The Biblical Land of Cush, dissected by great rivers, ploughed by oxen and infused by ancient religions.
In every way Ethiopia is unique! It has its own languages, its own calendar, its own brand of Christianity and a landscape that is unparalleled. In the mountains of the north one feels neither part of Africa nor Asia. The Semitic people, speaking age-old languages, plough their stony fields with ox drawn wooden ploughs. This is the technology that enabled the ancient civilizations of Ethiopia to come into being.
The first civilization that we know much about was based in Axum and traded on the Red Sea with the Pharaohs of Egypt and later with the Romans and other Mediterranean powers. The Axumite civilization is famous for the huge obelisks or stellae they erected. There are also burial chambers around the town and Ethiopia’s version of the Rosetta Stone with inscriptions in Geez, its precursor Sabean, and Greek. In the 4th century Christianity came to Ethiopia and an amazing period of church construction began which resulted in some 130 being built in Eastern Tigray, the area of the highest concentration of rock-churches.
Around some of these sandstone mountains Tesfa has set up a new trekking route that allows guests to enjoy the landscape, learn about the culture and see a few of the unexplored rock churches.
This period of church construction culminated in the incredible series of monolithic rock-hewn churches in Lalibela. There are 13 rock-hewn churches in Lalibela town with close to as many again dotted around in a 50 km radius. Some are architectural wonders justifying the description of Lalibela on the 8th wonder of the word, but taken as a whole it is staggering.
Roha as it was initially know became the capital of King Lalibela at the end of the 12th century, and subsequently took his name. Lalibela is the most famous of the Zagwe kings who were from the Agaw people – a Cushitic people who still live in the mountains around Sekota not far north of Lalibela.
It is in the basalt mountains around Lalibela, Tesfa is assisting local communities to set up and manage trekking facilities that enable you to see the ancient culture of the Amhara people set in a stunning landscape. Birds of prey soar in the thermals, Gelada baboon scramble up and down the cliff faces, local shepherd boys keep an eye on their flocks, while their fathers plough the fields, and their sisters collect water in clay pots. Life is hard, but the people are proud to receive guests, and always have time to exchange greetings and smiles.
The next great capital of Ethiopia was at Gondar. After centuries of itinerant courts moving across the land, the Emperor Fasilidas consolidated his power and built a castle at Gondar (1635). He also endowed some wonderful churches and a ceremonial pool for use at the Timkat festival (celebrating Christ’s baptism by St. John). In the following hundred years a number of other castles were also built. These are now found in a quiet beautiful compound, which you can explore at your leisure, conjuring up pictures of life in the imperial city.
A visit to Ethiopia will be an experience that you will never forget!