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Religious Travel

Ethiopia is one of the most devout countries in the world, boasting a unique Orthodox Christian denomination dating back to the 4th century AD, an Islamic tradition established during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed, and relicts of a Jewish culture that dates back to the reign of King Solomon.

  • More than 300 rock-hewn churches are dotted around the country, some claimed to be more than 1,500 years old, and most still in use today. In terms of beauty and scope, none surpasses the 13th century complex of rock-hewn churches at Lalibela, which were originally conceived of as a kind of ‘New Jerusalem’ by King Lalibela, and remain active shrines to this day. 
  • Negash, the earliest Islamic settlement in Africa, is the burial site of a group of followers of the Prophet Mohammed who fled from Mecca to Ethiopia in 613 AD to escape persecution. A mosque still stands on the site of the 7th century original.
  • The Biblical Ark of the Covenant, arguably the most holy of Old Testament artefacts, is believed to have first arrived in Ethiopia 3,000 years ago and is today preserved in a guarded temple in Aksum. The Ark is said to have been brought to Aksum by Emperor Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and the founder of the Solomonic dynasty that reigned over Ethiopia until as recently as 1975.
  • This historic walled citadel of Harar, also known as the City of Saints, is the fourth-holiest city in the Islamic world, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. An important repository of Islamic landmarks, it has a full 82 mosques and 438 Awaach (shrines of important Muslim scholars) crammed into 48 hectares - the largest such concentration in the world.
  • The medieval island churches and monasteries of Lake Tana are known for their architecture, a glorified version of the typical Abyssinian tukuls, as well as their magnificent wall paintings and overflowing treasure houses.
  • The abandoned synagogue at Woleka, near Gondar, evokes the story of the Beta Israel, a ‘lost tribe’ of Ethiopian Jews whose last 10,000-or-so adherents were airlifted to Israel during the 1980s.
  • Set in the lowlands east of the Bale Mountains, the Dire Sheik Hussein Shrine and Sof Omar Cave are important pilgrimage sites that attract hundred of thousands of domestic and international Muslim pilgrims annually.
  • The Ethiopian countryside is dotted with ancient monasteries and churches that attract vast numbers of pilgrims annually. Among the most important such holy sites are Gishen Maryam, Debre Damo Monastery, and the Cathedral of Maryam Tsion in Aksum.