Ethiopia has an unequalled range of natural habitats, ranging from the extraordinary peaks and ambas (flat-topped summits) of the Simien Mountains at over 4,000 meters, to the Danakil Depression, 120 meters below sea-level, one of the lowest points as well as the hottest place on Earth. There are Afro-Alpine highlands, moors and mountains, deep gorges, the Sof Omar caves (the most extensive in Africa), the Great Rift Valley and its many lakes, tropical rain forests, white-water rivers and rock climbing faces, savannahs, waterfalls, volcanic hot springs and a volcano or two. These are supplemented by a wealth of historic, cultural, religious, archaeological and anthropological sites, including the northern "historic route" which incorporates the former capitals of Gondar (17and 18th centuries), Axum (1st-8th centuries), and Lalibela (12th-13th centuries) with its spectacular rock-hewn churches, as well as the monasteries on Lake Tana (and the Blue Nile falls), and the numerous rock churches of Tigray region, many dating to the 14-16th centuries, or even earlier.
The capital, Addis Ababa, this year is celebrating the 125th year of its foundation by the Emperor Minelik in 1887. The story goes that he built a palace on top of the Entoto Hills a thousand metres above the future site of Addis Ababa. His wife, the Empress Taitu, finding the hilltop too cold and wet, removed to the hot springs at the bottom of the hill and refused to return. After waiting two years, Minelik had to relocate his palace as the only way to see his wife again. There is now a museum, the Entoto St. Mary Museum, on top of the Entoto Hills, the original site of the imperial settlement, 3,200 meters above sea level. It holds articles of historical significance including imperial crowns, ceremonial dresses of the Emperor Minelik and the Empress Taitu, and drums used on the march to the battle of Adwa where the Italians were defeated in 1896.
The National Museum of Ethiopia holds the earliest hominid skeletons of Lucy (3.4 million years old) and Ramidus (4.4 million years old), as well as jewellery, costumes, paintings and sculptures. The Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is on the site of the former imperial palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and now part of Addis Ababa University. The Zoological Natural History Museum has displays of Ethiopia's wealth of wildlife, including many examples of the country's endemic species of rodents, bats, carnivores, primates, birds, snakes, lizards, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates. There are a number of church museums in the city with fascinating wall paintings. The Ethiopian Postal Museum has a collection of the country's stamps, the Addis Ababa Museum in the former palace of Ras Biru built at the turn of the 19th century, has a collection of photographs depicting the development of the city, and the nearby Red Terror Museum contains details of the disastrous Red Terror 1977-78. The city has a number of parks including the Lion Park with its rare Black-maned Lions near the Addis Ababa University, the country's oldest University at Sedist Kilo.
World Heritage Sites
Ethiopia now has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most recent of which is the Konso Cultural Landscape, a 55 sq km area of stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It is a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) adapted to a largely dry and hostile environment. It is features anthropomorphic wooden statues, grouped to represent respected members of their communities and heroic events, a 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.
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