Ethiopia - The African Empire
Ethiopia is a land of striking contrasts, defined by the peaks of the Simien mountain plateau and the depths of the Rift Valley, home to the modern city of Addis Ababa and the granite stelae of Aksum, landlocked and yet refreshed by the waters of the Blue Nile. This ancient land, source of fables and stories since antiquity, is full of exciting archaeology to explore. Some of the earliest and most complete remains of human ancestors were discovered here and Saba‘an-style temples dating back to the early first millennium before Christ are still in the process of being excavated. While rock-hewn churches, carved into fabulous shapes and in some cases lavishly painted, hint at Ethiopia’s rich Christian heritage, the city of Harar is a focal point for the country’s Islamic past. Modern history records the hard-fought independence of Ethiopia in the face of colonial powers - ensuring that this land retained its distinctive and enthralling cultural riches.
Follow the Blue Nile south to its source, to venture into the past of one of the world’s most exciting archaeological destinations. Leading this tour is Dr Jacke Phillips, an archaeologist from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, who has excavated extensively in Ethiopia and is one of the leading figures in Ethiopian archaeology. Jacke’s experience and knowledge of the country are second to none, making her the perfect person to bring the fascinating history of Ethiopia to life.
- See the prehistoric Tiya burial complex with its enigmatic symbols
- Stand before the majestic Blue Nile Falls waterfall
- Visit Emperor Fasiladas’ atmospheric Epiphany Pool
- Explore the many fascinating sites located within Addis Ababa
- Pore over artefacts at some captivating archaeological museums
- Rock Art
- Historic Churches
- All Inclusive
We depart from London and travel overnight to Addis Ababa.
Arriving this morning, we have a relaxing day ahead to acclimatise. We check into the hotel, have lunch and enjoy the chance to relax or to take a guided local walk.
This morning we travel south to the Paleolithic site of Melka Kunture in the Upper Awash Valley, where finds dating back over 1.7 million years have been unearthed. We continue to the 600 year-old rock-hewn church of Adadi Mariam, then to the pre-historic burial complex at Tiya, noted for its remarkable stone stelae, many of which bear mysterious symbols. We return this evening to Addis Ababa.
A morning flight with potential stunning views across the rugged highland landscape takes us to Lalibela, where we attend the Medieval cave monastery of Yimrehanne Kristos, which remains a centre of worship and seasonal pilgrimage for modern Ethiopians.
Remaining in Lalibela, today we to visit the iconic Medieval rock-hewn churches and monasteries. The churches are organised in two groups- those of “Earthly Jerusalem” on the northwest side of the river Jordan, and those of “Heavenly Jerusalem” on the southeast side. These breath-taking structures were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Today, we drive to Bahir Dar, capital of the Amhara region of Ethiopia. This city on the shores of Lake Tana provides spectacular views of the lake, source of the Blue Nile, in particular as we ascend Bezawit Hill. This area was the focal region of Medieval Christian Ethiopia, resulting in a wide variety of archaeological sites from this pivotal period in Ethiopian history.
This morning, we travel across Lake Tana by boat, to explore some of the lake’s islands and churches. There are more than twenty churches scattered across the islands of the lake, the oldest dating to the 14th century, although some may have pre-Christian origins. After lunch, we make a visit to the spectacular Blue Nile Falls.
We journey north today, with our first visit at Guzara Castle, offering spectacular views of Lake Tana. Our destination is Gondar, the first capital city of the Ethiopian empire, in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. This afternoon, we visit Emperor Fasiladas’ Epiphany Pool.
Our destination this morning is the Church of Debre Berhan Selassie, with its remarkable painted walls and ceiling. After lunch, we visit the Imperial Palace complex at Gondar. The Palace consists of six castles, including the original stone structure built between 1635 and 1636 with its associated archive building and bathing pool.
Today, we fly to Aksum, a city founded as early as the 10th century BC and one-time home to the Queen of Sheba. The city is most famous for its large stelae, including one solid granite stela 23m in height which still towers above the stelae field. We visit the Aksum Archaeological Museum, which hosts a wide range of artefacts dating to the Aksumite Empire that flourished until the 7th century AD and whose empire straddled the Red Sea. We also explore the Tombs of King Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, as well as the Mai Shum reservoir, also known as the Queen of Sheba’s bath. Later, we discover St. Mary of Zion Cathedral and the Imperial Thrones.
Our day begins with a visit to the Lioness of Gobedra, a fascinating rock sculpture carved into the relief a few miles outside Aksum. We also see the neighbouring quarry, from which it is believed that the stone used to fashion the city’s renowned stelae was sourced. We then explore Dungur, perhaps better known as the Queen of Sheba’s Palace.
This morning, we drive east from Aksum through dramatic rock formations to the site of Yeha, to see the Pre-Aksumite Saba‘an Temple. Dating back to the 8th century BC, the Temple is believed to be the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia. In the afternoon, we visit the Wukro Archaeological Museum, home to hundreds of artefacts, including many from the Saba’an site of Meqaber Ga’ewa.
On our final full day, we fly back to Addis Ababa, where we discover the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a modern but architecturally fascinating structure, home to the tomb of Haile Selassie. We venture to Mount Entoto, on the outskirts of Addis, for its breath-taking views panoramic views of the city. We take the opportunity to visit Menelik’s Palace, built for the Emperor in the late 19th Century. Returning to the city, we explore both the National Museum of Ethiopia, best known for its fossilised remains of early hominids, and the Ethnological Museum, located within Haile Selassie’s former palace. Our tour ends with a final dinner together.
Today we fly home from Addis Ababa airport, arriving in London this afternoon.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach and boat
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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Many of our tours can be linked together to form longer programmes. We are happy to arrange connecting flights and hotels, allowing you to spend as long as you wish exploring the ancient world... See suggestions below: