Interesting Facts

  • The area of Ethiopia is 1,104,300 sq. km
  • The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa, which means “new flower” in Amharic founded by Emperor Menelik in the 19th century. The altitude is 2,355m (7,726 ft) up to 3, 000 m ASL making it the 3rd highest capital city in the world.
  • More than 70% of Africa’s mountains are found in Ethiopia. Probably due to the high altitude in the country, Ethiopians are famous for being great long distance runners.
  • The Danakil Depression is the lowest point on earth. Dallol, at 125m below sea level – and one of the only active lava lakes in the world – at Erta Ale volcano.
    The Great Rift Valley, the most significant physical detail on the planet that is visible from space, cuts through Ethiopia from the northeast to the south of the country
  • There are more than 86 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, 86 languages and over 200 dialects are spoken throughout the country. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa with its own unique script, calendar and alphabet
  • Ethiopia remains the only nation in Africa never to be colonized.
  • Ethiopia is home to 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other country in Africa.
  • Meskel, one of the major Ethiopian Orthodox festivals, is celebrated for two days beginning on September 26th. Legend has it that in the year 326, Queen Helena (Empress Helen) the Mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified. Unable to find the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for help and was directed by the smoke from a burning fire as to where the cross was buried. After unearthing the Holy Cross, Queen Helena lit torches heralding her success. In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in return for protection afforded to the Coptic Christians. A fragment of the True Cross is reputedly held at the Gishen Mariam, about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie. Ethiopians have been celebrating this day for millennia. There are two occasions on Meskel. The first is Demera (September 26), in which bonfires are built topped by a cross to which flowers are tied. The flowers are Meskel Daisies. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lightning ceremony. After the bonfires are blessed they are lit and dancing and singing begins around them. Priests in full ceremonial clothes sing around the bonfire. Little Demera is also built at individual houses or villages. After some time, splinters from the bundles of burning wood collapse. Which direction they fall is very significant: north, south, east, or west Interpretations are soon conjectured as to whether the fields of grain are going to be plentiful or not, or there is peace all year round, etc. At the closing of the Demera, a rain shower is expected to fall to help put the fire out. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished, there is a belief that the year will be prosperous. The day after the Demera is Meskel. This day is observed with plenty of food and drink as believers go to the spot of the Demera and, using ashes from the fire, mark their heads with the sign of the cross. The festival coincides with the mass blooming of the golden yellow Meskel daisies. The best place to see the Meskel Festival is in the capital Addis Ababa at the famous Meskel Square. But all along the Historic route (Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum, and Lalibela) and in other major towns, Meskel is colorfully celebrated.
  • Celebrating the Baptism of Christ, every January 19th (January 20 during leap year), Timkat is the greatest colorful festival of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia. It celebrates the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. The eve of Timket is called Ketera. This is when the Tabots of each church are carried out in procession to a river or pool of water where the next day’s celebration will take place. A special tent is set up where each Tabot rests as members of the church choirs chant hymns. This is accompanied by a special dance by the priests with their prayer sticks and sistera, the beating of drums, ringing of bells, and blowing of trumpets. The Tabot symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Law, which Moses received on Mount Sinai. It is the Tabot rather than the church building, which is consecrated, and it is accorded extreme reverence. When the Tabot is carried out, it is wrapped in brocade or velvet “like the mantle of Christ” and carried on the head of a priest with colorful ceremonial umbrellas shading it. The priests pray throughout the night and mass is performed at around 2:00 am the next day. Near dawn the people go to the water and attend the prayers. After the prayer, a senior priest uses a golden processional cross to bless the water and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the water. Then he sprinkles the water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ’s baptism. Many of the more fervent leap fully dressed into the water to renew their vows. The Timkat ceremony is merely a commemoration, not an annual rebaptism. After the baptism, the Tabots of each church, except St. Michael’s church, start their way back to their respective churches. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing, leaping priests and young men, the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalling the ancient rites of the Old Testament (11 Sam.Chap.6) The next day, 20 Jan, is the feast of Michael the Archangel, Ethiopia’s most popular saint. And it is only on this morning that the Tabot of St. Michael’s is returned to his church, also accompanied by the singing and dancing of priests and locals with their colorful dress. Thus ends the three-day celebration, a unique ceremony of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world. The best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gonder or Addis Ababa. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched in the grassy field at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city center. At 2:00am a mass is attended by crowds who’ve brought picnics to enjoy by the light of oil lamps. At dawn the priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole set in a nearby river using a ceremonial cross. Some in the congregation leap into the river. The Tabots are then taken back to the Churches in procession, accompanied by horsemen, while the festivities continue.
  • Fichee-Chambalaalla is a New Year festival celebrated among the Sidama people. According to the oral tradition, Fichee commemorates a Sidama woman who visited her parents and relatives once a year after her marriage, bringing buurisame, a meal prepared from false banana, milk and butter, which was shared with neighbours. Fichee has since become a unifying symbol of the Sidama people. Each year, astrologers determine the correct date for the festival, which is then announced to the clans. Communal events take place throughout the festival, including traditional songs and dances. Every member participates irrespective of age, gender and social status. On the first day, children go from house to house to greet their neighbours, who serve them buurisame. During the festival, clan leaders advise the Sidama people to work hard, respect and support the elders, and abstain from cutting down indigenous trees, begging, indolence, false testimony and theft. The festival therefore enhances equity, good governance, social cohesion, peaceful co-existence and integration among Sidama clans and the diverse ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Parents transmit the tradition to their children orally and through participation in events during the celebration. Women in particular, transfer knowledge and skills associated with hairdressing and preparation of buurisame to their daughters and other girls in their respective villages.
  • Irreecha is chiefly a thanksgiving festival celebrating the end of the winter and monsoon months in Oromia region in the south-central area of the country. During the months preceding there is cold weather and heavy rains. There is also an increased prevalence of diseases like Malaria which makes it more difficult to visit family and friends. However, once this period of difficulty comes to an end and the harvest begins, it is marked by this festival of thanks by the locals. The celebration itself commemorates the arrival of Birra (the name for spring in the region) and blessings enjoyed by people over the past year. Locals dress in traditional costumes and observe Irreecha with dancing, singing, and gathering together with relatives. A big part of the celebration involves going to the lakes around Oromia region and placing cut grass and flowers in the water to give thanks to Waaqa (the local name for God) for good fortune and prosperity over the coming year. Irreecha is celebrated all over Oromia. However, the biggest single celebration takes place in Bishoftu town about 44km outside of Addis Ababa. The capital city itself also recently started playing host to this major celebration after 150 years of being absent from its streets.
  • Ethiopia’s national dish consists of INJERA, a circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called Teff, served with a tantalisingly spiced selection of vegan or meat dishes.
  • Addis Ababa boasts a wide variety of restaurants from traditional to modern in which one can effectively dine out in every continent of the world.
  • Ethiopia is widely considered the birthplace of coffee. About 1,000 years ago coffee was discovered by a goat herder called Kaldi in the Kaffa region, believed the origin of the word coffee. The unique Ethiopian coffee ceremony is considered to be the most important social and meeting occasion in Ethiopian culture that can be enjoyed throughout the country today.
  • Another uniquely Ethiopian delicacy is Tej wine made from honey, water and a medicinal shrub called ‘gesho’. Ethiopia is a delight for visitors with adventurous palates with the large variety of traditional and modern food and beverages on offer.

Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world, a home of the Black Jews, known as the Falashas, or Beta Israel, a home to Islam since the fled of Prophet Mohammed followers, home to Rastafarianism which is inspired by the last Emperor of Ethiopia ‘’Emperor Haile Selassie” or ‘’Ras Tefari” and other may more traditional beliefs.

There are 279 species of mammals found in Ethiopia of which 31 are endemic. 924 species of birds of which 23 are endemic makes Ethiopia a bird-watchers paradise. 175 species of fish of which 40 are endemic.

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