Road to Ethiopia
The home to the oldest and most complete hominid ever found, Ethiopia is a complex composite of around 80 ethnic groups and a concentrate of history, folklore and natural beauty at only a two-hour flight from Jeddah.
The writers of this article live and work in Saudi Arabia and feel enriched by this experience within the heart of the Muslim world. We wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t miss the unique opportunity to take a quick and easy trip to a country that boasts historical relevance to the three major Abrahamic religions. On top of that it harbors amazing natural beauty, including mountains, plains, valleys, deserts, rivers, volcanic lakes and abundant wildlife.
Ethiopia is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It is known as the home to the stone tablets with the 10 commandments and linked to the legend of the relationship between biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Ethiopia also offered protection to the early followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and is home to 90 mosques and holy shrines in the ancient walled Muslim city of Harrar.
We wanted to find out more about IslamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s underestimated but distinctive contribution to the formation of EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s identity. We were willing to follow an exciting and less traditional journey of discovery through the history of Islamic civilization. Therefore, we decided to start our vacation with a one-day trip to Negash, a village in the northern Tigray region, which is the earliest Muslim settlement in Africa.
The small rural village on the mountains hosts a mosque named after the Ethiopian King Ahmed Nejashi, who welcomed Muslim refugees escaping persecution in Makkah 1400 years ago.
The structure of the mosque has not been preserved. The place of worship was rebuilt in 1956, but in the adjacent burial site the bodies of many early followers of the Prophet (pbuh) were put to rest, including that of his daughter Ruqayya and his wife Habiba.
The next day we visited the capital of Ethiopia. Addis Ababa is the political and commercial heart of Ethiopia. The city has grown at an astonishing speed to four million people since it was founded in 1886, when Emperor Menelik II had his palace built here. The name Addis Ababa means New Flower in Amharic, the official language in the country. It is the second most-spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic.
At an altitude of 2,300 meters, it is the third highest capital in the world, after La Paz and Quito in South America. Mount Entoto, at 3,200 meters the highest peak of the Entoto mountain chain, and densely covered with eucalyptus, allowed us to enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
We dedicated the day to the pleasures of shopping at Mercato (the Italian word for market), Addis AbabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s principal shopping area, whose vibrant colors and aromas make a stunning impact on the senses. Filled up with thousands of shoppers and vendors displaying a variety of goods, the big market is an ideal place to find inexpensive and traditional souvenirs. It also gives an insight in the extreme poverty suffered by a large part of the population.
Mercato reminded us of the brief history Ethiopia shares with Italy. The African country was one of few that were never colonized, though the Italians did invade the country on more than one occasion and even occupied it for a few years during the 1930s. We decided to conclude our first day in Addis Ababa by dining at the Italian Cultural Center, a recreational space often frequented by Ethiopians. The center offered us a delicious Italian meal and a beautiful example of how Italy and Ethiopia are positively cultivating a common heritage.
We also visited the nearby grand Anwar Mosque, which was constructed in 1922. Inside, this oldest mosque in the capital shows a rich architectural splendor.
Saint GeorgeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cathedral, named after EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s patron saint, is one of Addis AbabaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Its distinctive octagonal building was completed in 1911 and renowned Ethiopian artists covered the outer walls of the inner sanctuary in paintings and mosaics.
At the National Museum we admired Ethiopian artworks, pre-historic fossils and archeological findings from the Axumite period. We had lunch at Taitu Hotel, the oldest hotel of Addis Ababa, located in Piazza area in the center of town. Empress Taitu, wife of Menelik II, founded the hotel in 1914, and with it she started a new tradition in the country. Until then, travelers in Ethiopia relied on private hospitality for food and accommodation.
Even after almost a century, it is clear that the hotel was designed to provide elegance and comfort to its visitors. With its antique wooden staircases and colorful Ethiopian decorations, the place exudes an old-fashioned charm. The simple meal we had Ã¢â‚¬â€ fried chicken and a burger Ã¢â‚¬â€ was of good quality at a modest price.
The dinner we had later that day was a genuine feast. At Yod Abyssinia restaurant, we were treated to traditional Ethiopian fare, music and dance. While on stage the musicians played their drums, strings and flutes, and the dancers performed age-old moves, waiters served injera Ã¢â‚¬â€ large sourdough flatbread, served on large metal dishes Ã¢â‚¬â€ with spicy stewed meats, vegetables and cheese. The mix of tasty flavors, spiced Ethiopian coffee, beautiful people in different shades of brown and black and the invigorating performances on stage gave us a real taste of Africa.
To enjoy more of EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s natural splendor, we traveled southeast of Addis Ababa to Debrezeit. This resort town is known for its five volcanic crater lakes and is a base for birdwatchers and water sports enthusiasts. We went to Kuriftu, a five star spa resort named after the lake it overlooks. The thatched rustic bungalows and the abundance of flowered and green plants in the gardens add to the serenity of the place.
In the morning, the sound of chirping birds wakes us gently. Ethiopia boasts many endemic species, some of which can be seen in this area. The wattled ibis, the black-winged lovebird and the white-collared pigeon are among the 16 species that can only be found in this country.
The aim here is to pamper guests and meet their every need or want. The restaurant offers an international menu with a wide choice in culinary delights. A Swedish massage, mani- and pedicure and a visit to the sauna and steam bath are offered at no surcharge. There is a movie theater, use of kayaks on the lake and horses, quads and mountain bikes are for hire: What more could seasoned Saudi-dwellers want?