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HISTORY AND GEOGRAPH OF ETHIOPIA

The history of this country begins with a legend. The legend tells of the mythical Queen of Sheba, of King Solomon of Jerusalem and their son Menelik I. Ethiopia was known from the dawn of civilization. The ancient Egyptians already knew that their sacred river originated from a lake on a plateau in the country of Punt, “Land of Gods” in their language, and they knew of a garden existing beyond the desert.

However, historical sources bear witness to the existence in pre-Christian times of a rich and powerful kingdom, with a high level of civilizations.

Ethiopia was isolated for many years and is only now opening to the world its historical and artistic treasures, which are unquestionably unique and of great interest for the study of human history.

With its ancient traditions, this country is an example of how the world can still be deeply various. The numerous existing cultures living together there allow us to experience our journey as a beautiful human opportunity, a great chance for knowledge.

Ethiopia lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn with a rainy season lasting from May to September; Ethiopia is a green country for most of the year. It is a large country (1,251,000 km2), with diverse and extreme natural surroundings. The main part of the country is an immense table land, where you can find mountain massifs reaching 4533m, and where rains and big rivers such as the Blue Nile, Tekeze, Omo and Awash have carved out small and deep canyons.

The Ethiopian plateau slopes downwards towards its western Sudan borders, where there are rainforests and large coffee plantations, and eastwards towards the desert depression of Danakil (115m below sea level) in whose lunar landscapes, criss-crossed by salt caravans, are salt lakes and active volcanoes. To the south is the great divide of the Rift Valley, which runs from the Red Sea to Mozambique. It hosts a beautiful sequence of lakes, abounding in fish and inhabited by different species of birds.

In this east African country 84 diverse ethnic groups live together peacefully, each with its own language and traditions. It is almost certain that human beings and their hominid ancestors evolved in the eastern zone of the Rift Valley: Lucy, our most distant ancestor, who lived 3.5 million years ago, was found in the Awash Valley. Ethiopia has a very strong cultural identity, which has been preserved thanks to a long period of independence, lasting practically until present times.

Ethiopia has a 3000 year-old history. Historical documents proved that the Axumite Empire dates back to 300 A.D. From its capital city in the north-eastern part of the country, not far from the Red Sea, it controlled a vast territory that included part of the present Yemen. The empire had a high level of civilization, a written language, Ge’ez, and its own coins which were employed in trade.

With the conversation of King Ezana in 330 A.D., Ethiopia can be considered one of the first Christian states. From that time on Christianity becomes a major component of Ethiopian culture. After the decline of Axumite civilization, from 1137 to 1270 A.D., the Zagwe dynasty developed in the present region of Gojjam, in the northern part of the country. King Lalibela belonged to their dynasty. It was he who ordered the construction of the sacred town of “Lalibela”, the New Jerusalem /the second Jerusalem/. He had built 11 churches, all carved in the pink tuff stone of the mountain, and they are still places of worship.

When the Zagwe dynasty declined, it was not until the Fasiledes kingdom (1632-67) that the small village of Gondar was made into a great religious and artistic centre.

In the recent history, there was other great king who was able to unify the country and oppose foreign invasions and interference. Kassa Hailu (Kassa of Quara) was crowned in 1855 as the “king of kings” with the name of Tewodros (Tewodros II). He built his stronghold in the mountains of Meqdela in the Tigray region and committed suicide in 1868 to avoid falling into English hands.

Menelik II, the founder of the new capital city Addis Ababa, defeated the Italians in the historical battle of Adewa. Haile Selassie that means “Strength of Trinity”, the last great king crowned in 1930, reigned for half century.

The past remains ancient and glorious monuments: the monolithic churches of Lalibela, the carved obelisks and churches of Axum, more than 120 monasteries and rock churches in the Tigray region, as well as those scattered here and there along Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. In each of these sacred places ancient paintings, manuscripts and sacred objects are preserved.

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