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African Masai in Traditional Dress




The Rock-Cut Churches of Lalibela

The town of Lalibela was originally known as Roha. It was renamed after the 12th-century King Lalibela, who commissioned these extraordinary churches. Lalibela was a member of the Zagwe dynasty, which had seized the Ethiopian throne around 1000 AD. When his rivals began to increase in power, Lalibela sought the support of the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church by building the churches in this small town. King Lalibela's goal was to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (and to create a sacred city to rival powerful Axum, with its Ark of the Covenant). According to some reports, he had been to the Holy Land himself and was inspired by what he saw. But the king made no attempt to copy the churches of the Holy Land; in fact, Lalibela's sacred architecture could not be more unique. The churches of Lalibela were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior. The largest church is 40 feet high, and the labor required to complete such a task with only hammers and chisels is astounding. Popular legend has it that angels came every night to pick up where the workmen had left off. One of the churches, Bet Maryam, contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote the secrets of the buildings' construction. It is covered with old cloths and only the priests may look on it. King Lalibela's project for gaining the church's favor had two unexpected results: the creation of a holy place of unparalleled beauty and the king's conversion to a religious life. After laboring for 20 years, he abdicated his throne to become a hermit, living in a cave and eating only roots and vegetables. To this day, Ethiopian Christians regard King Lalibela as one of their greatest saints. The churches have been in continuous use since they were built in the 12th century. The first Europeans to see these extraordinary holy sites were Portugese explorers in the 1520s, one of whom noted in his journal that the sights were so fantastic, he expected readers of his descriptions would accuse him of lying.


Axum Stelae

Field Dating from around 300-500 AD, most the Axum stelae seem to predate the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia. Their purpose is almost certainly religious, but the details are not known for certain. The stelae were most likely funeral monuments for Axum's ancient rulers, who may have been buried in tombs beneath them. Some have altars at the base with grooves cut into them to carry away blood from sacrifices. Christianity was adopted by the royal family in Axum in the 4th century AD, and by the population at large in the 5th century, which means these stelae date from a fascinating period of religious change. Monolithic monuments continued to be erected after the arrival of Christianity, and several with Christian inscriptions can be found. The second largest of the stelae was looted by Mussolini's troops in 1937 during his occupation of Ethiopia, and stood for decades in the Piazza di Porta Capenamin in Rome, near the Arch of Constantine. The 160-ton monument was finally returned from Italy to Axum in April 2005. It was shipped in an extra-large plane in three separate pieces, at the cost of €6 million (almost $8 million). The transportation company who carried out the task said it was the largest and heaviest structure ever transported by air.

Axum Stelae

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant was a great shrine that contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments that were received from God by Moses on Sinai. According to the Bible, the Ark was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. It measured 1.15 m long, 0.7 m wide and 0.7 m high and was carried by two long bars, also made of gold-plated acacia wood. The Ark was guarded by cherubims that "spread forth their two wings over of the place of the ark" (I Kings 8:7). The biblical account states that the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant with them wherever they went and it contained great divine power that proved fatal to many. When the Temple of Jerusalem was built, the Ark was enshrined there in the Holy of Holies and only seen by the High Priest. At some point, the Ark disappeared from Jerusalem. The mystery of what became of such an important and sacred artifact continues to fascinate archaeologists, historians and believers alike. There are no shortage of theories as to its fate and current location, which include a Jerusalem tunnel and the top of Mt. Nebo in Jordan. To Ethiopian Christians and Jews, the location of the Ark of the Covenant is no mystery. According to the Ethiopian royal chronicles, the Ark left Jerusalem much earlier than generally thought - in the days of King Solomon - and went to Ethiopia by the hand of Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (The Bible tells of a meeting between the monarchs (1 Kings 10), but not a marriage or Prince Menelik.) The Ark was then kept safe in Ethiopia over the millenia, carefully hidden during wars, and today it is enshrined in a special treasury next to the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia. This theory was popularized outside of Ethiopia through a 1990s book by British journalist Graham Hancock entitled The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Hancock argues that after the Ark was brought to Ethiopia by Menelik, it was kept there for 800 years by a Judaic cult. Then it was seized by the Knights Templar, who thought that it was the Holy Grail. The Knights converted the Jews, who then kept the Ark in a great church. Several other researches have explored the possibility that the Lost Ark is in Ethiopia, reaching various conclusions..

The Ark of the Covenant

The Gondar Castle

For their seat of government, they had to make do with what are known in the historical literature as ‘roving tent capitals’. Tired of this migratory and nomadic lifestyle of so many of his forefathers, Emperor Fassiledes founded Gondar in 1636 and had the first and most magnificent of the castles built. Succeeding Emperors made their own additions mostly within the same castle compound. Although the exact date of construction of this imposing edifice is not known, a Yemeni ambassador visiting Gondar in 1648 described it as “one of the most marvelous of buildings”. Emperor Fassil is to be admired for another pioneering endeavor in the history of Ethiopian civil works. No less than four stone bridges (two on the Blue Nile and the other two on the rivers around Gondar) are credited to him.

The Gondar Castle

Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views on a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture. The natural beauties of this region have always filled visitors from Ethiopia and abroad with awe. Gentle highland ridges at altitudes above 3600 meters above sea level (m asl), covered with grasses, isolated trees (Erica Arboria), and the bizarre Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) are found on the high plateau that ends ab

The margins of this high plateau encompass precipitous cliffs and deep, canyon-style gorges. In some places, the escarpment forms small elevations that offer splendid natal lookout points. The spectacular views from the observation points at Gidir Got and lmet Gogo in the heart of the Park offers unparalleled panoramas along the high plateau and down to the lowland areas. Given the right meteorological conditions, views reaching up to 100 kilometers over the valleys and the terraces of the Tekeze lowland basin are no exception. Geologically speaking, the entire highlands of the Simien mountains consist of dark Trapp basalt and bright, soft turf. They alternate and constitute a massive complex that’s more than 3000 m thick. This complex was formed by volcanic eruptions in the Tertiary Oligocene-Miocene Age some 20-30 million years ago; ever since it has been going through processes of uplifting and erosion.

The primary attraction of the Simien Mountains National Park is its biosphere: the steep cliffs and the cool climate at the altitude of the Erica tree line (3600 to 4000 m ash) have created conditions that are appropriate for the survival of an ibex species (Capra ibex wee) endemic to the Simien Mountains. Despite the severe restriction of their habitat over the last centuries, several hundred animals have survived up to the present. Apart from the Walya ibex, many other animal species are found in the park, for instance, the endemic Simien fox or Ethiopian wolf (Canis simonsis), several birds of prey, the endemic Gelada baboon ( Theropithecusgelada), the Klipspringer (Oreotragus omotragus), and the bushbuck (liagelphus scriptus). The rareness of these species formed the backbone of the idea for the conservation of the area, which led to the establishment of the Simien Mountains National Park in 1969, and its listing as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

The human population living in the area adds to the distinctiveness of this special natural environment. The traditional way of life of the rural inhabitants and their survival in a rather harsh climate and with scarce pure resources make for the most striking impressions a visitor will have when trekking in the Park and its surrounding rural area.

Simien Mountains

Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Debre Birhan Selassie was built by Emperor Eyasu II (also known as Birhan Seged, "He to Whom the Light Bows") in the 17th Century. It was named Debre Birhan, "Mountain of Light," after the Emperor's nickname as well as in honor of the church of the same name in Shewa. At the Debre Birhan Church in Shewa, a miraculous apparition of the Holy Light of God is said to have occured in the Middle Ages during the reign of Emperor Zera Yacob the Great. In exchange for the right of using its name, the Gondar church paid the Shewan church an annual tribute. When the Mahdist Dervishes of the Sudan sacked the city of Gondar in 1888, they burned down every church in the city except Debre Birhan Selassie. According to local legend, when the Mahdist soldiers approached the church, a swarm of bees decended on the compound of the church and kept the soldiers back, and the Archangel Michael himself stood before the large wooden gates with a flaming sword drawn. What to See at Debre Birhan Selassie Church The outside of Debre Birhan Selassie is rather plain, but its interior has made it one of Ethiopia's top tourist attractions. The walls depict biblical scenes and saints and the ceiling is covered with the faces of hundreds of angels. Icons of the Holy Trinity (three identical men with halos) and the Crucifixion have pride of place above the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Above the floor of the church are the curtained windows of the second story stall from which Emperor Eyasu II and his mother Empress Mentewab would look down on the ceremonies.

Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Bahir Dar

Is the capital city of the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia. It’s a port on the south shore of the huge inland Lake Tana. Dek Island is one of many islands in the lake that are home to medieval monasteries. On the Zege Peninsula, the Ura Kidane Mihret monastery is known for its elaborate, colorful murals. The Blue Nile River snakes southeast of the city toward the towering cliffs at the Blue Nile Falls.

Bahir Dar

Great Ethiopian Run

Peter Middlebrook and Abi Masefield in late October 2000, following Haile's return from the 2000 Summer Olympics. Middlebrook established the proposal which Masefield presented to Brendan Foster, originator of the Great Run series at the advice of her mother and close friend, Andrea Wonfor. Richard Nerurkar arrived in March 2001 when the idea was first shared with former British Ambassador to Ethiopia Myles Wickstead, who subsequently championed the race. The 10,000 entries for the first edition quickly sold out and other people unofficially joined in the race without a number. The creation of the race marked the first time that a major annual 10 km race had been held in the country, renowned for producing world class runners.The day's events include an international and popular 10 km race and a 5 km women only race. Middlebrook established the proposal which Masefield presented to Brendan Foster, originator of the Great Run series at the advice of her mother and close friend, Andrea Wonfor. Richard Nerurkar arrived in March 2001 when the idea was first shared with former British Ambassador to Ethiopia Myles Wickstead, who subsequently championed the race. The 10,000 entries for the first edition quickly sold out and other people unofficially joined in the race without a number. The creation of the race marked the first time that a major annual 10 km race had been held in the country, renowned for producing world class runners.The day's events include an international and popular 10 km race and a 5 km women only race.


Harar And Dire Dawa

The colorful atmosphere of its multi-ethnic culture is Harar’s unmistakable characteristic. Traditionally, the walled quarters of old Harar (dating back to the 16th century) have been the exclusive domain of the Harari or Adere people, Ethiopia’s most urbanized ethnic group. It also has an incredibly constant and comfortable climate. DIRE DAWA Today, much bigger, more industrial and generally more commercial and enterprising than Harar, Dire Dawa is a fairly new city by Ethiopian standards. It came into being as a phenomenon of the Djibouti-Addis Abeba Railway line that reached Dire Dawa in 1902. The two cities are 54 km apart. BABILE A small town about 30km east of Harar. Ten kilometers beyond is the fascinating Valley of Marvels. Given its name by the Italians, it is renowned for its gravity defying balancing rock formations, where tall columns of black and red rock, withered and twisted by the elements, stand topped by loose.

Unique Ceremonies

Timket (Epiphany): Celebrated on the 19th of January, it involves a colorful procession of priests and followers singing and dancing. The priests carry Tabots (replicas of the Holy Ark of the Covenant) from their sanctuaries overnight. Timket is one of the most popular national holidays among Ethiopian Christians. The best venues to celebrate Timket are Gondar, Addis Ababa and Lalibela. Faskia (Easter): The fasting of fifty five days before feasting on Fasskia is the most popular prayer season among the majority of Ethiopians. The attractions of this festival are during Good Friday services and the lively midnight mass on the eve, which adds to the exuberance of the holiday. The best venues to celebrate Fasika are Addis Ababa and Lalibela. There are also several bull jumping and many other fascinating rituals, ceremonies and celebrations among various tribal groups of the Omo in southwest Ethiopia.


Bale mountain national park

Located 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park contains a spectacularly diverse landscape. The high altitude, afro-montane Sanetti Plateau rises to over 4,000m and includes the highest peak in the southern Ethiopia highlands. This undulating plateau is marked by numerous glacial lakes and swamps and surrounded by higher volcanic ridges and peaks. The southern slopes are covered by the lush and largely unexplored Harenna Forest.

Bale mountain


Depression with Dallol & Ertale active volcano One of Africa's most striking geographical features is a giant tear across the earth's surface visible even from space: the Great Rift Valley. Extending from the Middle East to Mozambique, the Rift Valley passes in a north-easterly to South-westerly direction right through Ethiopia, endowing the country with some spectacular sights range from hot, dry, and barren places to a string of beautiful lakes. This tremendous collapse of the earth's surface occurred at the same time that the Arabia Peninsula, geologically a part of Africa. The Afar Depression is a plate tectonic triple junction where the spreading ridges that are forming the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden emerge on land and meet the East African Rift. The Afar Depression is one of two places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land, the other being Iceland. At present, the Afar is slowly being pulled apart at a rate of 1-2 cm per year. The floor of the Afar Depression is composed mostly of basaltic lava. The Afar Depression and Triple Junction also mark the location of a mantle plume, a great uprising of mantle that melts to yield basalt. This place which used to be part of the Red Sea has kilometers of salt deposits’. In some places the slat deposit’s are about 3miles (5 KMS) thick. Below a salt lake is a substantial source of volcanic heat which causes hot water to rise through layers of salt and anhydrite deposits. Minerals get dissolved and are deposited, near the springs, and form shapes very much reminiscent (but smaller than) hornitos on basaltic lava flows. Sulphur, other minerals and possibly Thermopylae bacteria cause spectacular colors, Sundered from the rest of the continent. In Eastern Ethiopia, near the southern end of the Red Sea, an immense, more or less triangular depression descends far below sea level (at some points 120 meter below sea level). Known as the Danakil Depression, this extremely hot and dry area is actually a part of the Africa's Great Rift Valley. In this seemingly inhospitable area there live the nomadic Afar people who number about 3 million. Their external borders are Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The region where these people live is also called Afar-one of the nine regions of Ethiopia. Its current capital is named Semera on the paved Awash - Assab highway. The Danakil, or Dallol, depression, which encompasses a good portion of the eastern part of the Tigray region, is one of the earth's hottest and most inhospitable places, with many points more than 100 meters (328 feet) below sea level and noon-time temperatures soaring above 50 degree Celsius (122 degree Fahrenheit) It is the site of a dry salt lake from which Ethiopians since time immemorial have obtained their amoles, or bars of salt, used both for consumption and, long ago, as a primitive sort of money. Minded by the Afar people for at least a millennium and a half, the salt is loaded on camels and taken to the highlands with long caravans, where it is still in considerable demand and fetches a good price. A special place called "Erta Ale" (one of the most important active volcano in the world) is found in the Afar depression at 13.6°N, 40.67°E, with an altitude of 613 meter. It is a shield volcano, which has a base diameter of 140m diameter; 60 to 90m deep now has an active lava lake 60m wide and 100m long.

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Konso Tribe

Konso, named after the Konso people, is known for its religious traditions, waga sculptures, and nearby fossil beds (the latter an archaeological site of early hominids). The site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List on September 30, 1997 due to its purported universal cultural significance of terracing agricultural practice. The Konso live in an isolated region of the basalt hills. The area is made up of hard rocky slopes. A Konso village maybe fortified by a stone wall used as a defensive measure, their village is located on hilltops and is split up into communities, with each community having a main hut. In order to enter a Konso village, you must pass through a gate and a series of alleys. These paths are part of its security system, keeping the village difficult to access.

They are mixed agriculturists using their dry and infertile lands to grow crops. Animal dung is used to fertilize the grounds and their most important crop is the sorghum. Sorghum is used as flour and to make local beer. Grains, beans, cotton, corn and coffee are also grown by the Konso people. The erection of stones and poles is part of the Konso tradition. A generation pole is raised every 18 years, marking the start of a new generation. The age of a village can be determined by how many poles are standing. Carved wooden statues are also used to mark the grave of a famous Konso tribal member. The marker, called a Waga is placed above the grave and smaller statues are then placed around the larger one representing his wives and conquered enemies. Although the Konso people have many customs dating back hundreds of years, it is not uncommon for them to be seen wearing western clothing. As newer generations grow, their traditional attire has gradually changed to modern societies. The Konso is a very interesting tribe to visit on your trip to the lower Omo Valley.

Mursi Tribe

The Mursi are a nomadic cattle herder ethnic group located in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region in Ethiopia, close to the Sudanese border. According to the 2007 national census, there number is estimated 7,500. The Mursi people are the most popular in Ethiopia's Omo Valley. They are well known for their unique lip plates. They are settled around the Omo River and in the Mago National Park. Due to the climate, they move twice a year between the winter and summer months. They herd cattle and grow crops along the banks of the Omo River.

The Mursi women paint their bodies and face in white. They also are the ones who wear the lip plates. Women of the Mursi tribe may have their lips cut at the age of 15 or 16. A small clay plate is then inserted into the lip. Through the years, larger plates are inserted into the lip causing it to stretch. The larger the clay plate, the more the woman is worth before she gets married. It is said that the clay plates were originally used to prevent capture by slave traders. Although very unique and part of their tradition, the Mursi women only wear the plates for a short time because they are so heavy and uncomfortable.

Men of the Mursi also use white paint for their bodies and faces. Just like any other ethnic tribe in the lower valley, the men must pass a test before they can get married. A Mursi man is given a stick called a Donga and must face one opponent. The men then battle it out, beating each other with the sticks. The first fighter to submit loses and the winner is taken by a group of women to determine who he will marry. Men of the tribe also practice scarification. Like other tribes, this is the marking of an enemy killed by him.

Although they are known to be aggressive and combative, the Mursi are more than happy to allow you to take pictures of them. However, they keep count of every picture taken and will charge you for each one.


Omo valley 

It may seem superficial to label southern lower Omo valley as a living cultural museum, yet in many senses that is exactly what it is! Four of African major linguistic groups are represented in the region, including the Omotic-speakers, a language group as endemic to south Omo as the Ethiopian wolf is to the Abyssinian highlands, the lower Omo River valley in southwest Ethiopia is one of the last unspoiled wilderness regions in Africa, beside that lower Omo is home to an astonishing mix of small, contrasting ethnic groups uniquely known for their natural artistic impulses. Meet and greet some of the very colorful local tribes who live in this area Isolated by the 4500m-high Ethiopian mountain range to the north, the impenetrable swamplands of the Nile to the west and the desert of northern Kenya to the south, the valley is mainly fed by the Omo River which bisects Ethiopia’s largest and most inaccessible parks: the Omo National Park which lies on its west bank and Mago National Park on its east Bank.The

 lwer valley of the Omo unlike any other place on Earth has the largest diversity of ethnically different groups in the whole of Ethiopia and possibly in Africa. A voyage to the Omo Valley is a true expedition to encounter some of the most remarkable tribal peoples on Earth! To this day, the Omo Valley remains rich in traditional culture and human history. It’s been said: “If Africa was the mother of all humanity then the Omo River acted as a main artery!” The valley is also rich in paleo-anthropological fossils; the latest hominid remains to be discovered date back over four million years in the Omo Valley evidence of an almost continuous “human” presence. More than ten different languages are spoken (excluding dialects) .Experts believe that for thousands of years it was a crossroads of a wide variety of cultures where early humans of many different ethnicities passed as they migrated from and to lands in every direction. To this day, the cultures and people of the Lower Valley of the Omo are focus of study for their incredible diversity.The entire Omo region is inhabited by ethno-cultural groups pertaining to two important linguistic lines: Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic. The Nilo-Saharan linguistic line includes Bume, Mursi, and Surma while The Afro-Asiatic in particular line is comprised of Karo, Banna, Bashada, Hamar, and ose their future life mates.


Dizi who are Omotic and Dassanech, Erbore, Tsamako who are Eastern Cushitic.

In general, Omo valley people are structured by the Age-system. This is a system exclusively associated with men, who must pass through several ritual stages from birth to adulthood. The rites and ceremonies determine the progress each male makes with in his group. Child, Youth and Adult are the three main stages of life. Each of these stages brings with it a series of social obligations towards the family and the group, as well as certain advantages or rights.

A wide and varied aesthetic culture is reflected on their bodies as an expression of beauty and as a manifestation of messages and signals expressed through scarification, paintings, ornamentation, and hairstyles. Livestock not only has economic value, but also social value. It is strongly connected to a network of social relationships that comprises their culture. It is the source of food, clothing, an expression of wealth and Prestige, and also plays great roles in an individual’s stages of life like initiation, weddings, etc….

The main ethnic groups in the Lower Omo Region and its surroundings includes ,Dorze ,Konso , Tsemai, Arbore, Hamer, Benna , Geleb(Dasenche),Karo, Bume, Mursi, Ari, and Surma.

The Surma and the Karo, for example are experts at body painting-using clays and locally available vegetable pigments to trace fantastic patterns on one another's faces, chests, arms, and legs. These designs do not appear to have any special significance but are created purely for fun and aesthetic effect.

Scarifications, on the other hand-also popular among most peoples of the lower Omo does contain a number of specific symbolic messages.

Mursi warriors carve deep crescent incisions on their arms to represent each enemy they have killed in battle, elaborate hairstyles are another form of personal adornment

Hamer women wear their hair in dense ringlets smeared with mud and clarified butter and topped off with a head- dress featuring oblongs of gleaming aluminum.

Geleb (Dasenche) and Karo men sculpt and shave their hair into extravagant shapes, with special ochre caps' of hair usually containing several ostrich feathers.

The insertion of wooden and terra-cotta disks in to the ear lobes is a widespread custom among Mursi and Surma women also progressively split and stretch their lower lips to make room for similar disks there, too. This is a signal of beauty among these tribes and women are encouraged to take off their lip plates either during meal times or at night for sleep

Marriage ceremony also has different ways of expression and practice among these tribes.

The Hamer man should pass the tradition of bull-jumping to be fit and promoted to adulthood for marriage

The Mursi and Surma men should take part in the seasonally arranged stick fighting called Donga to be able cho

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