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Impressions of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the country of ‘beginnings’ and ‘early times’. It is here that 3,3 million year old Lucy was discovered, the fossilised skeleton of the Afar Australopithecus that each paleo-anthropologist knows as a major research reference for the origins of man. But there is more: Christianity was adopted in Ethiopia’s Aksumite Empire as early as the 4th century, the link with Judaism goes back to the Ancient Testament and the legendary Queen of Sheba’s relationship with King Solomon of Ancient Israel, and Kaffa, to the South-West of the capital Addis Abeba, claims to be home to coffee. Not surprising, by the way, because I have never had a more delicate, more sensually aromatic cup of coffee as in Ethiopia, where nobody could even contemplate replacing the fascinating tradition of coffee grinding and brewing ceremonies with the coldly mechanical process of a percolator. Fervent coffee drinkers like me do appreciate.

And then, there is the geology. Straddling the Great Rift, Ethiopia is home to volcanic and geothermal phenomenons of sulphur deserts and open-air lava lakes in the Danakil Depression, more than 100m under sea level, the hottest spot of the world, conditions in which nobody could survive apart from Afar nomads.

Before visiting the place of your choice:

Ever heard of the Emirate of Harar? In the early 13th century some Muslim clerics crossed the Gulf of Aden and came to the Horn of Africa where they established the Sultanate of Mogadishu and some time later also the Somali Sultanate of Awdal, in which the city of Harar played an important role as a hub on the trade routes between the Horn of Africa and the outer world. In 1647 Harar took full control of itself and established its own Emirate, covering the South-East of present day Ethiopia and Somaliland. The Emirate lasted until the Anglo-Egyptian alliance, also in control in Sudan, launched an invasion in 1875, shortly afterwards followed, in 1887, by a 'deal' between Ethiopia and the British: Ethiopia would help the British to crush the Mahdist movement in Sudan in exchange for control over the Harar territory. And so it happened. It all has not changed very much to the character of Harar, the fourth Holy City of Islam, a colourful large town with more than 100 mosques and Muslim shrines, still very much in the centre of trade, in spite of the Djibouti railway which diverted trade to neighbouring Dire Dawa. It is a delight to stroll through the noisy, crowdy and colourful streets, alleys and little squares of the inner city, to get surprised by the sudden overflight just above your head of a falcon and to observe the legendary evening spectacle of spotted hyenas being fed meat by the 'hyena man'.

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