Historic sites in Ethiopia

If you’re looking to discover Historic Sites in Ethiopia, you can explore our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.

It is generally believed that Ethiopia is the earliest site of human habitation and the land from which Homo sapiens emerged into the rest of the world. From times of antiquity and for centuries, Ethiopia would be ruled by various dynasties and kingdoms, something which is evidenced at the Historic Sites in Ethiopia such as Yeha.

You can learn more about the Historic Sites in Ethiopia here, use our itinerary planner tool to plan out a trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook.

We are adding to our database of historic sites all the time, but we may not cover them all. So, if you know of other Historic Sites in Ethiopia, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.

Ethiopia: Site Index

Photo by gabagoo (cc)

Axum

Believed to have been called home by the Queen of Sheba at one time, Axum is one of the main historic places in Ethiopia and among the supposed sites of the Ark of the Covenant.

DID YOU KNOW?

Axum (Aksum) is a city in the North of Ethiopia. Once the capital of the region, it is still a comparatively large city, with a population of around 50,000 people.

Axum is most famous for being one of the supposed sites of the Ark of the Covenant, in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Supposed to have been brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba, it is currently in the care of the patriarch of the Ethiopian Church in a vault at the church of. St Mary of Zion. It is occasionally brought out for ritual processions. Most of the time, however, it is under guard in the church.

Other important sites within the city are the Stelae Park. Much excavated, the stelae are thought to mark graves. The site is considered important enough for it to have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Other sites of interest include the Queen of Sheba’s bath, (She is thought to have lived in Axum.) and two Royal Palaces, on from the fourth century and one from the sixth century CE.

Photo by A.Davey (cc)

Harar Jugol

Harar Jugol is an important UNESCO listed fortified historic town in Ethiopia.

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Harar Jugol, also known simply as Harar, was an important 16th century capital and remains an important fortified historic town in Ethiopia. It served as a vital trade route from the late 16th to 19th centuries and is also said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam.

Today, Harar Jugol is a UNESCO World Heritage site, best known for its distinctive and well preserved historic townhouses which reflect its cultural heritage, particularly those of African and Islamic traditions. The most intact elements of the historic town of Harar Jugol are said to lie in the eastern and south-eastern part of the walled town. It is home to three 10th century mosques and an impressive 82 mosques overall.

It was between 1520 and 1568 that Harar served as the capital of the Harari Kingdom before it became an independent emirate in the 17th century. In 1887 Harar Jugol was integrated into Ethiopia.. From the late 16th century to the 19th century Harar Jugol was an important trade centre between the coast and the interior highlands and a location for Islamic learning.

Photo by Caffe Vita (cc)

Harar Jugol Wall

The Harar Jugol Wall is the medieval fortification surrounding the former capital of the Harari Kingdom.

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The Harar Jugol Wall in Harar Jugol is the historic fortification surrounding the Ethiopian city which acted as the capital of the Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568. Built between the 13th and 16th centuries, the Harar Jugol Wall once had five historic gates which each opened onto main travel routes as well as providing five entries into five different districts of the city. It is worth noting that the Harar Gate is far more recent.

Even beyond the 16th century, the walled city of Harar Jugol continued to be an important trading hub. It would become an independent emirate in the 17th century and part of Ethiopia in the 19th century.

Today, Harar Jugol is considered to be the world’s ‘fourth holy city’ of Islam and is home to 82 mosques – three of 10th century origin – as well as historic buildings and shrines. The layout of Harar Jugol is also of historic significance, as it harks back to the 16th century design. The whole city of Harar Jugol is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by Historvius

Lalibela Rock Churches

Famed for its eleven medieval rock cut churches, Lalibela is one of the historic sites in Ethiopia designated a World Heritage site.

DID YOU KNOW?

Lalibela, named after a 12th century king of Ethiopia, is famous for its amazing rock cut churches. Carved out of the rock rather than built with stone (see also Petra in Jordan), each of these eleven churches  has been excavated from the rock, cutting down up to 40 feet then cutting out the intricate interior with great care.

King Lalibela was a member of the Zagwe dynasty, who had ousted the previous dynasty in the 11th century AD. He was a Christian and his creation of these churches was part of his wish to create a ‘New Jerusalem’ for those who could not make the pilgrimage to the holy sites of that city.

One of Lalibela’s churches, Beta Maryam, has a pillar on which the secrets of the building of the churches is written. This is now covered by cloths, and only the priests are allowed to read it.

The Lalibela churches are full of religious symbols, including crosses, swastikas and stars of David, the latter echoing the claim of previous dynasties to descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Some of the Lalibela churches even sport wall paintings. For example, Beta Golgotha has life size carvings of the saints on its walls and is said to be the home of the burial site of King Lalibela, who abdicated his throne and became a religious hermit, eating only vegetables. He is considered to be a Saint in Ethiopia.

Access to the buildings is down a rocky staircase. Once down, the Lalibela churches are linked by a series of tunnels and walkways.

The Lalibela rock churches are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Yeha Temple

The Yeha Temple is thought to be the oldest standing building in the country, making it one of the best-known historic sites in Ethiopia.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Yeha Temple, also known as the Great Temple of Yeha, is possibly the oldest standing building in Ethiopia, dating back, it is thought, to around 700 BC. It harks back to the earliest religions of the area and contains some Judaic artefacts, perhaps giving some credence to claim of the early dynasty of their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

It is also thought that the Yeha Temple was used in the sixth century AD as a Christian church, a theory which would explain its good state of preservation. A remarkable aspect of the Yeha Temple is that it was constructed without the use of mortar.

Other places of interest at Yeha include a burial ground and ruined buildings containing, amongst other things, some interesting square columns. There have been some archaeological digs in the area, dating back to the early 1950’s