Addis Ababa, the bustling capital
Addis Ababa is the busy, bustling capital of Ethiopia, founded in 1886 by Emperor Menelik II. The name translates as ‘new flower’. It is by far the biggest city in the country, with a population of between 4 and 5 million people. The presence of the headquarters of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa gave the nickname: ‘The capital of Africa’.
Except for the Piazza, built by the Italians during their short occupation, there hasn’t been much urban planning. This gives Addis a special charm, but also a bit difficult to navigate at first, as there is no real center in the town. The poor and rich live close together, and confrontation with poverty might be tough for a first-time visitor. A comprehensive network of minibusses is available and taxis are everywhere. It is a very safe city, but be aware of pickpockets.
There is an active community of artists and many art galleries and live music scenes. Many restaurants with flavors from all over the world are present but we highly recommend one of the traditional restaurants to enjoy the ‘enjera‘ and music and dance from all over the country.
The best hotels in town are Sheraton and the recently opened Hyatt Regency, both true 5-star hotels. The good old Hilton Hotel is also worth mentioning. Many other hotels in different categories are available.
Addis Ababa has a lot to offer for visitors, we only present some highlights here in more detail.
This museum is a must for every visitor to Ethiopia. The official name is the Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and housed in a former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie, on the campus of Addis Ababa University. It has a very interesting anthropological section that gives a lot of information about the very diverse people of Ethiopia. Ethiopian instruments and arts are on display and visitors can enter the well-preserved bed- and bathroom of the former emperor.
The National Museum of Ethiopia is especially famous for the display of the remains (replica) of Lucy. She is one of the oldest hominids, living 3.2 million years ago. In Ethiopia she is much better known by her Amharic name ‘Dinknesh’, meaning you are wonderful. Besides the paleontological section, you’ll find sections dedicated to archeology, history, and ethnology. There is also an excellent art exhibition, from traditional to contemporary. Finally, it is a good place to see art by the late Ethiopian artist Afework Tekle who is most famous for the stained glass in the Africa Hall representing the sorrow of Africa’s past, the struggle of the present, and hope for Africa’s future. You also find his work at Saint George Cathedral, see below.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
The remains of its founder, Emperor Haile Selassie, and his wife, are buried in this second-biggest cathedral in Ethiopia. He build it to commemorate the liberation of the Italian occupation in 1941. The more recent Medhane Alem Cathedral is the second biggest on the continent, but the Holy Trinity Cathedral remains the most important church in Addis Ababa. It is fascinating to witness a service at any church.
Saint George Cathedral
Saint George who killed the dragon is one of the most important Saints in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Tabot of this church is consecrated in the name of Saint George. The Ethiopian Army took it for support to the battlefield near Adwa and they defeated the Italians on 1 March 1896 for the first time. It is one of the oldest churches in Addis Ababa and has an interesting small museum.
It is said that the Mercato is the largest market on the African continent. If that’s true or not: it is huge. To find your way around you definitely need a guide. It’s a vast grid of roads where everything has its own place. From vegetables to electronics, from spices to hardware, and from household to qat, the widely used stimulant.
Addis Ababa is the highest capital of Africa at 2350 meters and it lies at the foot of Mount Entoto, reaching 3200 meter above sea level. It is here where Menelik II settled before moving down to where we find Addis Ababa today. Besides beautiful views of the city, there is the Entoto Maryam Church with a small, but interesting museum. The Kidus Raguel Church has two small rock-hewn churches nearby.