Addis Ababa አዲስ አበባ
BEST TIMES TO VISIT:
January for the festivals of Leddet and Timkat
27 September for the Meskel festival
November for the Great Ethiopian Run
WHY TRAVELLERS LOVE IT:
Lucy and the fossilized remains of early hominids at The National Museum
- Great food
- Africa's fourth-largest city
Museum at Entoto
Addis Ababa University Ethnological Museum
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Many Ethiopian restaurants in Addis Ababa offer a purposefully traditional experience: national food in authentic surroundings with traditional musical accompaniment. The meal and music are enjoyed while sitting in short traditional Ethiopian chairs, eating from a communal plate on a mesob (Ethiopian table). Coffee is an important after-dinner drink. Ethiopia is said to be the birth place of coffee as a beverage.
Addis Ababa has had a lot of European influence on its cuisine, so finding fare from Europe is not difficult; the Italian restaurants available are especially noteworthy. You’ll also find that many cafes and bakeries serve excellent snacks and familiar treats throughout the day.
National Museum of Ethiopia
The National Museum of Ethiopia is located near the graduate school of the Addis Ababa University. It’s best known as the cache for Ethiopia’s artistic treasures, from antiquity to present day, as well as the home of “Lucy” and “Selam”, some of the most famous and well-preserved examples of our early ancestors.
In the basement of the museum is the archaeological and paleontological departments of the nation, as well as exhibits with the partial skeletal remains of “Lucy”.
Added more recently, in 2004, are the remains of “Selam”, a 3-year-old Australopithicus Afarensis, which is thought to be 3.3 million years old and considered by archaeologists to be the earliest preserved example of a child. The exhibit also contains fossilized remains of extinct wildlife native to Ethiopia, such as the Sabretooth Tiger.
Other exhibits feature objects from ancient and medieval periods of Ethiopia’s history, including relics and regalia from Emperor Haile Selassie, like his carved wooden throne.
Artwork showcasing Ethiopia’s long, vibrant and diverse history fill the rest of the museum. Afewerk Tekle's wonderful African Heritage is a highlight here. Additionally, there is a complete collection of traditional weapons, jewelry, utensils, clothing and musical instruments.
Since its founding in 1886, Addis Ababa has always been a seat of power and political intrigue. Today it is considered “the political capital of Africa” because it is also the home of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Rural Ethiopians have always seen their capital city as a rich and important place, but the capital has even more sites to visit for the foreign traveler.
The city’s variety is a good example of Ethiopia in a more general sense, and travelers would be wise to take in the varied sights and sounds. Farmers from the surrounding area and rich businessmen both have business in the city, and the fancy restaurants and nightclubs exist in harmony with the many austere churches and other places of worship.
History of Addis Ababa
While previous capitals in Ethiopia’s history were usually chosen because of their strategic importance, the location of Addis Ababa was chosen because of its pleasant climate, its natural beauty, and the presence of nearby mineral baths. The consort of the Emperor Menelik II, Tatyu Betul, encouraged interest in the site by first building a house for use of the nearby hot mineral spring.
The previous capital, Entoto, named for the mountain to the north of Addis Ababa, was known for its defensible nature and had strategic importance. Soon after Tatyu had settled at Addis, however, other nobles and their households began to follow. Once Menelik’s power in the region became more secure, he moved the court there permanently.
St George Cathedral & Museum
St. George is Ethiopia’s patron saint, and this massive and decorated eight-sided cathedral is worth a visit. Its exterior grey stone, copper dome, pinnacles, and fanciful golden doorways are only outdone by the Imperial Throne and the famous stained glass and mosaics of artist Afewerk Tekle.
Both Empress Zewditu and Emperor Haile Selassie were crowned here. It is the resting place of the latter and as such is a pilgrimage site for Rastafarians. Other important figures, including those who fought in resistance to the Italian invasion and occupation, Ras Imru and Sylvia Pankhurst, also rest here.
The museum inside the cathedral contains the best collection of religious artifacts in Ethiopia outside St Mary of Zion in Aksum. As St. George is also the patron saint of soldiers, many weapons and ceremonial armors used in wars against the Italians are on display next to more typical religious items.
Addis Ababa University Ethnological Museum
Located on the beautiful and lush grounds of the Addis Ababa University, the Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is worth a visit. The exhibits of the museum occupy the rich and beautiful former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie. The first floor of the museum has a few preserved rooms from when the Emperor was in residence, even maintaining a famous bullet hole-ridden mirror from the coup in 1960.
Outside the doors of the museum is a moving reminder of the country’s time spent under occupation from the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. He ordered one step added to a spiral staircase for each year Ethiopia was under their rule. Today, the odd stairway is topped with a statue of the Lion of Judah, the national symbol of Ethiopia.
The exhibits of the first floor are no less engaging—they showcase childhood games, food and drink, traditional medicine, and finally, burial customs and the stelae. Present here are the tales of Ethiopia’s more than 80 resident tribes, in addition to the influences and history of Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the country.
The second floor is home to two different displays. One focuses on Ethiopian Islamic and Orthodox Christian religious art, with a remarkable series of icons, crosses, and magic scrolls. The collection of icons is the largest and most representative in the world.
The other exhibit is home to many of Ethiopia’s musical instruments; varied, unique and as beautiful to behold as to listen to.