The nine World Heritage Sites of Ethiopia are the best what the country can offer. The ancient Axum city was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. It was the location of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum, which flourished between the 1st to the 10th century AD, and was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The Rock-hewn monolithic churches of Lalibela are often described as miraculous works of angels. Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress city of royal castles in the glorious Gondar region of northern Ethiopia. Established in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the residence of most gracious and famous Emperor Fasilidas and his successors.
The Simien Mountains National Park is found just 140 kilometers north of Gondar. The park includes one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices, dropping some 1500 meters. The lower Valley of Awash is found in Afar Regional north east of Ethiopia. It is a very important paleontological site in Africa. In addition, the Lower Valley of the Omo is found in the most southern part of Ethiopia. It is a prehistoric site unlike any other place on Earth. The hominid remains that have been excavated in the Lower Valley of the Omo are characteristic of a unique type. Tiya is located just 88 kilometers south of Adddis Ababa. The site contains 36 stelae with mysterious symbolic engravings. The fortified historic old city of Harar, located in the eastern part of Ethiopia is another fascinating World Heritage Site of the country. Just recognized by UNESCO as the World Heritage Site in 2011, the Cultural Landscape of Konso is a 55 km2 arid property of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia.
The city was the original capital of the eponymous kingdom of Axum. It was the location of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum, which flourished between the 1st to the 10th century AD, and was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. Axum is an archeological site that covers the remains of an influential city of ancient Ethiopia. The ruins include stelae, tombs, castles and obelisks. The fallen obelisk with a height of 33 meters is the tallest obelisk carved out of a single stone. The 24 meter high obelisk is still standing; the other one with a height of 27 meters was cut in to three parts and taken to Rome in 1937 and returned back to Axum in 2005.They are all regarded as one of the finest examples of engineering from the height of the Axumite Empire. The kingdom of Axum had its own written language called Ge’ez and at the hay day of its civilization under King Ezana, baptized as Abreha, in the 4th century AD, it officially embraces Christianity.
Axum is also one of the holiest and most important pilgrimage sites in Ethiopia. This is because of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believes that the Biblical Ark of the Covenant is housed in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion there. The church is where successive Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries. Axum was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
2. THE ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA
The Rock-hewn monolithic churches of Lalibela are often described as miraculous works of angels. The present Lalibela is a small town at an altitude of almost 2,800 meters in the Ethiopian highlands. It is surrounded by a rocky, dry area. The 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are uniquely great testimonies of a long-established Ethiopian building tradition. The churches were curved by King Lalibela in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is believed that the carving of all the churches took some 23 years.
Lalibela’s Rock-hewn monolithic churches imitate a built-up structure but are cut in one piece from the rock and separated from it all around by a trench. They were constructed with complete excavation by Lalibela’s spiritual vision to create a “New Jerusalem”, following the fall of Jerusalem to Muslims. As such, it replicates many of the historic buildings in Jerusalem itself. Lalibela himself has visited Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a youth, and he recreated the New Jerusalem out of the town of Roha, which was later named after his name.
The rock churches, although connected to one another by maze-like tunnels, are physically separated by a small river, which are named the Jordan. Churches on one side of the Jordan represent the earthly Jerusalem; whereas those on the other side represent the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of jewels and golden sidewalks alluded to in the Bible.
Lalibela was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1978.
3. FASIL GHEBBI
Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress city of royal castles in the glorious Gondar region of northern Ethiopia. Established in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the residence of most gracious and famous Emperor Fasilidas and his successors. This medieval city of castles is surrounded by a 900-meter wall which protects its palace and royal bath as well as churches and monasteries.
In addition to these well-preserved castles, Emperor Fasiladas 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 Fasiladas – 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, Fasiladas is reputed to have erected no fewer than seven churches, as well as seven bridges.
Although the royal castles bear elements of Hindu and Arab influences which fuse with the Baroque style introduced by Jesuit missionaries, their great parts are dominated by medieval Ethiopian architectural features.
Fasil Ghebbi was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
4. SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Simien Mountains National Park is found just 140 kilometers north of Gondar. The park includes one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices, dropping some 1500 meters. The highest peak is Ras Dashen with an altitude of 4,620 meters, the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the fourth in Africa. It is also home to some extremely rare animals that are endemic to Ethiopia such as the Ethiopian Wolf and the Walia Ibex as well as the abundant Gelada Baboon. There are also varieties of flora including Afro-Alpine moorland in the park, which are restricted to the geographical landscape of Ethiopian highlands. The park was listed under endangered sites in 1996 as a result of the decline of the number of Walia Ibex due to human intervention in the park .But the number of these rare species is now in the rise.
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.
The park is one of the first sites to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1978.
5. AWASH LOWER VALLEY
The lower Valley of Awash is found in Afar Regional north east of Ethiopia. It is a very important paleontological site in Africa. Tremendous findings are registered in the area contributing a lot in the search for human origin and evolution. It is here that in 1974 the skeleton fragments of ‘Lucy’ were found, who is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago. ‘Lucy’ stands for several hundred pieces of bone representing about 40% of the skeleton of an individual, Australopithecus afarensis.
In this valley of the Awash River in Ethiopia’s Afar Depression, numerous other pre-human hominid remains have also been found. Generally, the development that took place in the Lower Valley of the Awash changed the history of mankind.
The Awash Lower Valley is the ideal locality to provide paleontological information as most of the ancestors of mankind are concentrated in the East African Rift System. This is due to the fact that volcanic and tectonic activities were responsible for creating dynamic environments for the proliferation of life and the preservation of faunal and floral remains within the confines of the rift. Volcanic and tectonic activities related to rift evolution created plateaus and mountains; most of the sediments in the basins were derived from these topographic highs located within and outside the Rift Valley. Lavas, volcaniclastic sediments, and tephra were responsible for the quick burial and preservation of fossils.
The lower Valley of Awash was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
6. OMO LOWER VALLEY
The Lower Valley of the Omo is found in the most southern part of Ethiopia. It is a prehistoric site unlike any other place on Earth. The hominid remains that have been excavated in the Lower Valley of the Omo are characteristic of a unique type. They bear exceptional witness to important developments in the field of cultural development. So many different types of people have inhabited the wilderness over many millennia. It is believed that it was the crossroads of a wide assortment of cultures where early humans of ma ny different ethnicities passed as they migrated to and from lands in every direction. As a result, the Lower Valley of the Omo, which is a prehistoric site near Lake Turkana, is renowned for the discovery of prehistoric human fossils.
The discovery of many fossils there, especially of Homo gracilis, has been of fundamental importance in the study of human evolution. The site is well documented owing to the research undertaken during the 1930s by Professor Camille Aramburg and from 1968 to 1976 by a team of paleontologists and pre-historians. The discoveries of humanoid fossils in the valley include jaw bones, quantities of detached teeth, and fragments of australopithecines. Furthermore, evidence of the oldest-known humanoid technological activity and stone objects have been found in this region.
The lower Valley of Omo was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
Tiya is located just 88 kilometers south of Adddis Ababa. The site contains 36 stelae with mysterious symbolic engravings. They are believed to be marks of the large prehistoric burial complex. This interpretation as a funerary significance is because of the tombs that are scattered around the stelae. The carved stelae vary in size from 1 meter to 5 meters. Their forms fall into several distinct categories: figurative composition; anthropomorphic; hemispherical or conical; simple monoliths. Some have depictions of swords, associated with enigmatic symbols and schematic human figures. These precious monuments are the remains of an ancient Ethiopian culture whose age has not yet been precisely determined.
Tiya was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
8. HARAR JUGOL
The fortified historic old city of Harar is found in southeastern Ethiopia on a plateau, with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. It has been a major Islamic learning and commercial center, linking African and Islamic trade routes. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city Jugol were built in the 16th centuries. The walls were constructed to protect the city and its people from the possible attacks. It is 3.5 kilometer long wall with a height of nearly 4 meters. It has five gates and the wall is still intact and is a symbol of the town. The presence of 99 mosques made Harar to be considered as the fourth holiest city in Islam next to Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Harar is a symbol of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of peoples and religions.
Generally, Harar is an outstanding example of a type of architectural and urban ensemble which illustrates the impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of specific building types. The building types and the entire urban layout reflect these traditions, which give a particular character and even uniqueness to Jugol. The townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage.
Harar was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2006.
9. THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPE OF KONSO
The Cultural Landscape of Konso is a 55 km2 arid property of stone walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It represents a living cultural tradition that has existed for over 400 years in a dry environment. The landscape demonstrates the shared values, social cohesion and engineering knowledge of its communities. Terraces made with huge rocks, built against the steep slopes of the hill, prevent erosion of the fertile soil. Small channels set with smaller stones line the fields to drain superfluous rainwater. Down in the valley this water is collected in larger channels with stones walls as high as eight feet. As their unique sophistication, farmers have made life easier for themselves by building stone steps alongside their steep fields. In the Konso area, there are 12 stone walled settlements. They hold thatch-roofed public structures and domestic buildings. Within the area are also associated sacred forests and shrines. The Konso are noted for their erection of wakas: memorial statues to a dead man. These are anthropomorphic wooden statues – grouped to represent respected members of their communities and particularly heroic events – which are an exceptional living testimony to funerary traditions that are on the verge of disappearing. Stone steles in the towns express a complex system of marking the passing of generations of leaders.
The Cultural Landscape of Konso was inscribed as a World Heritage Site just in 2011.
(Three weeks escorted tour to the nine jewels of Ethiopia)