Amazed by the beauty of a rare flower during one of her luxurious walks, Empress Taytu – Wife of Emperor Menelik II named today’s Ethiopian capital “Addis Ababa”, which translates to beautiful flower in the ancient Amharic language. That was in the year 1886. Today, Addis Ababa is the metropolitan capital of Ethiopia. The city’s fascinating architecture houses more than 120 international missions and embassies. The headquarters of the African Union are based here as well as United Nations Commission for Africa, hence the title “the political capital of Africa”
Surrounded by hills and stretches of highland vegetation, Addis Ababa stands at 2, 665 meters above sea level, therefore making it a cool and pleasant place for outdoor tours. Apart from the town’s architecture, Addis has a number of thrilling artefacts archived in the numerous museums, medieval churches and cathedrals that date back to 13th century, open air markets that sell anything from designer second hands to largest assortment of spices as well as adventurous feasts and celebrations that mark the calendar throughout the year. Here are three top attractions that keep the flower as flesh and charming as on the day her majesty burrowed her senses in its scents
The National Museum
Lucy the hominid
The collection in the show is undoubtedly an important representation of our ancestors and testimony for Darwin’s theory of evolution. The main exhibit is Lucy – world’s oldest humanoid estimated to have lived about 3.2 million years ago and discovered in 1974. Christened Dinkesh – Amharic for ‘you are marvelous’, the two fossilized hominid of Lucy are the most remarkable features of the museum which also contains fossilized evidence of extinct animals.
The National Museum offers a great and insightful tour for tourists interested in the Science of evolution human as well as historians interested in culture and civilization. There are a number of paintings depicting different ruling eras and elites as well as craft and tools.
Merkato Open Market
Said to be the continent’s largest open market, Merkato – a derivative of the Italian word meaning ‘market’ is crowded yet quirky, chaotic but charming market place full of life and blossoming in agricultural supplies. Perhaps the only other scent that overcomes the glorious aromatic smells of the various spices is that of coffee; Ethiopian coffee is ranked among the best in the world. Apart from agricultural and related merchandise, any free spirited shopper will find great deals in designer second hands as well as amazing memorabilia in the makes of Ethiopian fabric and artefacts. Merkato is one of those few places you’ll get lost in, yet come back feeling better! It’s a place where nothing changes, yet every day is a totally different adventure.
At 3,200 meters above sea level, Entoto hill can be said to be the unrivalled roof of Addis Ababa. The rich plantation of age old eucalyptus form quite a breeze on the city below, hence earn the tag ‘the lung of Addis Ababa’. A historical and spiritual destination, Entoto Hill served as the location for Menelik II and his wife Taytu’s palace until she discovered the beautiful flower far below the hill top. Folklore has it that when Menelik II put up his palace on top of Entoto, the royal palace was curbed by shortage of fuel, and so he imported loads of eucalyptus from Australia – the towering tropical forest stand as evidence to his legacy.
Today, Entoto Hill is a tourist’s favorite; the climb itself is thrilling, as you leave the city below for a magnificent view from atop. Once on the hill, the Maryam church, built by the Emperor as a dedication to Virgin Mary is a solemnized place of worship. At the back of the church is the Entoto St. Mary Museum which serves as an archive for the royal paraphernalia including imperial crowns, ceremonial robes as well as drums and a rifle used during the battle of Adwa where his majesty, the Emperor triumphantly defeated the Italians? On your way down, take an hour or so at the Shiromeda market on your way down and make a good bargain for Ethiopian souvenirs.
If Paris or Tokyo are the food capitals of the world, Addis must be the mega coffee center of the world! As one traveler christened the experience, “its coffee at its birthplace” The aromatic and nourishing whiffs from the espresso makers or the more traditional roasted and ground beans are part of the city’s traits. Coffee is a ceremony deeply embedded in Addis lifestyle. Sample Ethiopian cuisine mainly consisting of injera – bread made from fermented teff flour and accompanied by lots of spicy meaty stews or vegan dishes. There are a number of local/Ethiopian, Italian and French restaurants as well as popular night spots across the city
Tourists will find best purchases in Ethiopian fabric and souvenirs. If not too much hassle with the immigration, always pack a packet or two of Ethiopian coffee for gifts to family and friends. Merkato mentioned in the Top 3 is a great stop for this. Always remember that prices are hiked 20-50% above normal. Carry around your toughest set of bargaining skills!
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Blue lada taxis
Perhaps Addis is the only city you can drive around in vintage Russian cars without breaking your bank! Known as lada, this distinctive collection of well maintained, vintage blue taxis are all time markers of the cozy relationship between Ethiopia and Russia.
Safety: Addis Ababa is fairly a safe place, thanks to the security guards in every other corner of the streets. However, like every other city, be on the lookout for petty criminals (Merkato market), fake guides (mostly outside hotels) and fake cultural shows, which is a clever name for scam show.
Money: Birr. All International Credit Card (Visa, MasterCard) are accepted in the ATM.