Ethiopia, though, is more than just sheer beauty. It has substance that stems from its ancient historical traditions, ceremonies, and rituals. Church ceremonies play a major role in Ethiopian culture. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has its own head and customs, and is extremely proud of its fourth century origins, and its roots dating back to Old Testament times. Observing the Church’s sacred rituals and well-preserved practices is awe-inspiring. Ethiopia's Islamic tradition is also strong and offers a colorful contrast, particularly in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country. Today, more than 80 different ethnic groups make up the myriad cultures and communities of Ethiopia. Religion, festivals and celebrations like the Timket, Enkutatash, Gena, Maskal, and Id that date back to the days of the Axum Empire are regularly held. Visitors are, for the most part, welcomed as honored guests.
History definitely echoes strongly in Ethiopia – the Abyssinia culture, for one, dates back over 3,000 years ago. Ethiopia also enjoys the heritage of being the land of Queen Sheba, who in the Old Testament paid King Solomon a visit to test his wisdom, and came bearing gifts of gold, spices, and precious stones. The Axum Empire had its beginnings around 100 AD, and Ethiopia quickly became one of the first Christian nations of Africa. The power of the Axum Empire declined in the late 10th century, ushering in the Zagwe dynasty that revolved around present-day Lalibella. In the 16th century, Ethiopia was explored by Vasco da Gama who found a land ravished by wars and feuds. In the 19th century, the Italians and British began vying for Ethiopia. Under Emperor Menelik II, Ethiopia defeated the Italians in 1896 in the Battle of Adowa, allowing it to remain independent. Aside from a brief occupation by the Italians prior to WWII, Ethiopia lays claim as the only African nation not to have been fully colonized.
The 20th century has not been kind to Ethiopia. In the early 20th century, Ethiopia began earnest efforts at modernization under Emperor Haile Selassie I, who ruled until a military coup in 1974. In 1977, Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu came to power after another coup. Rather than focusing his attention on agricultural reforms, he spent his reign fighting secessionist movements in Eritrea and Tigray and border clashes with Somalia. The agricultural mismanagement and a severe drought led to an immense and heavily-publicized famine in the 1980s. An uneasy peace has since been brokered between Ethiopia and Eritrea, although Ethiopia still suffers from famine and social unrest.
Today, Ethiopia is one of the premiere tourist destinations in Northeast Africa. The development of the country and the peace that has settled in has opened up Ethiopia to many visitors in recent years. People come to see the stunning natural beauty of this country’s spectacular mountains, broad savannahs, and gorgeous water bodies.
The highlights of Ethiopia include the Rift Valley, a volcanic region of lakes and rivers that teem with birds, fishes, escarpments, and beautiful vistas. The Blue Nile Falls at Tissisat provides one of the most gorgeous natural sights in North Africa. And there are 14 major wildlife reserves that are colored by wild flowers and wild plants, and inhabited by rare animals like the Walia ibex and the wild ass. The UNESCO designated heritage site of Semien Mountains National Park is a “must”, featuring some of the highest peaks in Africa and home to rare species like the Gelada Baboon and the Ethiopian Wolf. The Afar Depression (or Danakil Depression) is another major attraction. It is the “cradle of mankind” where ancient fossil hominids and stone tools have been found, including Australopithecus, “Lucy”. If you are interested in architecture, Ethiopia offers Lalibela where churches built of massive monolithic rock demonstrate the great architectural prowess of medieval Ethiopians. And at the former capital of Gondar, many significant castles still stand.