World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia

1. Axum

The ancient capital of Ethiopia, Axum is found in Tigray Regional State at N14 07 48.7 E38 43 07.0. The city of Aksum emerged several centuries before the birth of Christ, as the capital of a state that traded with ancient Greece, Egypt and Asia. With its navies sailing as far afield as Ceylon, Aksum later became the most important power between the Roman Empire and Persia and for a while, controlled parts of South Arabia.

The earliest records and legends date back at least 3000 years. They suggest that it was from Aksum that Makeda, the fabled Queen of Sheba, journeyed to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. Legend has it that a son was born to the Queen from her union with Solomon. This son, Menelik I, grew up in Ethiopia but travelled to Jerusalem as a young man. There he spent several years before coming back to his own country with the fabled Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, according to Ethiopian belief, has remained in Aksum ever since (in an annex to the Church of St. Mary of Zion).

In addition to the old St. Mary of Zion, there are many other relics and remains in Aksum dating back to pre-Christian and early Christian times. Among these, a series of inscriptions on stone tablets have proved to be of immense importance to historians of the ancient world. They include a trilingual text in Greek, Sabaean (language of South Arabia) and Ge'ez (classic Ethiopian), ordered by King Ezana in the 4th century AD. Also, there are the 3000 year old stelae and obelisks. The standing obelisk rises to a height of over 23 metres, and is exquisitely carved to represent a nine-storey building in the fashion of the 'tower-houses' of South Arabia.

2. Lalibela

Located in Amhara National Regional State at N12 1 45.66 E39 2 25.512, Lalibela is designated as world Heritage site in 1978.
After the decline of the Axumite state, a new Christian dynasty emerged in the 12th century. This Zagwe dynasty made its capital in Roha, some hundreds of kilometres south of Axum.

According to a legendary account, King Lalibela was born in Roha. His name means 'the bee recognises its sovereignty'. God ordered him to build 10 monolithic churches, and gave him detailed instructions as to their construction and even their colours. When his brother Harbay abdicated, time had come for Lalibela to fulfill this command. Construction work began and is said to have been carried out with remarkable speed, which is scarcely surprising, for, according to legend, angels joined the labourers by day and in the night did double the amount of work which the men had done during the hours of daylight.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are in fact no more than exceptionally fine examples of a long-established Ethiopian building tradition. Monolithic churches are to be found all over the north and the centre of the country. Some of the oldest of such churches are to be found in Tigray, where some are believed to date from around the sixth or seventh centuries.

3. Fasil Ghebbi (the Castles of Gonder)

The site was registered as world heritage site in 1979. Located in the Amhara National Regional State in Gonder at N12 36 24.9 E37 27 58.2. The founder of Gondar was Emperor Fasiledes who, tiring of the pattern of migration that had characterized the lifestyle of so many of his forefathers, moved his capital here in 1636 AD. By the late 1640s he had built a great castle here, which stands today in a grassy compound surrounded by other fortresses of later construction. With its huge towers and looming battlemented walls, it seems like a piece of medieval Europe transposed to Ethiopia.

In addition to this castle, Fasiledes is said to have been responsible for the building of a number of other structures. Perhaps the oldest of these is the Enqulal Gemb, or Egg Castle, so named on account of its egg-shaped domed roof. Other buildings include the royal archive and the stable.

Beyond the confines of the city to the north-west by the Qaha River there is another fine building sometimes associated by Fasiledes - a bathing palace. The building is a two-storeyed battlemented structure situated within and on one side of a rectangular pool of water which was supplied by a canal from the nearby river. The bathing pavilion itself stands on pier arches, and contains several rooms which are reached by a stone bridge, part of which could be raised for defense.

Besides such secular buildings, Fasiledes is reputed to have erected no fewer than seven churches, as well as seven bridges

4. Simien Mountains National Park

The National Park was inscribed in 1978 and is located in Amhara National Regional State at N13 10 60 E38 4 0.

Comprising one of the principal mountain massifs of Africa, the Simien mountains are made up of several plateaus, separated by broad river valleys. A number of peaks rise above 4000m, including Ras Dashen.

The dramatic landscape of the Simien Mountains is the result of massive seismic activity in the area about 40 million years ago. Molten lava poured out of the Earth's core reaching a thickness of 3000m. Subsequent erosion over the millennia has left behind the jagged landscape of the Simien Mountains: the gorges, chasms and precipices. The famous pinnacles - the sharp spires that rise abruptly from the surrounding land - are volcanic necks: the solidified lava and last remnant of ancient volcanoes.

5. Harar

Inscribed in 2006, Harar is found in Harari Regional State at N09 18 32 E42 08 16. Harar is s a fortified historic town in southeastern Ethiopia. It has been a major commercial center, linking African and Islamic trade routes.

It has been recognized by Unesco as 'an inland urban settlement with a distinct architectural character and social organization, which cannot be compared to any other town in East Africa.'

It is considered "the fourth holiest city of Islam" with 82 mosques and 102 shrines. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The walled city of Harar is characterized by a maze of narrow alleyways and forbidding facades.

6. Lower Valley of the Awash

Inscribed in 1980 the valley of the Awash river is located in the Afar National Regional State at N11 06 00.0 E40 34 45.8. It is one of the most important palaeontological sites on the African continent. The most spectacular discovery came in 1974, when 52 fragments of a skeleton enabled the famous Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) to be found in Hadar, who is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago.

Other important hominid fossils found in the Middle Awash include: Ardipithecus kadabba, Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus garhi, Australopithecus anamensis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens idaltu.

7. Tiya

Inscribed in 1980, Tiya is found in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State at N8 26 05.7 E38 36 43.6 south of Addis Ababa. Tiya is an archeological site, which is distinguished by 36 standing stones or stelae. They are marking a large, prehistoric burial complex of an ancient Ethiopian culture.

8. Lower Valley of the Omo

The Lower Valley of the Omo River is a prehistoric site where many hominid fossils have been found. They are of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution.
Designated in the list of world heritage site, the Lower Valley of Omo is found in Southern Nation Nationalities & Peoples Region at N4 48 E35 58.

A prehistoric site near Lake Turkana, the lower valley of the Omo is renowned the world over. The discovery of many fossils there, especially Homo gracilis, has been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution. It is also well known for the remarkable wealth of cultural diversity.

Source:World Heritage sites


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