Symbols of Ethiopia


Teff is a species of lovegrass, which can be found in the northern Ethiopian Highlands of northeastern Africa. It contains dietary fiber, iron, protein and calcium.

Teff is an important cereal in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it is used to make injera, everyday bread of many Ethiopians. It can be found also in India and Australia. Teff gets on well together with a nomadic lifestyle, as due to its small seeds, one man can hold enough to sow a large area in one hand.

Eclectic character of Ethiopia

Maybe one of the most impressive features of Ethiopia is its millenniums-long tested capacity to sustain a tolerant and friendly climate for people of different religions, even for world religions which have been in permanent clash in Europe and Orient. In the advent of Islam, an Ethiopian Christian emperor, Negash, provided the refuge to the hunted family of Prophet Mohammed, and thus marked an unmatched historical precedence. Christians constitute about 63% of the total population, with the largest group being Ethiopian Orthodox Christians at 44%, followed by Protestant 18% and Catholics at 1%. Muslim is the second most followed religion, with 34% of the population being adherents. 3% of the population (mainly in the far south and southwest) follow traditional religions; other religions (Bahá'í, Judaism, etc.) make up the rest.

Rock-hewn churches in Lalibela

Nowadays Lalibela is a small rural town. However its cultural importance largely trespasses its rural character. Lalibela is known around the world for its monolithic churches. Churches play an important part in the history of world rock-cut architecture. Most churches have been built during the reign of Lalibela during the 12th and 13th centuries. The most notable churches are:

  • Bete Medhane Alem is home to the Lalibela Cross. It’s probably the largest monolithic church in the world,
  • Bete Maryam is possibly the oldest of the churches,
  • Bete Golgotha is known for its arts. It likely contains the tomb of King Lalibela,
  • The Selassie Chapel,
  • The Tomb of Adam,
  • The Bete Giyorgis is the best preserved church,
  • The Bete Amanuel is the former royal chapel Bete Merkorios (which may be a former prison),
  • The Bete Abba Libanos
  • The Bete Gabriel-Rufael is a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery,
  • The monastery of Ashetan Maryam
  • The Yimrehane Kristos church is built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave.

Cultural holidays

It seems that Ethiopians love cultural holidays. They shape cultural contours of the country and are characteristic to Ethiopia:

Meskal is an annual religious holiday, during which Ethiopians commemorate the discovery of the “True Cross” by Queen Eleni (Saint Helena) in the fourth century. Meskel occurs on 17 Meskerem in the Ethiopian calendar (September 27, Gregorian calendar, or September 28 in leap years). The celebration includes the burning of a large bonfire Demera. This ritual is based on the legend about the queen Eleni, who had a revelation in the night, during which she was told that she needed to make a bonfire, so the smoke shows her where the true cross is buried. After she had woken-up from a dream, she ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile. They added frankincense to it and made bonfire light-up. The smoke from it first rose high to the sky, then returned to the ground, aiming exactly to the place, where the Cross had been buried.

Timkat is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. It is celebrated on January 19, which corresponds to the 10th day of Terr following the Ethiopian calendar. Timket is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This festival is best known for its ritual reenactment of baptism.

Blameless Race

According to Ptolemaic writers Ethiopians were the first men that ever lived and first to institute the worship of the gods and the rites of sacrifice. The separate colonies of priest craft spread from Meroe into Egypt; and the primeval monuments in Ethiopia strongly confirm the native traditions, reported by Diodorus Siculus, that the worship of Zeus-Ammon originated in Meroe, also the worship of Osiris. It is also very likely that science came into Egypt from the Upper Nile. Homer refers to the Ethiopians as a "blameless race," and Herodotus called the Ethiopians "wise men occupying the Upper Nile, men of long life, whose manners and customs pertain to the Golden Age, those virtuous mortals, whose feasts and banquets are honored by Jupiter himself." In Greek times, the Egyptians depicted Ethiopia as an ideal state. The Puranas, the ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. These Sanskrit books mention the names of old Cushitic kings that were worshipped in India and who were adopted and changed to suit the fancy of the later people of Greece and Rome. The divine nature of ancient “Aethiopians” is questionable. However one thing is sure, people living in the area created a strong and influent civilization with sophisticated architecture. They were in intense trade relationships with Egypt and other empires of that time, especially they exported myrrh, iron work, timber and other precious goods.

Unique Historical Sites

Every country has its unique historical places and heritage representing its cultural and architectonical ties. What makes Ethiopian sites so special is not that they are architecturally specific, but rather the time scale, how many historical époques they are covering – oldest dating to the times of Aksum Empire, “relatively younger” are linked to 19th century monarchic Ethiopia. The biggest UNESCO hubs are following cities:

Aksum is the ancient capital of an empire that controlled much of northern Ethiopia. Tradition says that the Ark of the Covenant was brought here from Jerusalem and placed in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, the crowning church for the rulers of Ethiopia. What can be seen in Aksum?

  • Stelae, the major Aksumite monuments in the town, which go up to the 33-metre. The stelae supposedly marked graves and would have had cast metal discs on their sides. The discs are also carved with architectural designs.
  • St Mary of Zion church was built in 1665. It supposedly contains the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Archaeological and ethnographic museums.
  • The Ezana Stone written in Sabaean, Ge'ez and Ancient Greek in a similar manner to the Rosetta stone.
  • King Bazen's Tomb is a megalith considered to be one of the earliest structures.
  • Queen of Sheba's Bath
  • The fourth-century Ta'akha Maryam and sixth-century Dungur palaces,
  • The monasteries of Abba Pentalewon and Abba Liqanos and the Lioness of Gobedra rock art.

Lalibela is also a town in northern Ethiopia. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. After the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, Lalibela was intended to be a “New Jerusalem”. Many of its historic buildings still take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem.

Bet Meskel (the house of Cross), semi-monolitic church in Lalibela Bet Meskel (the house of Cross), semi-monolitic church in Lalibela

Priest in Gebre Kristos
Priest in Gebre Kristos

Gebre Kristos church near Lalibela Gebre Kristos church near Lalibela

Bete Giorgis church in Lalibela Bete Giorgis church in Lalibela

Town of Lalibela Town of Lalibela

Ethiopian coffee

The effect of the coffee bean plant on human mood was first recognized in the south west of Ethiopia (see the frame at the right).

The growing and picking process of coffee gives employment to over 12 million Ethiopians and produces over half of the country's GDP. Thus, coffee holds a special place in Ethiopia - The best Ethiopian coffee is always compared with the finest coffee in the world, and premium Arabica beans attain some of the highest prices on the world market. Famous worldwide chain Starbucks imports coffee from Ethiopia.

Every Ethiopian region has its own taste of the coffee plant. Kaffa's forested hillsides, at 500 m, give larger trees to protect the coffee plants from the sun. Harar is famous for a great choice of long berries with its distinctive grape-like spicy flavor. Beans at Sidamo, known as Jirgacheffes, have also special flavor. The Arabica strain is Ethiopia's original bean and the only one still grown and drunk there today. It does not have the excessive acidity of the neighboring Kenyan brands and is much closer in character to the related Mocha of Yemen.



The most famous legend is about a goat herder from Kaffa (still a coffee plantation center). One day herder discovered his goats were excited, dancing on their hind legs. He noticed a few mangled branches of the coffee plant which were hung with bright red berries. He tried the berries himself and went home to his wife who told him to go and tell the monks. The monks threw the ‘sinful’ drug into the fireplace, which caused the coffee plant to smell very well. They crushed the beans, took them out of the fire, and distilled the substance in hot water. Within minutes the monastery was filled with nice aroma of roasting beans, and all other monks gathered to investigate. After spending the night up, they found a renewed energy to their spiritual life :)


Wild Life

Anoryx, bat-eared fox, caracal, aardvark, colobus, green monkeys, Anubis, Hamadryas baboons, klipspringer, leopard, bushbuck, hippo, Soemmerring's gazelle, Grevy's zebra, cheetah, kudu and 400 species of birds, they all can be found in the Awash national park 225 km east of Addis Ababa in the area of 765 km2 (part of the expedition).

Simien red fox, mountain nyala, Menilek's bushbuck, they all can be found in the Bale Mountains National Park 400 km south of Addis Ababa in the area of 2470 km2 (part of the expedition).

All elements of African safari, Nile perch, huge crocodiles, white-eared kob, Nile lechwe, buffalo, giraffe, tiang, waterbuck, antelope, zebra, bushbuck, Abyssinian reedbuck, warthog, hartebeest, lion, elephant, hippopotamus, totally more than 230 species have been recorded in the Gambella National Park, which lies between the Baro and Gilo rivers, 700 km west from Addis Ababa in the area of 5060 km2.

Eland, oryx, Burchell's zebra, Lelwel's hartebeest, buffalo giraffe, elephant, waterbuck, kudu, lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs and many other species can be found in the Omo National Park, 870km south-west of Addis Ababa, in the area of 4068 km2.

Endemic species like gelada baboon, Simien red fox and Walia Ibex, other attractive animals like Hamadryas baboon, klipspringer, bushbuck, iconic lammergeyer bird, Auger buzzard, Verreaux's eagle, kestrel, Lanner falcon and other species can be found in the Simien Mountains National Park in the area of 179 km2 (part of the expedition).

Endemic Swayne's hartebeest can be found in the Nechisar National Park, 225 km east of Addis Ababa, in the area of 574 km2 (part of the expedition).

Long-tailed cormorants, darters herons and stork, saddles bird stork, black crane, greater jacana, handsome African fish eagle perches and other species can be found in the Zwai lake, part of the Rift Valley lakes, 160 km south of Addis Ababa.

Flamingos, white-necked cormorants, great white pelicans, herons, stroks, spoonbills, ibises can be found in the lakes Abyata and Shala, 215 km south of Addis Ababa.

« back to Countries

Gelada baboon family in the Semien Mountains
Gelada baboon family in the Semien Mountains

Horses in the Semien MountainsHorses in the Semien Mountains
We are part of Walia Ibex Association, Slovak NGO.
© 2010-2011 Walia Ibex Expedition.