There is more to a fleet of aircraft that will welcome you to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Behind the check-in desk at the airport, you will be greeted by warm people who will do their best to speak to you in English in a city where almost all residents speak their native language, Amharic.
In a town set amongst hills, archeology-inspired souvenirs and outfits mingle with the faces of historical figures, most notably Emperor Haile Selassie, Plenipotentiary Regent of Ethiopia for Empress Zewditu.
Just like its name, the city is blessed with flowers lining the streets. Every official visitor and diplomat is greeted with a flower petal. The city with a rich history was named Addis Ababa, which literally means new flower.
The seven days I spent in Addis Ababa, called Mekane Selam meaning the City of Peace, was a treat for culture, history and arts manifested in great infrastructure, monuments and the people.
My first day in Addis Ababa begins at Meskel Square in the heart of the city. Ethiopia is endowed with several parks and squares, but Meskel is worth a visit.
A home for arts and entertainment, the Ugandan team that took part in the first East Africa Arts and Culture Festival matched Meskel’s goal by putting on an electrifying performance courtesy of artists Phina Mugerwa Masanyalaze and Afropop artist CJ Champion.
The eventful day gives me the opportunity to get to know Ethiopian culture and art. Kejela Merdassa, Minister of Culture and Sports tells us that Ethiopia has more to offer than the festival and encourages people to visit and enjoy the country.
Meskel Square hosts the annual Meskel Demera religious festival, an event that has been declared an Intangible World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The name of the place “Meskel” is derived from the Amharic word holy cross.
The square is where locals celebrate Meskel, the founding of the true cross of Jesus Christ, every year on September 27th.
Located near Addis Ababa University Graduate School, the National Museum of Ethiopia houses a rich history and dates explaining the origin of mankind.
The museum displays prehistoric fossils of historical faces of mankind, including the famous early hominid Lucy and the famous skull of Zinjanthropus, a fossil hominid based on a skull found in East Africa.
The inscription on Lucy’s remains suggests that her discovery in 1974 in the Afar region of northwestern Ethiopia forever changed understanding of human origins. Most of the remains are clearly labeled in English so non-Amharic readers can understand the stories behind the fossils on display.
On the first floor there is a living exhibition of Ethiopian art, ranging from the early days of the Kingdom of Aksum to the art of the 14th and 20th centuries of the Ethiopian Empire.
The museum is not that big but with an entrance fee of only 10 birr; It offers a large collection of artistic, historical and archaeological exhibits of the world.
It’s very hard to talk about Ethiopia without mentioning Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled between 1892 and 1975. His portrait isn’t the only thing hanging on the wall in the Ethiopian Museum. Emperor Selassie’s throne is one of the famous features that you will find in the museum.
The throne donated to Emperor Selassie by the Indian people is well preserved and placed right next to the skull of the famous Zinjanthropus.
On the grounds, you’ll be treated to a historical sculpture of Emperor Selassie giving instructions to his students in 1974, as well as the sculpture of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, donated to the city of Addis Ababa in 2002.
Just as the world associates the Rastafarian movement with Emperor Selassie after his visit to Jamaica in the 1930s, guides at the museum reveal that the Messianic figure of the Rastafarian was a life-long Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.
Considered the roof of Addis Ababa, Entoto Park is another iconic place to visit away from the city center. At 10,000 feet, Entoto offers the opportunity to drive up the steep road via the US Embassy to other famous sites including historic churches and great infrastructure.
It is at the top of Entoto, where Menelik II built his house and used it as his headquarters during the founding of the capital city below. Next to the famous St. Mary’s Church, where Menelik’s coronation took place, Entoto houses a new state-of-the-art center that was recently inaugurated. Downtown Addis is a large marketplace and home to Ethiopian goods. Away from the magnificent City Hall, the country’s highest bank and the railway, don’t miss the Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa, established in 2010 as a memorial to those who died during the Red Terror by the Derg government
Managed by the Oromia Culture and Tourism Bureau, the Oromo Cultural Center is another great place that offers an insight into Oromo culture, research, history, language, and art.
According to Halimaa Abdulshukur, Miss Tourism for Oromo Culture, the center has four main departments, including the Oromo Research Center, which is responsible for history, language, culture and art research.
“The department has a language research section that takes care of Afaan Oromoo folklore and oral literature, Afaan Oromoo grammar studies, Afaan Oromoo language coding and standardization, and a department for Afaan Oromoo dictionary creation,” she adds.
The cultural center has a lot to tell about Oromo folk life and the guidance based on the common understanding of the people presented with symbols, norms and the famous Gada system.
Elders at the center reveal that the Gada system is a high-profile socio-economic and democratic political system of Oromo society. The Gada system was recently registered by Unesco as an intangible cultural heritage of the people. It includes social, political, economic and religious institutions.
The center with museum, theatre, public library, art and music education center consisting of different functional departmental units houses rich historical facts including use in Second Italo-Ethiopian War also known as Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Abyssinian War 1935.
While in Addis Ababa you must use the local currency as opposed to dollars. Before landing at Bole Airport, you must declare money exceeding $3,000 and an official form will be provided.
It is understood that there are public entities, which include hotels and banks, that are legally authorized to exchange money and guests are advised to ask for a receipt. All black market transactions are illegal and punishable by law.
In Addis Ababa, the mode of transportation is both public and private. Besides the traditional taxis, commonly known as Radha, you can use digital taxis called Ride, which are charged per kilometer.
Bring an interpreter with you for every ride, as most drivers speak Amharic as a native language and a select few can speak a word or two of English, especially those connected to the Ride app.
Nightlife is not a booming business as most clubs and bars are packed at weekends. However, foreign revelers are advised to go with a local to avoid trouble.
For the nightlife lovers, you can enjoy Surrender Nightclub on Ghana Street, Ethiopian Lounge, Bar Melo – Chichinya, Elevate Bar and Lounge on Ethio China Street, among others.
To facilitate communication, you need to purchase a SIM card from Ethio Telecom, which you can purchase at Bole International Airport or any Ethio Telecom sales point in Addis Ababa.
Just like in all other African cities, you need to watch your phone and other gadgets in Addis Ababa. From raw meat to chilli-spiced dishes, prepare to be served with shiro stew, whose main ingredient is powdered broad beans combined with special herbs and spices.
Shiro is usually served with injera, a large sourdough flatbread made with teff, local gluten-free millet.
But the history of Addis Ababa is not complete without coffee. A home of the world’s finest Arabica coffee, discovered by an Ethiopian goatherd in the foothills of the Kaffa region around the 6th century. Coffee is on every corner of the city and you can use Kaldi’s, a chain modeled after Starbucks.
Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menilek II, who ruled Ethiopia from 1889 to 1913, persuaded the emperor to build a house near the hot springs at the foot of the high plateau and to allocate land in the area to members of the nobility.
The city was founded in 1887 and called Addis Ababa (“New Flower”) by the Empress. With a size of 527 km², Addis Ababa, founded in 1886, is located in the highlands on the edge of the Great Rift Valley and is the economic and cultural center of the country.