Addis Ababa – The Heart of Ethiopia

Addis is a relatively modern city, located in the highlands of Ethiopia. The airport is located at its lowest spot, at 2300 metres above sea level. So, if you feel slightly out of breath after you disembark, the altitude may need some getting used to!

The official census has the population of Addis at around 3 million, and the city sprawls across the large valley it was founded in, and up into the surrounding hills and mountains.

Addis Ababa is the political focal point for the African continent, it is the seat of the African Union, and contains the headquarters of a large number of continental and international organisations.

Lion of Judah, symbol of Ethiopia’s monarchy

In 1886 the site of a small village was chosen to become the new capital of the Ethiopian kingdom, by the wife of emperor Menelik II. Its location in a sheltered valley, and the presence of a number of hot springs, made it more popular that the other highland alternatives.

Unlike other African capital cities, Addis was not built as a colonial capital, and hence it doesn’t have the usual European style of architecture. There is some influence of Italian architecture on buildings constructed during or shortly after the Italian invasion (1935-1937).

So, although there aren’t a huge number of historical buildings, there are definitely a number of things you should tick off when visiting Addis.

1. Visit Lucy

First on my list is the National Museum of Ethiopia. A quite modest building that holds the cast of the remnants of Lucy, our hominid ancestor from 3.2 million years ago. She was a full sized adult female Australophithecus, and is assumed to have died at the age of about 12 years old. Her stature is small, at 1.10 metre tall she only reaches to my waist. However, there is definitely a human vibe about her.

There are also other hominids on display and some excellent archeological finds. There is a very nice exhibit which shares the latest finds on our evolution from great ape to homo sapiens, as well as a number of other skeletal remains.

Note, although they don’t say it, the remains on display are a plaster cast, not the real ones. I don’t think it takes away from the exhibit at all. Those remains are precious and the glass display cabinet at this museum probably doesn’t have the best climate control.

Lina and I in front of the National Museum

When you are in the museum, take the time to walk up the display areas around the atrium, to see the rest of the collection; a range of art and historical items that provide a good introduction to Ethiopian history.

2. Hit the market

I would also recommend a visit to one of the markets. I love markets where you can get anything from toothbrushes to toenail clippers, carrots to coffee pots, and dates to dresses. Naturally, haggling is compulsory!

Top items to pick up in Ethiopia:

  • a coffee pot
  • a gabi (that large white cotton cloth that gets used as a robe)
  • a fly squatter made of horse hair
  • spices
  • coffee
  • a toothbrush stick
  • local designed jewellery (I always buy some earrings to remember my travels by)
coffee pots available in all sizes

3. Get a view

As Addis is built in a valley, go to one of the surrounding hills to get a nice view over the city. We went up Yeka hill, which is where a large number of the consulates and embassies are based.

Mount Entoto is another excellent spot to get a great view over the city, and it has a couple of churches to visit as well. As we drove into the city from the north we descended from this side into town. The wide spread city and its sparkling lights was an amazing sight after 21 days in the countryside. This is also the highest point of Addis, at 3000 metres above sea level.

Note, you may find that some of the older taxis struggle getting uphill. Choose your vehicle carefully!

view from Yeka Hill, see the mountains in the distance

4. Sample the culture

  • Enjoy a coffee ceremony (Yebjebena)
  • Attend a cultural performance
  • Find Ethiopian music and go shoulder dancing
  • Take a local taxi
  • Visit one of the many churches
  • Enjoy sharing a meal of injera and a range of curries with friends
Coffee ceremony (yebjebena)

Travel Details and Tips:

Accommodation: We stayed with friends in Addis, behind a wall with glass shards, razor wire, a security guard and a security dog. Very safe! Addis has its usual share of hotels from the various chains, as well as good three star hotels. The Sheraton hotel serves an excellent Australian steak if you want a break from vegetarian food and want to dine in opulence.

Tip: Know your buna from your yebjebena! Buna is a normal coffee, yebjebena is the traditional coffee ceremony. Learn a couple of words in the local language wherever you travel.

Ameseginaleho, thank you, for reading my Ethiopia blogs. I have enjoyed writing them, reliving this amazing trip from 2018! And a big thank you to Frank (for driving us), Lina (for the cultural immersion) and Mike (for not singing)!

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