Ethiopia (Amharic: ኢትዮጵያ yĪtyōṗṗyā) is a fascinating country in the Horn of Africa and the second-most populous nation on the African continent (after Nigeria). It's bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan and South Sudan to the west.
Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world after Armenia. Ethiopia is also the place for the first Hijra (615 AD) in Islamic history where the Christian king of Ethiopia accepted Muslim refugees from Mecca sent by the prophet Mohamed.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world. In the long and disturbed history of the African continent, Ethiopia remains the only country which has never been colonized. Ethiopia was a founding member of the AU and is home to the African Union's headquarters. The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem.
In fact, historians believe that Ethiopia may well be the beginning of mankind. The fossils of the oldest once-living humans or "Lucy" were discovered in the northern section of Ethiopia. The remains of the fossil are said to be 3.5 million years old.
After a long and difficult period under self-declared communist rulers, the country is now back on its feet. The long history assures that there are many historic sites in the country. The natural beauty, with high mountains, lakes, waterfalls as well as arid deserts are among the natural attractions of Ethiopia.
Highlights in Ethiopia include the towns of Axum, Gondar, Harar, as well as the rock churches of Lalibela and Gheralta. Spectacular outdoor activities are rafting on the Omo River. And several national Parks offer gold opportunities for multi-day hiking in spectacular landscape, partly with good chances to spot wildlife animals. The Danakil Depression is one of few places worldwide where one can descent to an active vulcano's lava flow.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in the world. It has long been an intersection between the civilizations of North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia was never colonised, maintaining its independence during the "scramble for Africa" until the Italian military occupation which was achieved through the use of mustard gas, Italian and colonial manpower, and superior firepower.
During this period, the Italians merged the country with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form Italian East Africa and despite continued guerilla attacks, Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was called then) was not able to relinquish itself of Italian control until the allies pushed them out with the help of colonial troops. Ethiopia has long been a member of international organizations: it became a member of the League of Nations, signed the Declaration by United Nations in 1942, founded the UN headquarters in Africa, was one of the 51 original members of the UN, and is the headquarters for and one of the founding members of the former OAU and current AU. In 1974, its monarchist government was deposed, and replaced with a pro-Soviet military junta, which ruled Ethiopia for 17 years until the end of the Cold War.
Ethiopia was historically called Abyssinia.
The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variations. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000-2,500 metres (6,600-8,200 ft) above sea level, including historic capitals such as Gondar and Axum.
The modern capital, Addis Ababa, is situated in the foothills of Mount Entoto at an elevation of around 2,400 metres (8,000 ft), and experiences a healthy and pleasant climate year-round. With such temperatures, the seasons in Addis Ababa are largely defined by rainfall, a dry season from October to February, a light rainy season from March to May, and a heavy rainy season from June to September. The average annual rainfall is around 1200mm (47 in). There are on average 7 hours of sunshine per day, meaning it is sunny for around 60% of the available time. The dry season is the sunniest time of the year, though even at the height of the rainy season in July and August there are still usually several hours per day of bright sunshine.
The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C (61°F), with daily maximum temperatures averaging 20-25°C (68-77°F) throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5-10°C (41-50°F). A light jacket is recommended for the evenings, though many Ethiopians prefer to dress conservatively and will wear a light jacket even during the day.
Most major cities and tourist sites in Ethiopia lie at a similar elevation to Addis Ababa and have comparable climates, though in less elevated regions, particularly the lower lying regions in the east of the country, the climate can be significantly hotter and drier. The town of Dallol, in the Danakil Depression in this eastern zone, has the world's highest average annual temperature of 34°C (93°F).
A high plateau with a central mountain range divided by the Great Rift Valley, arid low lands in the east and lush riverine lowlands in the westernmost parts.
The lowest point of the Danakil Depression is one of the lowest and hottest points in earth at 125 metres (410 ft) below sea level. The highest point is Ras Dejen 4,620 metres (15,157 ft.) The still geologically active Great Rift Valley is susceptible to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Frequent droughts and unrestricted fecundity threaten periodic famines.
Ethiopia is now landlocked since the entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the de jure independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993 after years of bitter fighting. The Blue Nile, the chief headstream of the Nile, rises in T'ana Hayk (Lake Tana) in northwest Ethiopia.
Three major crops are believed to have originated in Ethiopia: coffee, grain sorghum, and castor bean. Teff is also a grain that came from Ethiopia.
Time and calendar
Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian calendar, which dates back to the Coptic calendar 25 BC, and never adopted the Julian or Gregorian reforms. One Ethiopian year consists of twelve months, each lasting thirty days, plus a thirteenth month of five or six days (hence the "Thirteen Months of Sunshine" tourism slogan). The Ethiopian new year begins on 11 or 12 September (in the Gregorian calendar), and has accumulated 7-8 years lag behind the Gregorian calendar: thus, for the first nine months of 2007, the year will be 1999 according to the Ethiopian calendar. On 11 September 2007, Ethiopia celebrated New Year's Day (Enkutatesh) for 2000.
In Ethiopia, the 12-hour clock cycles do not begin at midnight and noon, but instead are offset six hours. Thus, Ethiopians refer to midnight (or noon) as 6 o'clock.
Airline timetables and our guides (unless otherwise stated) are based on the 24-hour clock and use the Gregorian calendar.