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Debre Berhane Selassie

Debre Berhan Selassie an easy stroll 2km northeast of town. Despite its walls hosting the nation’s most vibrant ecclesiastical artwork, it’s the ceiling that captures most visitors’ imaginations. Think of Mona Lisa’s smile and multiply it 104 times!

Debre Berhane Selassie Debre Berhane Selassie

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A Dedicated Website for The World Most Honorable Maitre Artiste World Laureate IOM.CH Afewerk Tekle will be launched by StudioNet as part of its social responsibility program.

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Erta Ale, the living Shield Volcano

Erta Ale is a very remote and rarely visited shield volcano in the Afar region of East Africa.

Erta Ale, the living Shield Volcano Erta Ale, the living Shield Volcano

Mulatu Astatke

The Father of Ethio Jazz: Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke Mulatu Astatke

Churches in Ethiopia

Vestibulum convallis nisl vel purus ultrices porttitor. Proin in velit at ante rutrum ullamcorper. Maecenas congue hendrerit dignissim.

Churches in Ethiopia Churches in Ethiopia

Kay Kabaro: Simien jackal

The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest canid in the world (Sillero 2001), and is one of the world's rarest mammals.

Kay Kabaro: Simien jackal Kay Kabaro: Simien jackal

Beautiful Scenery of Ethiopia

Awasa , southern Ethiopia’s largest city, is 100km further south and sits on the shores of attractive Lake Awasa. With plenty of facilities, a great fish market and row boats to boot, Awasa is a great place to stop.  

Beautiful Scenery of Ethiopia Beautiful Scenery of Ethiopia

Gonder: Medieval castles of Ethiopia

The Center of Ethiopian art and culture Gondar, founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635, is famous for its many medieval castles and the design and decoration of its churches.

Gonder: Medieval castles of Ethiopia Gonder: Medieval castles of Ethiopia

The Greatness of Ethiopia: Legend & Reality

By Jean Doresse

Although a variety of races with, widely differing languages has met and mingled in Ethiopia, a remarkably closely-knit culture has developed there over the centuries. The primary reason for this unity is probably geographical the peaceful scenery, greenness and cool temperatures of these high plateaux, at an altitude of over 6,500 feet, which call to mind some of Europe's mountains rather than Africa.

There is another element making for unity the majority of the peoples living in these uplands are, despite their dark skins, akin to the white race. It is for these reasons that long ago a civilization grew up which distinguishes Ethiopia from the Negro-inhabited parts of Africa, by which it is largely surrounded, and which gives to the country affinities with the lands of ancient civilization Egypt, Syria and Arabia with which it had historical contacts.

 

 

ANCIENT LEGENDS are written large into the story of Ethiopia,a country of ancient and distinctive civilization. They are still told graphically, for example, in the brightly coloured paintings which in the "cartoon" style of a series of panels reproduce scenes from the 1 4th century "Glory of the Kings," Ethiopia's National Book, which has. a biblical background.
Painting reproduced above dates from the 19th century. It tells the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and of the birth of Menelik, first Emperor of Ethiopia whom Ethiopians believe was the son of Solomon and the Quenn. Left, early Ethiopian gold coin minted at the end the 3 rd century A. D. It is inscribed in the Geez alphabet. a form of writing that originated in Arabia, crossed the Red Sea and became assimilated and adapted in Ethiopia. The Geez alphabet has survived to the present day although Ethiopia's principal language is Amharic. The Ethiopian money which was struck in the third century had its own distinctive designs and was used until the 9th century.

 

Let us first of all set aside a myth still too current; that ancient Ethiopia had ties With the land of the Pharaohs. This romantic idea was widely advanced by classical writers two thousand years ago. Yet the country referred to both in the writings of Herodotus and in the Aethiopica of Heliodorus was not Ethiopia itself, but merely the Sudanese Kingdom of Meroe. There is, however, evidence that a protohistorical Ethiopian civilization already existed some thousands of years before our era, though it left behind no monuments. Ancient Ethiopia was known to the Egyptians as the "Land of Punt" or the "Land of the Gods", names which covered more specifically the regions producing incense which lay along the southern shores of the Red Sea, both in East Africa and Arabia. Egypt in its earliest times had traditions that some of its gods and legends had come from those parts of the world, and its traders brought back rare merchandise from these coasts. The expeditions sent by the Pharaohs, however, never penetrated to the high plateaux; some merely went up the Nile to the markets of the Sudan; others, coming by sea, put in at the points on the coast where wood, ivory and costly animals were to be bought.It is worth noting that, while the Minaean, Sabaean and other kingdoms of Southern Arabia began to be famous for their wealth and their culture about a thousand years b.c., it was not until eight or ten centuries later that the first travellers from the shores of the Mediterranean reached the Abyssinian highlands, where they found large cities and powerful rulers.

Left Picture : stone statue of a prince dating from the 3rd century which was found in the Tigre region of northern Ethiopia.

What they tell us is borne out by monuments still extant. There was undoubtedly, at that time, a lively civilization in Ethiopia, with firmly established, characteristic institutions of its own. The gateway to the country was the great port of Adulis, where fleets from the Egypt of the Ptolemies and from the Indian Ocean alike put in. The chief towns were Coloë, the centre of the ivory trade, on the edge of the plateau above Adulis, and Axum in the interior of the country. The peoples who held these cities belonged to races which had been long settled on either coast of the Red Sea. The most highly civilized of them used a Semitic language and, in their inscriptions, they even employed the Sabaean writing; they had abandoned the religion of Africa in favour of one, with temples and altars, akin to that of the great kingdoms of Southern Arabia. The earliest monuments they had built had drawn inspiration from the remarkable buildings whose countless remains are still to be seen today on the plateaux of the Yemen and the Hadramaut. i But these were not mere imitations. All had been assimilated and transformed on African soil. The Sabaean .writing was soon to develop into Geez, which Ethiopia has preserved to modern times^ The Sabaean architecture was to be treated in new ways by races accustomedto cutting enormous blocks of hard stone and to erectingmonolithic obelisks as huge as those of the Pharaohs.It was certainly a powerful nation, for the rulers of Axum extended their power even to Arabia, from whichthe first seeds of their own culture had come. In the third and fourth centuries, the Ethiopian nation thus secured a monopoly of trade in the south of the Red Sea, on which, up to that time, only the Southern Arabian kingdoms, producing incense and spices, had built their greatness. From the end of the third century, Axum's international importance was emphasized by the fact that, for a short time, Greek was used in certain inscriptions and even on coins. For an Ethiopian coinage was struck, using the same weights of metal as the. various Roman gold pieces of the time but with its own quite distinctive designs; it was to survive until the ninth century.

 

The man who did most to develop this Ethiopian civilization was the Emperor Aizanas (about 320-350 a.D.), who introduced the general use of Geez writing, based on the Sabaean script, for the Semitic language spoken by his people. At the same time, about 340 a.D., he introduced Christianity, which has ever since been the nation's religion. It very soon developed characteristic features of its own, however, being very biblical in inspiration and sometimes showing a marked tendency towards Judaism, clear traces of which are still to be seen in its myths and practices. Churches were built for the new religion, reminiscent in design of the Axumite temples and combining decorative features drawn from Arabia, Syria, Persia and Coptic Egypt. Many monasteries were founded, in which libraries grew up, starting with collections of translations. From the beginning of the seventh century onwards, the Axumite Empire felt the repercussions of the decadence which had recently destroyed the last splendours of the Southern Arabian states. The maritime trade of the Red Sea on which its prosperity had been founded also collapsed and in a short time an impoverished Ethiopia found itself cut off, except for a few ties with Egypt, from the rest of the world. This situation lasted until the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, its culture scarcely suffered and under the dynasty of the Zagués' (tenth or twelfth century to 1270 a.d.) a fantastic capital, the city of King Lalibela, grew up in the mountainous province of Lasta. Its twelve monolithic churches mark the end of the old Axumite artistic tradition as well as representing, no doubt, its highest achievement. Then began the Middle Ages, with the greatest development taking place further south than the provinces of Tigre and Lasta, in the bleak mountains of Amhara and the fertile plains of Shoa. There the Geez script had to be adapted to a vernacular in which only a few traces of the old Sabaean contribution were to be seen. This was Amharic, which is still today the principal language of the nation. But Geez was not forgotten; it was still used in Christian liturgy and literature.

Against this new background, a series of kings who proved themselves as distinguished statesmen, heroic warriors, strict jurists, theologians and, in some cases, inspired poets too one of the greatest was Zar'a Ya'kub (1434-1468) brought into being a prosperous nation which, in its monuments and paintings, its extensive literature and its practical and detailed chronicles, calls to mind the Middle Ages of Western Europe. In both literature and art, the recognizable outside influences at work come mainly from Coptic Egypt and from Syria, though occasionally a few European features, brought there in some way unknown, were sometimes mingled with the others.

Unfortunately, the Middle Ages in Ethiopia were marked by violent religious struggles. Islam, with which the old rulers of Axum had maintained the most cordial relations, had gained a foothold to the east of the high plateaux in low-lying regions where independent kingdoms had been established. This branch of Islam, thoroughly Ethiopian in spirit and (although it adopted Arabic as its language) in its writings, remained peaceable for a time.

Then it allowed itself to be drawn on by certain hitherto uncivilized peoples for whom it provided the unifying element to make an all-out attack on the more prosperous Christian table-lands. This was basically an economic war; only at rare intervals did it assume the character of a holy one. The fiercest challenge came shortly before the middle of the

sixteenth century, when the assault of the armies united by the Imam Gragne laid waste the great trading centres, towns and churches of Shoa, Amhara and Tigre. Only the intervention, in 1541, of a small band of Portuguese soldiers led by Dom Christophe de Gama saved this 1,500 years-old empire from ruin. These men from the West, though few in numbers, were bearers of new techniques, yet they brought about no change in the traditional culture of Ethiopia. The Western influence in fact died out particularly quickly because the only people who came after the Portuguese soldiers (the survivors of whom were very soon absorbed and lost in the mass of the Ethiopian population) were a handful of Catholic missionaries whose teachings were immediately rejected by the nation. Ethiopia clung to its rich, ancient culture, although, at the end of this period, there were fresh developments in its painting, its miniatures and a picturesque form of architecture which is particularly well represented in the imperial castles of Gondar. The Western influences to be seen in these Works, however, are more or less indirect and probably came not by way of European masters, but through builders or painters from India, where the Portuguese had recently been spreading a wide knowledge of their techniques and their art-forms.

left Picture: AXUM, holy city of Ethiopia, adopted Christianity in the 4th century.Today the imposing vestiges of its past still stand.

Ethiopia was to undergo yet one more trial before the advent of modern times a sudden invasion by wave upon wave of the Galla peoples coming from the south and the south-east. Within a few centuries, however, the nation was to absord this hardy strain, some groups of the invaders adopting Christianity and some Islam. Once again, Ethiopian culture emerged untouched from this period of turmoil, while the invaders, on the contrary,adopted the classical dignity, of Ethiopian dress and certain features of the law and the social organization of thsold empire. Ethiopia's real contacts with Europe date from the opening of the Suez canal, from which time European specialists were called in by some of the rulers to teach the people those modern practices and techniques that could be integrated with the country's simple way of life.Ethiopia's contacts With European culture were made easier by the fact that, the nation had throughout its history been familiar with writing and legislation, and had its own characteristic code of aesthetics. The personality of Ethiopia developed in circumstances exceptionally favourable to a proper balance, in a part of Africa in which it could gather together elements of all the great civilizations, from the most "classic" to those of the distant East.

Source: Courier ( October 1959)

Published by: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

 

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