Ethiopia – Ancient, Beautiful and Spiritual.
My first visit to Ethiopia was in January of 2010.
Actually, the decision to go there was because of a friend of mine, Atalia Kats, convinced me to go with her. It is only after visiting there that I understood that it was the right choice.
So first and foremost; thank you Atalia for convincing me to go on the trip.
I didn’t know what to expect from Ethiopia, in fact every aspect of Ethiopia was amazing; the landscapes, the villages and towns and above all the people. A special acknowledgment should go the people, who although very poor, were always smiling and inviting the tourists to their homes. In some of the villages we visited most of the children and grown-ups didn’t even have a mirror so they never saw themselves before.
In no other country did I find people so willing to be photographed!
Visiting the country side, I noticed that most of the villages were still living as they lived 1000 years ago. The houses were either mud-brick or rough stone, cooking over an open hearth and mules were the main means of transportation.
O.K. Let’s start from the beginning …
Our first stop was Addis Ababa the capital but we didn’t linger there but flew 600km north to -
Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations on the southern shores of Lake Tana. Although the city is known for its wide palm tree lined central avenues and colorful flowerbeds, we visited the poorer quarters and the big colorful market.
Is a beautiful very atmospheric and picturesque place, it is also the source of the Blue Nile. On the islands of the lake we went to visit some of the oldest existing churches and monasteries: The Daga Estifanos Monastery on Daga Island and the Church of Narga Selassie on Dek Island.
The second day we arrived at -
Gondar (elev. 2,200m)
Is one of the ancient cities of Ethiopia is located to the south west of the Simien mountain range. The Simien Mountains also includes Ethiopia’s highest mountain Ras Dashen Terara (elev. 4,550m).
A landscape photographer’s paradise – well worth a visit.
But as we were a group of photographers we didn’t go around the city much but by our transportation we went to visit small villagers around and to see the way the people were living and making Injera in the open air to their family. We stopped on our way in an animal market were the most popular animal were goats.
The Beta Israel and the Falash Mura
The Beta Israel were Jewish communities located in the area of in more than 500 small villages spread over a mainly in Gondar province also known as Ethiopian Jews.
We went to visit the synagogue still active in Wolleka where we shot quite a lot of pictures. We remained there to witness their morning prayer and to visit the classes where still the remaining Jewish family children go to study.
The related Falash Mura are the descendants of the Beta Israel who, in the last century, were forcibly converted to Christianity. Today, some are changing back to the practices of Halakhic Judaism, and living together in communities.
The 4th day we arrived to the famous place..
Lalibela (elev. 2,440m)
Lalibela is located to the east of the Simien mountain range. It is a town famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches and considered the second most holy city in Ethiopia, a center for pilgrimages. The population is almost completely Orthodox Christian.
The town is named after Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who was Emperor of Ethiopia in the late 12th and early 13th century. It is said that the rock-cut churches themselves mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent as a youth in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
We arrived there just in time to participate to their New Year’s Day ceremony.
That was something extraordinary, a once in a life time experience! The pilgrims arrived from all over the country, those who didn’t have any kind of transportation started their walk a month before, just to arrive on time for this fabulous ceremony. We saw thousands of people arriving tired but happy, just to be there, sleeping on the streets with no money for food but just to be there!!!
I shot so many pictures! I think that this is the place I took more pictures, in the amount of time given, than at any other destination I have been to.
Simien Ecological Park
From there we moved on to the Simien Ecological Park where we stayed the night. On the following morning we visited the park; famous amongst other things for the baboons of the Gelada family.
Geladas are found only in the high grassland and the deep gorges of the central Ethiopian plateau. The Geladas can also be physically distinguished from other baboons by the bright patch of skin on its chest – hence the popular name - bleeding-heart baboon.
Today there are around 2700 Gelada baboons living there.
The next day we flew to Harar; a city located on a hilltop, some five hundred kilometers east of Addis Ababa – more than half way to the border with Somalia.
The population mostly Muslim and it is considered to be the fourth holiest city in Islam.
Harar is also known in Arabic as مدينة الأَوْلِيَاء "the City of Saints" because of its 110 mosques - three of which date from the 10th century - and 102 shrines.
We visited the market, which was quite interesting, with its narrow dusty streets and colorful walls was quite reminiscent of Arab villages.
The Hyena Men of Harar
A unique phenomenon in Harar are the Hyena Men. As night falls, the Hyena Men, tourists and local spectators assemble outside the city walls, either at the Fallana Gate or at Sheikh Aw Anser shrine, to witness a bizarre spectacle. Men feeding wild spotted hyenas! The hyena men feed the hyenas by mouth, using pieces of raw meat. We were invited to feed them too – thankfully with the meat skewered on sticks.
A very interesting subject to shoot (it wasn’t so easy, because of the darkness; we either used flash or long exposure times).
In addition to an exciting trip, wonderful experiences and beautiful photos, there is also the North Ethiopia Album the first of two Ethiopia Albums I published.
I read your blog about Ethiopia.
I was curious to know if there are still Jews living in the Gondar area, and when is the best time to visit those parts of Ethiopia?