Ethiopia Story
Ethiopia Holy Land

Addis Ababa
Bahir Dar
Rift Valley
South Ethiopia

David J. Saunders

Africa Overview

Morocco as a
Tourism Investment

Ecotourism a Stimulus

Nepad Challenge

Investing in Africa


African American
Tourism Market

Bunce Island


US President
African Visit


May 2006

by David J. Saunders

Ethiopia is truly a land of great discovery, a land of diverse geographical beauty and rich cultural history. The name Ethiopia is the most widely referenced African nation mentioned in the Bible and in fact ancient historians and cartographers referred to what little was known about Africa by the name of Ethiopia, which is of Greek origin and literally translated means "the land of the brown-skinned people". Religion has always been a major influence in Ethiopia, which was the first place in Africa to make Christianity a state religion. Ethiopia, one of a few countries in the world that can claim continued existence and history of over a millennium, is mentioned thirty-three times in the Bible and many times in the Qu'ran and perhaps this is the reason why so many visitors are drawn to Ethiopia by the colorful stories and fantastic tales to the land once known as Abyssinia.

Other contributing factors to the religious mystique of Ethiopia being referred to as the "Holy Land" of Africa are that by the early 4th century Ethiopia was converted to Christianity and, by the 14th to 15th centuries when its territories were surrounded by Muslim regions, tales were told in Europe about the mysterious Christian Kingdom of "Prester John". In addition, the royal lineage of the Ethiopian Emperors and Empresses was said to have began through the union of King Solomon (ancient Israel) and the Queen of Sheba (ancient Ethiopia). In modern times, perhaps the most famous of these royal rulers of Ethiopia was Haile Selassie, whose given name was Tafari Makonnen until he was crowned a prince (ras) and later emperor of Ethiopia as the 111th successor of King Solomon. He took the name Haile Selassie which literally translates to mean "Might of the Trinity" and was perceived by many as the symbol of black pride and the true king of Africa as well as fondly referred to as the "Lion of Judah".

Ethiopia, also referred to as the "Holy Land" of Africa, is now being recognized by many African-American churches because of the remarkable manner in which ancient historical traditions have been preserved along with the discovery that Ethiopia has a rich legacy of religious art, found in churches and monasteries throughout the country. Indeed, the traditional religious ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church open a fantastic window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. In no other country is it possible to find oneself so dramatically transported back in time or to participate with such spiritual freedom in the sacred rituals of an archaic faith. 

As a result, many North American tourists are being introduced to the Historic Northern Route of Ethiopia which includes: (a) Bahar Dar, the source of the fabled Blue Nile Falls locally known as Tis Esat or "Smoke Fire". Bahar Dar also is the home of several mysterious monasteries and churches located along the shores of Lake Tana; (b) Gondar, the site of the numerous medieval castle-like palaces and the Debra Berhan Selassie Church with its remarkable ceiling decorated with paintings of winged angel faces. Gondar is also the ancestral homeland of the Falashas, also known as the "Black Jews"; (c) Lalibela, the site of the fantastic rock-hewn monolithic churches known as the "eighth wonder of the world", which has been preserved as one of UNESCO's "World Heritage Sites"; and Axum, Ethiopia's most ancient capital and the capital of the historic Axumite kingdom which is the site of many remarkable monolithic obelisks. Axum is also the home of the fabled Queen of Sheba and the reputed repository of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant.

Other tourism sites of interests include the natural beauty and cultural history of Dire Dawa and the famous walled city-state of Harar, which is the fourth most sacred Islamic city and the center of Islamic culture and religion in the Horn of Africa. Recently, this fortified town was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List. In Harar, affectionately referred to as "Gey" (the City) by its inhabitants, you can witness the spectacle of the "Hyena Men" who feed wild hyenas raw meat from their own mouths! There are also many eco-tourism adventures to be explored in the Simien Mountains in the north and the Sof Omar Caves in the south. To the northeast is the Denakil Depression, which is one of the most inhospitable but dramatic landscapes on earth. Here you can explore the archaeological site where the fossils of humankind's earliest known ancestors were discovered in 1974, affectionately known as the famous "Lucy" fossil remains.

While almost all of Africa remained under colonial rule or was still being explored by Europeans, Ethiopia was once a superpower that played a significant political and economic role on the world stage. Its international ties extended to the far corners of the world. Over its long and storied history, Ethiopia prided itself on its great achievements in socio-political organization, arts, literature and science, as well as innovations in agriculture and engineering. The foundation for this unique relationship was perhaps laid on the eve of 1896, when Ethiopia successfully stopped the European scramble for Africa at the gates of Adwa in northernmost Ethiopia. Being an ancient civilization, Ethiopia among other things gave coffee and numerous grains and plants to the world. Ethiopia is also very famous for its unique foods that are full of fragrant prepared vegetables and spicy meats eaten with you hands using flat spongy type bread known as njera.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is the third most populated African country after Nigeria and Egypt with an estimated sixty-five million inhabitants. Ethiopia is fondly referred to as the land of kings and legends and is the oldest independent country in Africa as well as the original home of coffee. Ethiopia is a landlocked mountainous country that is bisected by the Great Rift Valley and is roughly twice the size of the state of Texas. It is geographically located in what is referred to as "the Horn of Africa" and is bordered on the north by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the south by Kenya, and on the west by Sudan. More than half of the country is at high altitudes and its national capital, Addis Ababa at 2,450 meters above sea level, is the highest on the African continent. Addis Ababa is a cosmopolitan city whose Amharic name translates into the words "new flower". With the decision to make Addis Ababa the headquarters of the United Nation's Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now known as the African Union, it has become Africa's diplomatic capital. 

An estimated 45% of the population is Orthodox Christians, another 45% are Muslims and the remaining 10% adhere to traditional ethnic beliefs. Ethiopia is a democratically-led nation and the official language of Ethiopia is Amharic which has its own alphabet - but English is also widely spoken as the second official language. Other principal languages spoken in Ethiopia are Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali and Arabic. The national currency of the country is the Birr (US$1 = 8.55). Ethiopians are universally addressed by their first name even in formal situations. Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar, which is divided into twelve months of thirty days each and a 13th month of five or six days at the end of the calendar year, hence the famous slogan, "Ethiopia, The Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine". The Ethiopian calendar is seven years and three months behind the Gregorian calendar.

Ethiopia's major international airport is located at Addis Ababa and there is an excellent network of sixteen subsidiary airports throughout the country. The national airline carrier, Ethiopian Airlines has been in continuous operation for almost sixty years and provides direct flights from Dulles International Airport and Newark International Airport on the east coast of the United States to Addis Ababa. Ethiopian Airlines is also the only airline carrier to fly east to west services across the African Continent linking Addis Ababa in the east with Dakar, Senegal in the west and provides services to twenty-plus African nations, Europe, Asia and the United States. Ethiopia has several major hotels chains to include Hilton Hotel and Sheraton Hotel boasting high quality amenities to include a very good network of telephone, cellular and satellite connections as well as e-mail and internet services, spas and shops. For American tourist visas are required as well as anti-malarial medication.

About the Author: David J. Saunders is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Venue International Professionals, Inc. (VIP) &endash; a full-service travel and tourism company based in the Washington Metropolitan Area that specializes in travel and tourism destinations to the African Continent. He has visited twenty-five African countries at least once during the past eight years having visited every region of Africa except for Central Africa. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Africa Travel Association's (ATA) as well as the International Association of Black Travel Writers (IABTW). He is also a prolific writer of more than sixty published articles and papers about the travel and tourism industry of the African Continent.