There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Ethiopia to visit and among the very best are Lalibela Rock Churches, The Yeha Temple and Axum. Other popular sites tend to include Harar Jugol, and the Harar Jugol Wall.
We’ve put together an expert’s guide to Ethiopian cultural landmarks, with our top places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Ethiopia, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
Addis Ababa – The capital city of Ethiopia
In the long history of Ethiopia, three important sites had been used as permanent capitals of the central government, namely Axum, Lalibela and Gondar respectively. Most kings of the medieval period used mobile courts instead of fixed capitals. The present city, Addis Ababa can be considered as the fourth permanent capital in the history of the country.
Lalibela and Rock-hewn churches
Lalibela is famous for its amazing rock cut churches. Carved out of the rock rather than built with stone, each of these eleven churches has been excavated from the rock, cutting down up to 40 feet then cutting out the intricate interior with great care.
Gondar and its Medieval period, Castles and churches
The historic Gonderine town is very popular mainly because of the marvelous castles in the royal enclosure. There are six graceful castles in the palace compound built by the successive Gonderine Kings of the 17th and 18th centuries. The tradition was first set by Emperor Fassiledes and then followed by his successors.
Harar – the walled Town
Harar Jugol, also known simply as Harar, was an important 16th century capital and remains an important fortified historic town in Ethiopia. It served as a vital trade route from the late 16th to 19th centuries and is also said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam.
Axum and its ancient civilizations
Axum is most famous for being one of the supposed sites of the Ark of the Covenant, in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Supposed to have been brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba, it is currently in the care of the patriarch of the Ethiopian Church in a vault at the church of. St Mary of Zion.
Adwa (also spelled Adowa, Aduwa, or Adua in Italian) is a market town and separate woreda in northern Ethiopia, and best known as the community closest to the decisive Battle of Adowa fought in 1896 with Italian troops. Notably, Ethiopian soldiers won the battle, thus being the only African nation to thwart European colonialism.
Atse Yohannes IV’s Palace
Mekele is the seat of a historical palace called Atse Yohannes IV Palace named after the famous King who ruled Ethiopia from 1872-1889. Emperor Yohannes chose Mekelle as the seat of his government and built his graceful palace, still intact, in 1870s. The palace now serves as a museum.
Mekele- the capital of Tigray region
Mekele (also spelled Mekelle) is situated on the bottom of hills, and was founded by Emperor Yohannes IV as his capital when he relocated his power base from Debra Berhane to Mekele in 1881. Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray National Regional State, lies 780 km north of Addis Ababa.
Debre Libanos monastery
Ethiopia’s most holy sites of Debre Libanos monastery (110km ADD) founded in the 13th century by priest Tekla Haimanot ,today one of Ethiopia’s most renowned saints. The church has beautiful Stained glass windows, and contains mosaic figures, which is found in the facade and some interesting mural paintings by the well-known Ethiopian artist Afework Tekele.
It is a Muslim site in Wukro, considered by some believers as the first Isalmic settlement in Ethiopia. It is said to have been established in the 7th century following the coming of refugees (followers of Prophet Muhammd).
Ankober and Emperor Menelik II Palace
Ankober was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Shoa, with Merid Azmatch Amha Iyesus (1745-1775), a ruler descended from the Solomonic dynasty, credited as being the founder.
Debre Damo Monastery
Debre Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Debre Damo was built, in the 6th century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi.
Lake Hayke and 13th century Istifanos Monastery
Istifanos Monastery (or St Stephen Monastery) is a monastery in Ethiopia, located in Lake Hayq. (The Stephen commemorated at the monastery is not the Saint Stephen of Acts.)
Temple of Yeha
It is an important pre-Axumite archaeological site mainly known by the large square temple and dated to 500B.C. The temple was built using stone blocks without mortar, and is supposed to be the oldest building in Ethiopia.