals, birds and plants. While the Rift Valley Lakes are famous for bird-watching, the Awash and Nechisar National Parks are fine places for game drives. Not far from its origin in Lake Tana, on the outskirts of the city of Bahirdar, the Blue Nile River turns into the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. A paradise for birds and definIETly a must for every ornithologist! Indulge in trekking or horse-back riding in the national parks, marvel at the fascinating endemic animals and revel in the breathtaking scenery!

A land with unique ethnic medley
Ethiopia is also a country of great cultural diversity, with a population made up of more than 80 different ethnicities and as many languages and customs. The country’s virtual isolation over centuries and its unique political independence (Ethiopia was never colonized) have substantially shaped people’s traditions and ways of life, some of which seem remarkably untouched by outside influences. The southwest in particular is inhabIETd by a variety of distinctive ethnic groups, who have largely maintained their traditional cultures and are surely among the most fascinating tribal groups on the African continent. Meet the Konso (known for their terracing systems), the Hamer (famous for their elaborate body decoration), or the Mursi (renowned for the lip plates worn by their women), just to name a few! Or get acquainted with the Oromos, Amharas and Tigreans in the central and northern highlands! The Ethiopia of today is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious mosaic, waiting for you to discover its magnificent diversity!

Some of Ethiopia's major religious festivals…

Timket (Epiphany, the impressive Christian ceremony)
Timket, feast of Epiphany is the greatest festival of the year falling on the 19th of January, two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is a three-day affair beginning on the eve of Timket with dramatic and colourful processions. The following morning the great day itself, Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is commemorated. The sun blazes down from a clear blue sky and the festival always takes place in glorious weather.

Lidet (Ethiopian Christmas)
Christmas, called Lidet, is not the primary religious and secular festival that it has become in Western countries. Falling on 7 January, it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another. Tradi-- tionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

Meskel (the founding of the true cross)
Meskal has been celebrated in the country for over 1600 years. The word actually means "cross" and the feast commemorates the discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The original event took place on 19 March 326 AD. but the feast is now celebrated on 27 September.

Many of the rIETs observed throughout the festival are said to be directly connected to the legend of Empress Helena. On the eve of Meskal, tall branches are tied together and yellow daisies, popularly called Meskal Flowers, are placed at the top. During the night those branches are gathered together in front of the compound gates and ignIETd - This symbolizes the actions of the Empress who, when no one would show he Holy Sepulcher, lit incense and prayed for help. Where the smoke drifted, she dug and found three roses. To one of the three, on the True Cross of Jesus, many miracles were attributed.

Meskal also signifies the physical presence of part of the True Cross at the church of Egziabher Ab, the remote mountain monastery of Gishen Mariam located 483 kms north of Addis Ababa. In this monastery, there is a massive volume called the Tefut written during the reign of Zera Yacob (1434 - 1468), which records the story of how a fragment of the cross was acquired.

At this time of the year flowers gloom on mountain and plain and the meadows are yellow with the brilliant Meskal daisy. Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires and even gun salutes mark the occasion. The festival begins by planting a green tree on Meskal eve in town squares and village market places. Everyone brings a pole topped with Meskal daisies to form the towering pyramid that will be a beacon of flame. Torches of tree branches tied up together called "Chibo" are used to light the bundle called "Demera".

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