Most interesting landmarks of Ethiopia

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Ethiopia.

Natural landmarks of Ethiopia

Volcanoes and geothermal features
Erta Ale lava lake, Ethiopia
Erta Ale lava lake / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Allalobed geysers and hot springs – Afar. Group of beautiful hot springs and up to 6 m high (sometimes even 30 m), very active geyser.
  • Dallol salt springs and geysers – Afar. One of the visually most outstanding places on Earth, the hot springs have a high salt concentration, which has shaped terraces and other formations of very bright, unusual colors. Among the hot springs there is also salt geyser – possibly the only one in the world.
  • Erta Ale – Afar. One of the most active volcanos in the world, with constant lava lake (sometimes two lakes) in the crater, known since 1906. None of the other known lava lakes in the world have such a long lifetime.

Ethiopia has numerous world-class waterfalls, but most are little known outside Ethiopia.

  • Adjoura Falls (Ajaro Falls, Soddo Falls, Ajora Falls) – Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region. Two falls, plunging approximately 250 m down the vertical cliff into forested canyon. There are several more impressive waterfalls nearby.
  • Awash Falls – Amhara. Impressive falls of Awash River – here the river enters in a gorge.
  • Blue Nile Falls (Tis Abay) – Amhara. Enormous waterfall, 37 – 45 m high, up to 400 m wide. Now part of the water is used by hydropower plant.
  • Geech Abyss and Jinbar Falls (Jinbar Falls) – Amhara. 800 m deep abyss in Simien Mountains. Jin Bahir stream falls into this abyss – falls are starting from deep canyon – thus their height is less than the depth of abyss but nevertheless – more than 500 m.
  • Anabe Forest – Amhara. Unique yellowwood forest (Afrocarpus gracilior), area 53 ha. In the central part of this forest are growing giant yellowwoods, including the giant tree – Awliyaw.
  • Gara Muleta cloud forest – Oromiya. Mountain cloud forest island amidst deserts and semi-deserts. One of the most biodiverse places in Ethiopia with 361 species of plants. 45 plants are endemic to Ethiopia. Rich fauna with numerous species of monkeys and other animals. Especially species rich is southern side of the mountain.
  • Harenna Forest – Oromiya. Unique montane forest, little explored but as far is it known – one of the most biodiverse areas in the region. Receives more rain than most areas around as it is located on enormous southwest-facing slope. Contains natural groves of high quality coffee.
Other natural landmarks
Kundudo Horses, Ethiopia
Kundudo Horses / Marcoetio, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Awliyaw (Anabe Forest Yellowwood) – Amhara. Giant yellowwood tree (Afrocarpus gracilior), with 12.5 – 12.7 m circumference, 63 m high. Sacred tree, considered to be the largest tree in Ethiopia.
  • Kundudo Horses – Oromiya. Flat topped mountain surrounded by vertical walls. On the top is living a herd of wild horses – one of two wild horse packs in Africa, most isolated ancient horse breed in the world.
  • Kundudo Marvel Cave (Gursum Pearl Cave) – Oromiya. Cave with unique, beautiful speleothems. This cave contains numerous stalagmites which are bent in weird forms. The mechanism behind these distortions is not entirely clear. Contains endemic cave fauna.
  • Lake Afrera – Afar. Unusual, slightly acidic, hypersaline lake 102 m below the sea level. Two endemic species of fish live in the lake. Parts of lake are covered with salt layer, there are observed "attacks" of the lake, when the salt layer is suddenly raised like a big wave.
  • Shewa opal mine – Amhara. Rich find of top-quality opal with very beautiful opalescence. Stones are in diverse colors.
  • Sof Omar Caves – Oromiya. Longest known cave in Ethiopia, 15.1 km long. Sacred site, with characteristic pillars. Cave can be walked through.

Man made landmarks of Ethiopia

Ancient human finds
  • Konso – Gardula Palaelolithic settlements – Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. Here are found 17 sites of ancient hominins, who lived here between 200 0000 – 2 000 000 years ago. Found numerous bones of Homo erectus and Australopithecus boisei, numerous Acheulian stone tools.
  • Melka Kunture Prehistoric Site – Oromiya. Here are found more than 30 occupation sites of Palaeolithic man and many tools made by Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.
  • Middle Awash Valley – Afar. Unique find of Middle Pliocene fossils (Bouri Formation), including some of the oldest known hominins in the world – at least seven species. Here were found remnants of Lucy – Australopithecus afarensis, 3,2 million years old hominin and Ardi – 4,4 million years old hominin Ardipithecus ramidus. Here have been found numerous other valuable fossils, including fossils of extinct elephantoids.
  • Omo I and Omo II sites – Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. Here, in Kibish Formation have been found very important fossils of early hominins as well as remains of humans (Homo sapiens), who lived here some 195 thousand years ago.
Prehistoric paintings and petroglyphs
  • Ba’ati Barud and Dabo Zellelew – Tigray. Caves used as shelters in Neolithic time. Walls of caves are adorned with paintings and engravings. Paintings show people, cattle, geometric figures.
  • Goda Roriisso – Oromiya. Enormous boulder covered with the best prehistoric artworks of Ethiopia. Paintings include 150 painted cows.
  • Stinico Caves – Oromiya. Two caves with prehistoric engravings and drawings. In this area are numerous petroglyph sites.
Megaliths and stelae
Obelisk of Axum, Ethiopia
Obelisk of Axum / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Axum Northern Stelae Park – Tigray. Hundreds of Axum stelae made of single stones and up to 24 m high (Obelisk of Axum) and made around the 4th century AD. Stelae mark the burials of emperors and nobles. The tallest stele in the past was 33 m tall.
  • Geta Lion – Amhara. Monolithic sculpture of lion. It is not known when this sculpture was made and by whom, there are no similar sculptures in this region.
  • Lioness of Gobedra – Tigray. Carving of a crouching lioness, some 3 m long. The time of creation is not known.
  • Nefas Mawcha – Tigray. One of the largest megalithic structures in the world – a dolmen 17 x 7 x 1.5 m large, weighing some 360 tons. It served as a roof to underground complex of tombs.
  • Tomb of King Bazen – Tigray. Purported tomb of legendary emperor Zäbe’esi Bazén who reigned at the time of Christ. Amazing monolithic structure, hewn in solid rock. 16 steps lead down into hall with four burial chambers.
  • Tiya Stelae – Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. A row of 36 standing stones – megaliths. 32 stones are adorned with enigmatic symbols. Most likely here is located burial complex. Age of this ancient Ethiopian culture is not known. There are known some 160 more megalithic sites in Soddo region.
  • Tutu Fela megalithic stelae – Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region. Enormous megalithic monument with more than 1200 upright stones, marking ancient burials. Many standing stones are formed in phallic forms and adorned with stone carvings.
Rock-cut churches
Bete Giyorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia
Bete Giyorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Abuna Yemata Guh – Tigray. Small, beautiful rock-cut church, made in the 13th century. Church is adorned with beautiful frescoes. One should ascend over a 200 m abyss to enter the church.
  • Abreha wa Atsbeha Church – Tigray. Old church, hewn in live rock. Interior of the church is adorned with elaborate, colourful frescoes. Paintings are comparatively recent and show history of Ethiopia.
  • Adadi Maryam – Oromiya. Complex of approximately 600 – 700 years old, rock hewn churches. These are the southernmost ancient Christian rock-cut churches. If compared with churches in Lalibela, these churches are fairly roughly made.
  • Debre Tsion Church – Tigray. Mountaintop church, built in the 13th century. Church is hewn in the rock, adorned with beautiful frescoes.
  • Lalibela churches – Amhara. 11 monolithic Christian churches hewn underground from cliff in the 13th century.
Other churches and monasteries
  • Axum Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion – Tigray. The most important church of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, site where Ethiopian emperors were crowned. First church was built here around the 4th century AD, current one – in 1665. According to Ethiopian tradition, this church holds the original Ark of the Covenant.
  • Debre Damo – Tigray. This monastery from the 6th century is accessible only by rope up a vertical cliff. Here is located the oldest Christian church in Ethiopia (around the 6th century AD), where as construction materials are used obelisks of Axum state.
  • Ura Kidane Mehret – Amhara. Beautiful church, built in the 16th century. Decorated with numerous murals from the 18th – 19th century.
Other man made landmarks of Ethiopia
Street in Harar Jugol, Ethiopia
Street in Harar Jugol / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Amba Geshen – Amhara. Isolated, flat topped mountain surrounded by vertical, high walls. This mountain was used as a prison in the past – here were exiled and left male heirs of Ethiopian Emperors.
  • Dungur Palace – Tigray. Extensive ruins in Axum – a palace built around the 7th century AD, in the times of Axumite kingdom.
  • Fasil Ghebbi – Amhara. Fortress – town of emperor of Ethiopia, built in the 17th century. Now in ruins but nevertheless looks very impressive. Architecture of the complex is a unique fusion of Nubian, Arab and Baroqye styles. Includes Fasilides Castle and other buildings.
  • Harar Jugol – Harari. Historical centre of once important commercial city, enclosed in fortification wall. Harar Jugol contains huge amount of historical architecture including 110 mosques. City flourished in the 16th century.
  • Tana Qirqos – Amhara. Legendary island – there are stories that Ark of the Covenant was hidden on this island for a while – from 400 BC to 400 AD. Then it was moved to Axum.
  • Temple of Yeha – Tigray. Oldest standing structure in Ethiopia, a tower built around 700 BC. Approximately in the 6th century AD it was converted into Christian church. Yeha was possible capital of D’mt – the oldest known Ethiopian state.

Described landmarks of Ethiopia

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Ethiopia is very interesting country with rich cultural and natural heritage. Highlights of Ethiopian heritage are:

  • Rock cut churches. Christianity was established in Ethiopia in the 4th century and since then it has inspired a distinct cultural tradition. Monolithic churches, hewn in live rock and adorned with garish frescoes, form a part of this unique cultural tradition. By far the best known monolithic churches are located in Lalibela, but there many more rock cut churches in the mountains of Ethiopia.
  • Ancient stelae and megalithic standing stones. True wonders of world are stelae of Axum – these monolithic stone obelisks were up to 33 meters high and 520 tonnes heavy. Obelisks were erected in the first centuries AD, but the tradition of erection of stones goes further in the past. There are thousands of standing stones in diverse locations of Ethiopia, including the southern jungle. The best known are Tiya Stelae – standing stones adorned with mysterious signs and figures and erected in unknown times by unknown people.
  • Remnants of the first humans – in Ethiopia are found unique remnants belonging to some of the oldest hominins and humans in the world. Best known sites are located in Middle Awash and Omo valleys.

Featured: Dallol salt springs and geysers

Dallol salt springs, Ethiopia
Dallol salt springs / Hervé Sthioul, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the most unusual places on Earth is Dallol Volcano. It is dubbed to be the most colourful place on Earth and the hottest place in the world. This is the only volcano in the world below the sea level and without water over it. This place has got the only geysers of salt and acid in the world – and lots of them!

These unique phenomena have been created by a rare coincidence of several geological factors.

Recommended books

Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guide)

The bestselling guide to Ethiopia in recent years, this fully updated seventh edition of Philip Briggs’ acclaimed guide reveals an ancient country that continues to surpass all expectations: from the ancient Judaic cultures of the fertile highlands to the Animist people of the South Omo Valley, from the Afroalpine moorland of the Bale Mountains National Park to the thundering Blue Nile Falls.

Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia

This powerful book gives readers a chance to experience Ethiopia through the personal experience of a writer who is both Ethiopian and American. It takes readers beyond headlines and stereotypes to a deeper understanding of the country. This is an absorbing account of the author’s return trip to Ethiopia as an adult, having left the country in exile with her family at age 11.

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