Our journey begins in the capital, the chaotic and bustling Addis Ababa, which is on its way to becoming the largest business and commercial center of the Horn of Africa. More than six of the nearly 90 million Ethiopians live in Addis. Politically, the country is defined as a democratic republic, although the weight of ethnic and tribal (with 46 ethnic groups and almost 200 languages or dialects) introduces many nuances, and also imperfections, in the functioning of the system.
We flew from Addis to Bahir Dar, in the northwest, the third city of the country, with about 200,000 inhabitants. It had its origin in the late sixteenth century, when Jesuit missionaries arrived on the shores of Lake Tana. It’s said that it was the Spanish Jesuit Pedro Páez who first saw the sources of the Blue Nile. This religious pioneer and Spanish colonizer, who wrote a magnificent book on the country, History of Ethiopia, was a personage with an exceptional vital adventure. In addition to exploring Ethiopia, he suffered galleys in Turkey and captivity in Yemen. I knew Amharic, Latin, Persian, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic.
The Blue Nile Falls, whose vertical fall is 55 meters.
To go from Bahir Dar to the Fountains of the Blue Nile, or more properly, to the falls, we traveled 40 kilometers along a rugged and busy dirt road. And first you have to reach the small village of Tiss Isat. Then approach the banks of the Blue Nile and cross to the other side of the river, then make a 15- or 20-minute walk until finally reaching a high plateau from which you can finally see the falls.
Its vertical fall is 45 meters along a semicircular front of more than 400. After the construction of two dams, this formidable spectacle can only be enjoyed in its fullness in the rainy season or on certain specific days in which the reservoirs Liberate the original flow of the river. The Blue Nile travels about 800 kilometers inside Ethiopia to join the White Nile, and near Sudan. Along its descent is drawing a surprising geography of canyons, cut and ravines.
On the way back, we see large plantations of qat, the mildly hallucinogenic plant whose leaves are chewed for hours to extract a juice that makes the consumer experience a slight sensation of pleasant and contemplative lucidity.
The next morning we will visit Lake Tana, the third largest in Africa after Victoria and Tanganyika. Its dimensions are 85 by 60 kilometers. Crocodiles, hippos and even leopards live on their quieter shores. It has an average depth of 15 meters and houses 37 islands, many of which rise churches and monasteries from the 13th and 14th centuries. More than 20 ancient orthodox temples with valuable frescoes, relics and religious treasures. The inhabitants of the small island towns fish in the waters of the lake and trade with the riparian populations moving, for centuries, in boats made of papyrus that are called tankwas.
We land on the island of Zegah, which is surrounded by thick mangrove forests and holds some of the lake’s oldest Christian temples. We visit the church of Azna Marian, built in the fourteenth century. Its conical shape and the materials with which it is built – straw, eucalyptus, papyrus and clay mortar – make it one of the most characteristic examples of the Ethiopian Orthodox style.
Although some speak of the skirts of Mount Gishe, Lake Tana is where, for most geographers, the Blue Nile is born. A sacred place in Ethiopia. Given the remoteness of the islands, Christians of the time thought that the temples there built were perfect places to preserve and protect from Islamic invasions the treasures and religious symbols of the Ethiopian church. The temples are of circular plan and are structured with four entrances oriented towards the four cardinal points, organized in corridors or concentric rings.
We leave the lake and head for Gondar, the ancient imperial capital of Ethiopia and where the famous castles of Gondar and the church of Debre Birhan Selassie are located. Although there is no more than 180 kilometers between Bahir Dar and Gondar, it will take about four hours to arrive. During the trip we see enough cows and a backward and poor field. The guide tells us that 90% of the country’s vaccine hut is zebu breed, good for meat but almost nil for milk. That is why they are beginning to cross them with more conventional races.
On the way to Gondar we came upon the so-called Finger of God, a rock formation that rises almost a hundred meters above the smooth surface of a gentle slope. A curious natural monument that can only be seen if you make the road trip. Gondar is, above all, famous for the fortress that houses a series of castles and palaces built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The place is known as the Camelot of Africa.
The Christian church of Debre Birham Selassie, built at the end of the 17th century, preserves paintings and cofferdams of great value; But Gondar is world heritage since 1979 mainly by the set of fortified constructions that began to be constructed since the city happened to be the capital of the old empire. The first castle was erected in 1640 by Emperor Fasilides, and his descendants were adding buildings in an eclectic style with Portuguese, Indian and Arab influences. From the Goha Hotel you have a beautiful and clarifying view of the whole.
Not far from Gondar, one hundred kilometers towards Debarq, are the Semien Mountains, an interesting natural park with a rugged but rugged environment, home to a rich local fauna, from the endemic Ibizan hound to the frozen baboon The Klippspringer antelope, hyenas and some mountain leopard.
We continue to Axum, the oldest city in Ethiopia, a world heritage since 1980. The ancient pre-Christian Axumite culture reached its splendor between the 1st and 8th centuries, dating back to the striking obelisks and funerary slabs that sow the city and its surroundings. Over time, the Axumite rulers vied to raise the most monumental stone needles to record the greatness of his reign.
In Axum, there are about twenty large obelisks and up to 600 more funerary monuments. The largest is 33 meters and weighs 500 tons but does not remain standing, because when attempting to lift it should have failed its foundation and today appears on the ground fractured in three huge blocks of carved stone. The next obelisk by size measures 24 meters and weighs 150 tons, and after being seized by the Italians in 1937 and remained in Rome for more than half a century, the Italian state restored it to the Ethiopian people in 1987.
The next and most important objective of our Ethiopian journey will be Lalibela, one of the great and most singular attractions of the country. Hanged at 2,630 meters in full mountains of Lasta, the population was the capital of the Zagve dynasty that reigned in the ancient Ethiopia between centuries X and XII. It receives its name of the king Gebra Maskal Lalibela, and means “the bees recognize the sovereign”, because the legend says that when the monarch was born a swarm surrounded to him. Lalibela, known as the Jerusalem of Ethiopian Christians, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1978 by its fabulous set of 11 churches carved in the basaltic rock of the area between 1150 and 1200.
The reason that Lalibela decided to create this set of singular religious buildings was to try to reproduce symbolically the Holy Land recently taken at that time by the Muslims. The monarch wanted to create his own Holy Places of Ethiopian Christianity. Due to the nature of the construction, the Lalibela churches can be classified as monolithic and semi-monolithic.
The first are those that were sculpted directly on the rock, excavating the terrain vertically and first isolating a large block of stone that was attached to the mountain only by its base; Later, this block was boring and emptying its interior until creating an exquisite and gigantic work of architectural goldwork. The churches of Lalibela are huge and precious sculptural pieces up to 33 meters long by 17 wide and 15 high; Royal dimensions of the largest temple in the whole, Biet Medhani Alem’s Cathedral (home of the Savior of the World).
The semi-monolithic churches, on the other hand, are those that are carved in the rock but that remain united to her by a side or by the ceiling. One of the first Westerners to see this fabulous collection of temples was in 1520 by the Portuguese missionary Francisco Alvares, who said: “…I will not describe what I have seen here because no one would believe it.” Well, seeing is believing, and you owe yourself a visit to this magical country.