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About Ethiopia


Official name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Capital city: Addis Ababa

Country surface area: 1,126,829 km2 / 435,071 square miles (Water ca. 0.7%) – 10th in Africa

Population: ca. 80 Mio – 2nd in Africa

Official language: Amharic

Average annual rainfall: 1,200 mm (47.2 in)

Average annual temperature (Addis Ababa): 16 °C (60.8 °F), daily maximum average: 20–25 °C (68–77 °F)

Ethnic groups: Totally around 80 Ethic groups. The biggest: Oromo:34.49%, Amhara: 26.89%, Tigray: 6.07%, Somali:6.20%, Sidama: 4.01%, Gurage: 2.53%, Wolayta: 2.31%, Afar: 1.73%, Hadiya: 1.74%, Gamo: 1.50%, Kefficho: 1.18% others 11%

Religions: Christians: 62.8% (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims: 33.9%, traditional faiths 2.6%, other religions 0.6%

Calendar: Ethiopian calendar contains 12 months of 30 days each and one last month of 5 or 6 days. New Year is September 11. September 11, 2010 is the beginning of the Ethiopian Year 2003.

Neighboring countries: Somalia, Somaliland (not recognized by the UN), Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya

Time zone: EAT (East African Time) - UTC + 3

Country Code: + 251 (00251)



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It is almost certain that Ethiopia is the cradle of mankind. Modern human being and its hominid ancestors evolved in the eastern zone of the great African Rift Valley. “Lucy”, one of our most distant ancestors, lived around 3.2 million years ago and it was found in the Awash Valley. Recently the discovery of an even older hominid fossil in the Afar desert, 4.4 million years old “Ardi”, has been published.

Ethiopia was known from the dawn of civilization and has a 3000 years old history. The ancient Egyptians knew that their sacred and vital river Nile originated from a lake on a plateau in the land of “Punt” (“Land of the Gods” in their language) and they knew about a garden existing beyond the desert.

The legendary history of this country starts with the mythical Queen of Sheba who, after paying visit to the biblical King Salomon in Jerusalem, gave birth to his son Menelik I, the latter king of the Sabean or Axumite Empire. He took the Ark of the Covenant from the temple in Jerusalem to Ethiopia, where it is believed to rest until now.

However, also historical sources bear witness to the existence of a rich and powerful kingdom with a high level of civilisation in pre-Christian times. From its capital city in the north-eastern part of the country, not far from the Red Sea the Axumite Empire controlled once a vast territory, including parts of today’s Yemen and Sudan. It was an important crossroads of trading caravans from Europe, Africa and Asia. The empire used its own written language, Ge’ez and its own coins which were employed in trade. With the conversion to Christianity of King Ezana in 340 A.D. Ethiopia can be considered one of the first Christian states. Before, Judaism, introduced most probably by several waves of immigration from Israel, had played a major role in the northern and western centres of the country. From that time on, Christianity has become a major component of Ethiopian culture, up to date. After the decline of the Axumite Empire, 1137 to 1270 A.D., the Zagwe dynasty established its reign over big parts of the country, with the centre of power in Lasta, the area around Lalibela. King Lalibela was the most appreciated king of the Zagwe dynasty and later the town was named after him. It was he who ordered the construction of the sacred town, considered as a “New Jerusalem”. He built 11 rock-hewn churches, all carved out of the red mountain rock. Until today they have been very important places of worship. When the Zagwe dynasty declined, several years of changing rulers and coalitions, conflicts and wars followed, until under Emperor Fasilidas (1632-67) the small village of Gondar in the north was turned into the new capital city and a great religious and artistic centre.

In recent history there were other great kings who were able to unify and enlarge the country and oppose foreign invasions and interferences. Kassa Hailu was crowned in 1855 as the “King of Kings” with the crown name of Tewodros II. He ruled the country with strong hands and moved his capital first to Debre Tabor, then to Maqdala, where he built his stronghold in the mountains. There he captured British diplomats, whereupon British troops landed on the Read Sea to liberate them. In 1868 he committed suicide to avoid falling into British hands. The following emperors were Yohannes IV and then Menelik II, who extended the country to its actual size, defeated the Italian invaders in the historical battle of Adwa in 1896, founded the actual capital Addis Ababa and brought modern developments like cars, trains and electricity to Ethiopia.

Haile Selassie, (“Power of Trinity” in Amharic, the official Ethiopian language), the last great emperor crowned in 1930, reigned for half a century until he was overthrown by a socialistic-inspired revolution in 1974. The military committee called the “Derg” under the brutal Leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled Ethiopia until 1991, when it was overthrown and the first democratic republic was installed.

Many monuments of the ancient and glorious past of this country remain: the monolithic churches of Lalibela, the carved obelisks and churches of Axum, more than 120 monasteries and rock churches in the Tigray region, as well as those scattered here and there along Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. In each of these sacred places ancient paintings, manuscripts and sacred objects are preserved. The diversity of ancient cultures, customs and celebrations are testimonies of the persistent importance of Ethiopia’s history and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity with its traditions and ceremonies is still a major part of every day’s life.

Modern Ethiopia is situated at the Horn of Africa. It is a large country of 1,126,829 km2, with diverse and extreme natural surroundings. The main part of the country consists of an immense tableland with an average altitude of more than 2000 m above sea level, where you can find mountain massifs reaching more than 4000m, and where rains and big rivers such as the Blue Nile, Tekezze, Omo and Awash have carved out deep canyons.

The Ethiopian high plateau slopes downwards towards its western Sudan borders, where there are rainforests and large coffee plantations, and eastwards towards the dry and hot desert depression of Danakil (116m below sea level) in whose lunar landscapes, criss-crossed by salt caravans, there are salt lakes and active volcanoes. From the south to the east the country is divided by the great African Rift Valley, which runs from the Red Sea up to Mozambique. It hosts a beautiful sequence of lakes, abounding in fish and inhabited by a large variety of different species of birds.
Towards the southern border with Kenya, in the Omo-Valley, vast and dense savannah can be found in a hot climate.

Situated between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, with a rainy season lasting from May to September in the main part of the country, Ethiopia is a green country for most of the year.

Due to the special mountainous and inaccessible natural environment of Ethiopia, many cultures could be preserved from foreign influences and interferences. The natural eco- system has developed in a unique way, so a variety of birds, mammals and plants can be found which are endemic (unique only to this place).

In Ethiopia up to 87 different ethnic groups live together, socially organized on federal basis. Almost all of them speak their own language. The three most numerous ethnic groups that have played a preponderant role in the national history are the Amhara, the Tigray and the Oromo.

Among these, the Amhara were in power until a few years ago, and their language, Amharic, is therefore the official national language. The antique language Ge’ez, used up to date in Orthodox Church, is closely related to Tigrinya. Both languages use a special alphabet, related to early south Arabian letters, while the Oromo use the Latin alphabet. Amhara and Tigray have Semitic origin and are also called widely “Habesha” (Origin of the alternative country’s name “Abyssinia”)

The Oromo are the biggest tribe in number of population. They were for a long time semi-nomadic and pagan and used to be a threat for the Empire which occupied mainly Amhara and Tigray regions. The traditional Oromo culture is based on a democratic structure.
Other numerous ethnic groups are the Guraghe and Sidamo, dwelling in the western and south-western highland territories. Towards the north-eastern border with Eritrea and Djibouti, in the wide desert areas of Danakil, there live the Afar, semi-nomadic people which have almost entirely converted to Islam. The Eastern region towards Somalia and the south eastern Ogaden region are mainly populated by Ethiopian Somali, also almost all of which are Muslims. Afar, Sidamo, and Somali are, like the Oromo, tribes of Cushitic origin.

In the southern highlands there are a variety of interesting peoples living, like the Wolayta, Dorze, Konso and Borena, all of which have preserved their own special style of architecture, agriculture, food and clothing.

Along the banks of Omo River there are several animistic peoples of Nilotic and Omotic origin, e.g. the Karo, Galeb, Bodi, Mursi, Benna , Erbore, Tsemay and Hameron the eastern side and the Surma, Dizi, Bume and Nyangatom on the western side of the river. They have lived isolated until a few years ago and have preserved their lifestyle practically intact up to the present. Most of these peoples express their creativity and their esthetical sensibility by painting their body and by creating fancy hair-dressings. Towards the west, near Gambela and the Sudan border live the Anuak and Nuer populations, tribes of nilotic origin which are related to Sudanese tribes.

Genna (Ethiopian Christmas)
January 7

Genna is Ethiopian Christmas, and coincides with other Orthodox Christmas celebrations around the world. The feast marks the end of the 40-day fasting period of Advent. On Christmas Eve, the faithful participate in church services through the night before celebrating with family and friends on Christmas day.

Lalibela is the most popular place to celebrate Genna, as thousands of pilgrims flock to the holy city for this celebration.

Timket (Epiphany)
January 19 (January 20 in 2012 & 2016)

The Ethiopian celebration of Timket (also known as Epiphany), is a symbolic reenactment of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. For Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, it serves as a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Timket is a two-day festival, starting the day before, when the church tabot (replica of the Ark of the Covenant) is taken from the church to a nearby location, usually near a body of water. This is representative of Jesus coming to the River Jordan. Thetabot spends the night in this location while the priests and other faithful hold a vigil through the night. In the morning the water is blessed and is then sprinkled on the gatherers (or they may chose to bathe in the water), renewing their baptismal vows. Long parades then carry the tabotback home to the church while the revelers sing and dance.

Gondar is a popular place to witness Timket, as the Bath of Fasilidas provides a stunning backdrop for the festivities. Lalibela is another popular location, as is Addis Ababa, where it is held at the Jan Meda fairgrounds.

Fasika (Orthodox Easter)
April 15, 2012; May 5, 2013; April 20, 2014; April 12, 2015; May 1, 2016

Fasika is Ethiopian Easter and is celebrated in conjunction with Orthodox Easter celebrations around the world. Fasika is the most important holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar andfollows a long 55-day fast, where no meat or dairy products are consumed. Strict followers generally consume one meal of vegetables and lentils during this time. Church services are attended on the eve before the holiday, where revelers participate in a colorful service lit with candles. The following day, families and friends celebrate Fasika with special feasts that mark the end of the long fast. Doro wat, a spicy chicken stew, is the most traditional food served in all households. Celebrations continue for the following week, with an unofficial "second Fasika" the following weekend.

Axum has a colorful procession for Palm Sunday (known as Hosanna), the week before Fasikawhich is well worth a visit. Like most holidays, the celebration takes place the night before the actually holiday (Saturday night).

September 11 (September 12 in 2011 & 2015)
Enkutatash, which means “Gift of Jewels” is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months - 12 months each with 30 days and a final month with 5 days (6 days in leap year). The Julian calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the Western world. In 2007 (Gregorian calendar), Ethiopia rang in the year 2000 and the new Ethiopian Millennium with colorful celebrations throughout the country.

Enkutatash happens to come near the end of a long rainy season, coloring the green landscapes with bright yellow flowers (called the Meskel Flower, or adei abeba in Amharic) and giving great reason to celebrate the new harvest. Torches of dry wood are burned in front of houses on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, girls dressed in new clothes go door-to-door singing songs. Families and friends celebrate together with large feasts.

This day also happens to coincide with the saint’s day of St. John the Baptist. This religious ceremony can be seen at the Kostete Yohannes church in the village of Gaynt, where celebrations are carried out for three days. Just outside of Addis Ababa, on the Entoto Mountain, Raguel Church has the largest religious celebration in the country.

September 27 (September 28 in 2011, 2015*)

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), is the celebration of the finding of remnants of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified. The word "meskel" means "cross" in Amharic. According to Christian tradition, St. Eleni (Empress Helena) discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus. In her dream, Eleni was told she should make a bonfire; the direction of the smoke would tell her the exact location of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. She followed the directions from her dream, and the smoke landed exactly where the cross was buried.

Meskel celebrations begin the night before with large bonfires topped with a cross and decorated with meskel flowers. The bonfire preparations are blessed and burned while revelers sing and dance around the fire, locally calleddemera. It is believed that the direction of the smoke will predict the future for the year to come. After the demerahas burnt out, the faithful mark crosses on their foreheads with the ash.

The biggest Meskel celebration is in Addis Ababa, held in the centrally-located Meskel Square. Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are also good locations to celebrate this festival. Probably the most exuberant celebrations take place in the region of the Gurage people, southwest from Addis.

The best time to travel: This depends on the region you are travelling to. In the main parts of the country, in particular the highlands, the main rainy season runs from June to the end of September, with a short rain period in March. In the Omo- Valley in Southern Ethiopia however, the seasons are different with the main rains from March to June and shorter rains in November.

Climate and Clothing: Because of the elevation, temperatures rarely exceed 25°C in the highland part of the country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it can get considerably hotter. Packlight clothes for the day time and a jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking - path ways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony. Trekkers in the Simien and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes and waterproofs. On a cultural note - Ethiopians are generally modest dressers, and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed (shorts, tank tops and bare backed) especially into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques - for getting around sites like Lalibela with its many churches airline socks are very useful.

Security: Ethiopia is known to be still one of the safest places in Africa.
Violent crimes are very rare. Tourists should be aware of pickpockets in crowded places like markets and it is better not to show off valuables and money. In some overland regions it is recommended not to drive after dawn. In some remote areas, separatist movements have been active in the last years. Those regions are usually not easy to visit, or only with an official authorization.

Customs: Due to strict custom regulations, it may cause problems at the airport to carry more than the usual basic electronic devices, especially if they are new. Import Tax payment may be required. Souvenirs imitating historic artifacts have to be approved not original by the National Museum in Addis Ababa, if not they can be confiscated at the airport customs before leaving Ethiopia . Buying receipts have to be saved.

Photo and Video cameras: Professional or high standard video equipment is difficult to be brought to Ethiopia. An official permission letter can be expensive.
In many places small fees are charged for photos taken of people, especially in the southern tribal areas of Ethiopia. Video fees can be very high in national parks and other guarded places.

Health and medical information: The possession of a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is not mandatory. Immunization for Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio is recommended. Malaria: in most of the sites malaria is not a problem because of the high elevation, e.g. Addis Ababa, Axum, Gondar and Lalibela. But it may occur in Bahir Dar at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable rains. Lowland areas along the Awash River, the Omo Valley, Rift Valley and Gambella are subject to malaria outbreaks. Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified in most areas so you should consult your doctor about the prophylaxis. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays. Visitors should take a simple first aid pack, which would include: different size plasters, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites, sunscreen (while temperatures are moderate the sun is strong) and anti-diarrhoea tablets such as Imodium for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but will control the symptoms).

Food: The Ethiopian national dish consists of Injera, a flat, circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called “Tef”, on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) that gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try "fasting food" (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fasting days make up more than half of the year), a colourful spread of salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products. One eats national dishes with the right hand (water for washing is usually brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up the "toppings".
Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available. If you are travelling to remote areas, such as the Omo Valley and parts of southern Ethiopia where there are no hotels or lodges, it can be advisable to stock up with tinned and packed food in Addis Ababa.

Drinks: Sparkling and still mineral water, along with soft drinks, are available throughout the country. There are several brands of Ethiopians beers, wine and spirits. Imported spirits are also widely available. There are home made alcoholic drinks: Tella (home made beer) and Tej (wine made from honey)

Accommodation: Addis Ababa has three 5 star hotels and a steadily growing number of tourist class hotels. Outside the capital a variety of good and clean hotels and lodges can be found. Standards vary, but apart from the areas around Omo and Mago national parks, where camping is unavoidable, it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower. Kibran Tours and other companies have started to construct eco-tourist lodges.

Travelling by air and road: Addis Ababa is the only international airport of Ethiopia, but domestic flights by Ethiopian airlines connect most of the regions and bigger town daily or at least twice weekly. For flights to smaller airstrips, charter flights are available. Travelling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia's wonderful scenery. Road conditions are good to all the destinations of major importance. More roads are being asphalted and there will be a good web of well accessible roads in between the next years. Especially to the south, it is still necessary to travel in 4 WD vehicles. The train connection to Dire Dawa and Djibouti is currently out of use.

Money: Money can be exchanged in the airport, in major hotels and in most banks. Exchange requires a passport and the receipts should be kept, as re-exchanging back into foreign currency is difficult otherwise. The Ethiopian currency is the Birr (“Silver” in Amharic), the rate of which is fixed against the US dollar in weekly auctions. VISA and Mastercard Credit cards are accepted in the main hotels and big shops and enterprises. Few ATMs are available at banks and international hotels.

Visa: Any foreigners except those who hold the Kenyan, Tanzanian and Djibouti passport need a visa!!! You can get your visa from the Ethiopian embassies and most nationalities can issue the tourist visa at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa (valid three months, fee currently 20 US$)

Language: Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, and English is widely spoken and understood.

Calendar: Ethiopia has its own calendar of 13 months: it follows the Julian calendar which is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of five days (or six in leap years) at the end of the year. The time difference is +3 hours from Greenwich Mean Time.