Addis Ababa, which is Amharic for ‘new flower’, is a gateway to many of Ethiopia’s historical sites. Here are some of the city’s most interesting museums, cathedrals, markets and historical monuments that are worth a guided tour.
An important place of worship for the followers of the Orthodox faith, the Holy Trinity Cathedral is a majestic place filled with spectacular artwork. With its towering dome and stunning statues of angels, the cathedral’s exterior is beautiful to see. The inside is just as impressive, with its magnificent stained-glass windows and grand murals depicting biblical stories; Honorable Laureate Maitre Artiste Afewerk Tekle’s painting of the Holy Trinity is one of the cathedral’s highlights. Visit the churchyard and you can see the imperial tombs of Emperor Haile Selassie, his wife Empress Menen Asfaw and the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The church is also the final resting place of patriots and war veterans, including Ras Imru. A museum showcasing artefacts can also be found in the church.
Boasting collections that are ranked as among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa, the National Museum of Ethiopia holds royal items including Emperor Haile Selassie’s throne, traditional weapons, clothing, jewellery, musical instruments, canvas oil paintings, fossils, stone tools and many other ancient remains. Lucy, the famous skeleton discovered in 1974 in the Afar region of northwestern Ethiopia, is the highlight of the museum. At 3.25 million years-old, Lucy is credited with changing our understanding of human origins. Guides will be happy to walk you through the museum as you discover the stories of our ancestors.
Shouting ‘menged menged’ in the local Amharic language, porters carry huge piles of different items on their head and urge you to make way – welcome to Africa’s largest open market. Although it appears messy and can be pretty challenging to navigate, the market has organised sections that will overcome this first impression. Gold and silver jewellery, electronics equipment, religious artefacts, coffee, secondhand clothes, road-side food – there’s nothing that Merkato doesn’t have tucked in one of its pockets. It is fast-paced and often crowded with people and vehicles all rushing to get somewhere. Merkato is best visited with a local guide.
As the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie I, this museum gives you a peek into the life of an Ethiopian king. His majesty’s bedroom, changing room and bathroom are open for visits. Ethiopia’s rich culture and social history are also on display in two floors in the museum. Dedicated to Ethiopian artefacts and handicrafts, the first floor shows cultural practices of different ethnic groups, such as rites of passage, burials, games and traditional tales. The second floor shows visitors the different forms of Ethiopian religious art, including a collection of icons. A section that focusses on traditional musical instruments from all over Ethiopia is located on the same floor.
Founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1872, St Raguel Church is the oldest church in Addis Ababa. Local guides will tell you that the beautiful paintings you see on the church’s walls and ceiling are handpainted and over a century old, as old as the church itself. Another ancient church carved out of rock over 700 years ago can also be visited here. A museum displaying old manuscripts, crosses and other relics that show the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox church is also located here. Found in the Entoto Hills, the church’s serene environment may entice you to stay for a little while longer than you intended.
The Addis Ababa Museum, which was established in 1986 for the city’s centenary, displays heritage that show the city’s development from its foundation up to the present day. Pictures of the first motor car and the first telephone in Ethiopia are on display, among many other items in the eight different sections of the museum. Weapons used during the Battle of Adwa are housed in a separate section. Beautiful portraits of royal figures including Empress Zewditu and Empress Taitu hang on the museum’s walls.
At 3,200 metres (10,499 feet) above sea level, Entoto Hill provides a panoramic view of Addis Ababa. Visitors who are up for the hike can do some light trekking while admiring the beautiful nature all around them. The historical Entoto Mariam or St Mary Church and the humble palace of Emperor Menelik II await at the end of the hike. The emperor’s wife, Empress Tayetu Betul, is credited with founding the city of Addis Ababa in the 19th century. While driving back to the city, visitors can make a stop at the Shiro Meda market to buy some souvenirs including traditional Ethiopian clothes and handicrafts.
Ethiopia is famous for long-distance runners and world record holders in athletics. Founded by one of these renowned runners, Haile Gebrselassie, Yaya Athletics Village is the perfect place for high-altitude training. A four-star resort, this place provides running tracks, horse riding, a volleyball court, a gymnasium and other sports facilities. For those who would like to test their endurance at high altitude, there are unlimited miles of trails through forest, mountains and fields. Visitors will get a chance to do some sightseeing and meet members of the local community.
A decent collection of mummified animals and plants, some of which endemic to Ethiopia, are on full display at the Zoological Natural History Museum located within Addis Ababa University. If you don’t have time to travel around the country and witness its wildlife, the museum will give you a glimpse of it. The gelada baboon, mountain nyala and walia ibex are some of Ethiopia’s endemic animals that are part of this collection of over 13,000 mammals, birds and insects.