encompasses four major historic sites: Axum, Lalibela, Gondar, and Bahir Dar.
Axum was the seat of an empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with
India and China, had its own alphabet and notational system, constructed great engineering
works and dams.
It was reckoned in the 4th century to be one of the four
great powers of the ancient world.
Today the visitor can see stelae (the largest single pieces of stone erected
anywhere), the tombs and castles of Kings, Axum Museum and Mariamtsion Church, built on the
sit of Ethiopia’s first church.
A chapel within the church compound is believed by Ethiopian
Orthodox Christians to house the Ark of the Covenant (see Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the
A visit to Axum can be extended to take in the 500 BC pre-Axumite temple of Yeha.
At the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries King
Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty built a series of rock hewn churches, the New Jerusalem, rightly
reckoned to be one of the wonders of the world.
There are 11 churches within the town named
after him and outlying churches that can be visited on a second day.
Gondar was the capital of the Ethiopian Empire from the 17th
is distinguished by its castles and imperial compound and by its churches, particularly Debre
Berhan Selassie; the walls and ceiling of which are covered in murals.
On a second day,
visitors could take in the very fine and recently restored medieval church of Debre Sina
Mariam at Gorgora, at the northern end of Lake Tana, or vistas of the Simien Mountains.
Bahir Dar is situated on Lake Tana, which is dotted with island monasteries (most are
closed to women).
South of the Lake is the Nile, which feeds into Lake Tana and exits north
of Bahir Dar to create the spectacular Blue Nile Falls some 30 Kms. downstream.
The easiest and fastest way to get around is by air, although that means missing out on
some stunning scenery.
There are two itineraries for air and road travel.
A combination could
be made or the itineraries altered to take in other sites or activities en route, such as the
markets of Senbete and Bati; the rock hewn churches of Tigray; some days walking in the Simien
Mountains, or crossing Lake Tana by boat.