The Historic Route consists of 4 major stops in the Northern portion of Ethiopia; Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibela and Axum.
Bahir Dar is located on the southern shores of Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, and a short trip away is the spectacular feature of the Tis Issat(The water that smokes) Blue Nile waterfalls.
On Lake Tana there are about 30 islands; 20 – 22 of them house churches and monasteries, dating back to the 14th century. Most of these monasteries and churches can only be visited by boat trip.
The Blue Nile River is also known as Abay and originates from Lake Tana.
Although Lake Tana is considered by some as the source of Blue Nile River, other scholars believe the source to be Gishen Abay. The Blue Nile River joins the White Nile at Khartoum and then travel to the Mediterranean Sea.
It is used to cover 400 m wide during the rainy season and the drop was up to 45 m. Currently the water fall is reduced because of damming for a hydroelectric power station.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant in which lies the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed.
This same church was where Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination for pilgrims. Significant religious festivals are the T’imk’et Festival (known as the Epiphany in western Christianity) on 7 January and the Festival of Maryam Zion in late November.
The major Aksumite monuments in the town are stelae, ranging up to the 33-metre Great Stele, believed to have fallen and broken during construction. The tallest standing is the 24-metre King Ezana’s Stele. The stelae are believed to mark graves and would have had cast metal discs affixed to their sides, which are also carved with architectural designs.
Other features of the town include archaeological and ethnographic museums, the Ezana Stone written in Sabaean, Ge’ez and Ancient Greek in a similar manner to the Rosetta Stone, King Bazen’s Tomb (a megalith considered to be one of the earliest structures), the Queen of Sheba’s Bath (actually a reservoir), the fourth-century Ta’akha Maryam and sixth-century Dungur palaces, the monasteries of Abba Pentalewon and Abba Liqanos and the Lioness of Gobedra rock art.
Located in the north-east of Ethiopia, Lalibela is another renowned historical destination. The Lalibela rock-hewn churches are monoliths and semi monoliths, and lie beneath the surface of the earth in order to protect them from enemies. UNESCO has recorded this site as one of the world wonders. It is also holy land for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.
Today the town of Lalibela hosts eleven rock-hewn churches. The art displayed on the rocks dates from the twelfth century yet is still intact. An active pilgrim site, the town is extensively visited and a source of admiration for architects and tourists alike. It took King Lalibela his entire reign and more than 60,000 men to finish the work. According to local accounts, the work was assisted by angels. Other erected and cave churches built during this period are found at a short distance from the town.
Gondar is the 17th-century capital of Ethiopia. Bordering Sudan, it is one of the prominent historical areas in Ethiopia.
Officially founded by King Fasiladas in 1632, the Gondarine period is considered to be the third major dynasty after the Axumite and Zagwe dynasties.
Gondar’s 17th century castles reflect the strong dynasty and the power of progressive rulers. The biggest and most magnificent castle of all, King Fasiladas’ castle, which is still intact, was the first to be built. Additionally, Gondar was and is still noted as an active religious center. Among the churches in town, Debre Berhan Selassie is famous for its typically Gondarine style and its ceiling.
The oldest standing structure in Ethiopia is located in Yeha; it is a tower built in the Sabaean style, and dated to either the 8th or 7th century BC. This tower is one of the reasons some believe Yeha was the capital city of the D’mt kingdom. The walls of its early temple survive, while other ruins include Grat Beal Gebri, with square pillars.
Yeha is also the location of an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery, founded according to tradition by Abba Aftse, one of the Nine Saints. In his account of Ethiopia, Francisco Alvares mentions visiting this town in 1520, and provides a description of the ancient tower, the monastery, and the local church, which also has been dated to the time of the Axumite Kingdom. This ancient structure houses a museum.
Debra Damo is the name of a flat-topped mountain, or amba, and a 6th century monastery in northern Ethiopia. The monastery, accessible only by rope up a sheer cliff, is known for its collection of manuscripts, and having the earliest existing church in Ethiopia. Tradition claims the monastery was founded in the sixth century. The mountain is a steeply rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, and located west of Adigrat .
Debre Damo had also once been a royal prison for heirs to the Emperor of Ethiopia, like the better known Wehni and Amba Geshen.
The historic walled city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia was a major trading crossroads and a centre of Islamic learning. Fortified against invaders, its protective wall was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The wall or jugol, which is still intact, is about four meters high and pierced by five gates. A sixth gate was added at a later date. Explorer Richard Burton was the first European to enter the Forbidden City in the mid-19th century and wrote later: “Harar has not only its own tongue, unintelligible to any save the citizens; even its little population of about 8,000 souls is a distinct race.” Little has changed apart from the size of the population. The town is famous for the unique layout of its houses, its intricate basketry, coffee, hyena feeding, and for the trade in qat – a stimulant leaf that is chewed. The narrow, winding streets of Harar contain over 90 mosques and many consider it to be the fourth holiest city of Islam.