World Heritage Sites

Ethiopia’s immense cultural, palaeontological and natural wealth is reflected in its tally of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most of any country in Africa. Eight of these nine sites are cultural, and one – the Simien Mountains National Park – is natural. Five other sites in Ethiopia are currently under consideration by UNESCO as Tentative World Heritage Sites.

THE LOWER AWASH VALLEY

Though not geared towards tourism, the Lower Valley of the Awash River is one of Africa’s most important paleontological sites, having yielded numerous important hominid fossils including the 3.2-million-year old Australopithecus afarensis female nicknamed Lucy.

TIYA, ADADI MARYAM AND MELKA KUNTURE

The closest UNESCO World Heritage Site to Addis Ababa, the mysterious Tiya Stelae Field, located 88km south of Addis Ababa, comprises 36 megaliths erected to mark mass graves of young males and females, possibly soldiers, who were laid to rest in a foetal position. Little is known about the constructors...

ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF LALIBELA

Comprising eleven churches and two chapels, Ethiopia’s labyrinthine ‘New Jerusalem’, excavated by King Lalibela in the 12th century and still in active use today, has been dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Hand-carved into the rock flake by painstaking flake, a process that would have required around 40,000 man-years...

SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Ethiopia’s premier trekking and walking destination, the 412km2 Simien Mountains National Park was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979, whereupon UNESCO lauded it as “one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, with jagged mountain peaks deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500m”. In addition to the...

LOWER OMO VALLEY

Centred on the pretty green town of Jinka, South Omo is Ethiopia’s most culturally and linguistically diverse administrative zone, supporting 16 different ethnic groups who all staunchly keep to their unique traditional costumes, customs and beliefs. The Mursi, inhabitants of South Omo are remarkable for their body art. Hamer women...

KONSO: CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, the Konso Cultural Landscape is named after its agriculturist inhabitants, who have moulded their 230km2 homeland of semi-arid hills into productive agricultural land. A striking feature of Konso is the ancient hilltop paleta (terrace and walled villages) – strange hobbit-warrens towered over by generation poles...

HARAR: THE LIVING MUSEUM

Muslims refer to the historic walled citadel of Harar Jugol as the City of Saints, and regard it to be world’s fourth-holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Harar is also Ethiopia’s most important repository of Islamic landmarks, with 82 mosques and 438 Awaach (shrines of important Islamic scholars) crammed...

GONDAR: CAMELOT OF AFRICA

Dubbed the Camelot of Africa, the city of Gondar — capital of Ethiopia from 1636 until the mid 19th century — combines a modern veneer with an architectural sensibility harking back to the Middle Ages. The city’s physical and architectural centrepiece is Fasil Ghebbi, a stone-walled Royal Compound containing half...

AXUM: LAND OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA

The oldest continuously-inhabited city in sub-Saharan Africa, Aksum was founded more than 3,000 years ago in the days of the Queen of Sheba. It served as capital of the Aksumite Kingdom, which was the dominant trade entity in the Horn of Africa for over a millennium prior to the rise...