A tropical country situated within the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest countries. From the 9th and 6th millennia BC, people have lived and farmed in Ethiopia. In ancient times, Ethiopia was centred around Axum which grew as the imperial capital.
The shape of modern Ethiopia has been determined throughout the 19th and 20th centuries by the encroachment of European powers. Despite repeated invasion and occupation by Italy, Ethiopia became one of the first independent states to sign the Charter of the United Nations.
As one of the world’s oldest countries, it’s no surprise there’s a host of incredible historic sites in Ethiopia to visit. Among the very best are Lalibela Rock Churches, Harar Jugol and the imperial city of Axum. Explore Ethiopian cultural landmarks such as these with our guide to the 5 top places to visit in this spectacular African country.
1. Lalibela Rock Churches
Lalibela, named after a 12th century king of Ethiopia, is famous for its amazing rock cut churches. Carved out of the rock rather than built with stone (see also Petra in Jordan), each of these 11 churches has been excavated from the rock, cutting out the intricate interior with great care.
The Lalibela churches are full of religious symbols, including crosses, swastikas and stars of David, the latter echoing the claim of previous dynasties to descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
2. The Yeha Temple
The Yeha Temple, also known as the Great Temple of Yeha, is possibly the oldest standing building in Ethiopia, dating back, it is thought, to around 700 BC.
The temple harks back to the earliest religions of the area and contains some Judaic artefacts, perhaps giving some credence to claim of the early dynasty of their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Axum or Aksum is a city in the North of Ethiopia at the base of the Adwa mountains. Once the capital of the region, Axum is still a comparatively large city with a population of around 50,000 people.
Supposed to have been brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba, the infamous Ark of the Covenant is currently under the care of the patriarch of the Ethiopian Church in a vault at the church of St Mary of Zion.
4. Harar Jugol
Harar Jugol, also known simply as Harar, was an important 16th century capital and remains an important fortified historic town in Ethiopia.
It served as a vital trade route from the late 16th to 19th centuries and is also said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, boasting 3 mosques from the 10th century and an impressive 82 mosques overall.
5. Harar Jugol Wall
The Harar Jugol Wall in Harar Jugol is the historic fortification surrounding the Ethiopian city which acted as the capital of the Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568.
The African and Islamic traditions influenced over a long period of time the development of the city and its typical urban planning and contributed to its particular character and uniqueness.