Lalibela and Religious Ethiopia
The eleven rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are individual masterpieces in their own right. Each church has been carved down into red rock outcrops, with exquisite exteriors and interiors. All of the churches are still in use, and priests wielding religious crosses and incense burners will be only too pleased to stop and pose for photographs!
Dating back to the 12th century, the churches of Lalibela are sometimes referred to as the “African Jerusalem”, and are a must-see for anyone visiting Ethiopia!
The “Camelot of Africa”, as Gondar is known, is a pretty town that was home to a succession of Ethiopian Emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was also the imperial capital. Gondar was found by Emperor Fasilides in the 17th century, and contains a variety of castles and battlements. Debre Berhan Selassie is the finest building that still stands. According to legend, a swarm of bees saved this church from destruction by Madhist invaders in 1880’s. Visitors can now enjoy and appreciate the unique interior décor, with rows of over 100 angel faces. Gondar is also the gateway to the Simien Mountains, making it a great place to stop by en-route to take in Ethiopia’s mountains and wildlife.
The town of Axum, which has been fabled as being the home of the Queen of Sheba, offers many interesting archaeological sites as well as being an important religious site and the home of the Ark of the Covenant. One of the main sites in Axum is the Stelae Field where 120 stelae (giant granite pillars) are found, which date back to around 300-500 AD. The reason for the construction of these stelae is unclear but there is good reason to believe that they may have been built as a memorial to Axum’s rulers, who may be buried in tombs beneath the pillars.
Axum is also known as being the home to the Ark of the Covenant. Whilst the Ark of the Covenant can only be seen and accessed by the High Priest of Axum, visitors can visit the building (the Church of St Mary of Zion) in which it is held.
The walled city of Harar was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006 in recognition of its cultural heritage. Within the walls of the city there are many kilometres of narrow alleyways, markets and over 82 mosques. The city is also home to a population of spotted hyenas which have an important role in keeping the city clean of organic refuse. In the 1960s local farmers started feeding the hyenas in order to avoid them from attacking their livestock. This practice has since continued and visitors can take part in the hand-feeding should they so wish.