Continued from page 1
In 1937, during Italian occupation, monks of Debre Libanos annoyed Fascist overlord who ordered execution of 297 of them. If you are traveling by road, you can pause at Debre Markos, 305 km north of Addis to see church of Markos with its beautiful paintings of Biblical scenes.
Bahar Dar is located on shores of Lake Tana and is 560 km from Addis Ababa. The 3,000 sq km Lake Tana is Ethiopia's biggest and is source of Blue Nile. Just 30 km after leaving Lake Tana, over a maximum width of 400m, Blue Nile drops over 45 m. The result is phenomenon of Blue Nile Falls, otherwise known to locals as Tississat or "Smoke of Fire". The falls are a spectacular sight and spray mist produces rainbows and rainforest vegetation that forms a habitat to monkeys and many colourful birds.
Lake Tana has 37 islands, some of which harbor churches and monasteries. These buildings carry beautiful murals and paintings, remains of emperors, church crosses, icons, manuscripts, crowns and other articles of historical and cultural significance. Some of monasteries such as Kebrane Gabriel preserve ancient customs and do not allow entry for women. You can break your historical tour by sailing on Tana. Boats are available for hire at Bahar Dar. The lake is also a delight for bird watchers. Flights are available to Bahar Dar, and some reasonable quality hotels too.
Gondar is 748 km to northwest of Addis and rests on foothills of majestic Simien Mountains. Founded by Emperor Fasilidas, it was 17th century capital of Ethiopia. Noteworthy attractions here are cathedrals, castles, and other imperial buildings that were built by Fasilidas and his succcessors. The architectural style combines Axumite, medieval European and Arabian influences. An Indian architect designed most magnificent of them. For Cathedrals, most impressive is hilltop positioned Debre Berhan Selassie (Trinity Church of Mountain of Light). The city declined after 1855 when Tewodros II removed his capital to Debre Tabor and was subsequently looted in 1880's.
Axum, one of key stops on historical routes, dates back at least 2,000 years. The ancient city is particularly important in history of Orthodox Church, as it was seat of King Azena when he converted to Christianity in 4th century AD. Every year, site known as Queen Sheba's bath is focal point of ceremony of Epiphany. Archeologist's think that site and others such as Queen of Sheba Palace were merely named after famous queen for city had not been founded in her lifetime.
In its heyday, Axum was a vital and sophisticated kingdom that produced written language that survives to this day known as Ge'ez. Though Axum is mostly identified with its trademark monolithic stelae, it has other important ruins such palaces and imperial tombs. The stelae were carved from single blocks of stone as markers of burial places of kings. These were biggest monolith structures ever made anywhere in world. Out of 11 identifiable large stelae, only one stands today at 24 m. In 1937, Italian dictator Mussolini ordered one of structures to be dismantled and raised again in Rome.
Axum is also known for 17th century Cathedral of St Mary of Zion. Legend has it that original Ark of Covenant is housed here. The monks jealously guard this treasure and do not allow anybody to view it. This stand has led to much speculation that this object of immeasurable historical and religious value may not actually be in hands of monks of St Mary of Zion.
Lalibela is renowned for its marvelous 11 rock hewn churches built in 12th century AD. The very devout King Lalibela commissioned them, not as monuments, but really as an act of worship. The churches were each carved from a single block of stone. Some are in trenches below ground; while others are built in open quarry caves. Legend has it that churches were built with great speed because angels continued working night shift while mortals slept. The result was truly magnificent and very learned people at UNESCO have declared Lalibela a World Heritage Site. The churches are living monuments and are still in use today. Of all historic attractions, Lalibela is one you should not miss.
Harar, unlike other centres on historic route is associated with Islam. The town with its city wall, towers and narrow streets has feel of Arabian Nights about it. Founded in 1520, city is 523 km to east of Addis. It is an important centre of Islamic learning and has all of 99 mosques. Indeed it is believed to rank fourth in ranking of holy cities of Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The first Muslims are said to have reached Ethiopia in lifetime of prophet Mohamed. The city is also famous for its handicrafts, colorful woven baskets, and silverware. It was also once home of French poet Rimbaud.
If evening finds you in Harar, you may witness a most bizarre spectacle courtesy of so-called Hyena Men. With wild howls, these fearless men summon hyenas from hills. They then get ruthless scavengers to snatch pieces of meat from their hands or even their mouths!
In east of country towards Dankil Depression and to west near Sudan, climate is very hot and dry. The central highland region is temperate, and nights can get chilly. Rains come twice a year- rather irregular short rains from January to March and long rains from June to September. The best time to visit Addis and highlands region is dry October - June period. The traveler is advised to dress very light in lowlands and desert country. In highland region, temperatures average 16°C and warmer clothing comes in handy at night and early morning.
Some Addis Ababa hotels are of international standard. A few other towns and locations on Historical Route and other tourist attractions also offer reasonable accommodation. Unlike in other countries that receive many tourists, budget traveler will find accommodation rates to be very reasonable.
Copyright © Africa Point
Andrew Muigai is editor of AfricaPoint Insider online newsletter. It is part of AfricaPoint.com- the Africa travel website that has helped thousands of travelers discover Africa. You can view more info on Tanzania safari and tours at the website.