As we’ve listened to our clients, we’ve developed further tours outside of Israel focused on these themes (for example see ideas for a truly fascinating Spain tour here https://pomegranate-travel.com/blog/spanish-surprise/).
Yet many of our clients also tell us they are looking for an experience which is off the beaten track – they want to truly feel the thrill of travelling the unknown, as well as engage in a deep learning experience. For this reason, earlier this year I decided to visit Ethiopia, according to legend home to one of the lost tribes of ancient Israel, and home to some of the earliest churches in history.
Addis Ababa is just over a four hour flight direct from Tel Aviv, which makes Ethiopia an ideal destination to combine with Israel on a tour. Arriving in Addis we checked into the Sheraton which is a grand colonial property with beautiful grounds (though standard rooms are in need of some renovations). We did just a quick tour of the city, stopping at the market where we learned about local spices and flavours, drinking coffee in an old Italian espresso bar, and visiting the National Museum of Ethiopia for an introduction to the various tribes and ethnicities and cultures which contribute to the large population of over 100 million people. Whilst in Addis we also enjoyed eating at Kategna restaurant where plenty of local Ethiopian families and couples were enjoying meals – the menu consists of traditional injera bread served with different stews of meat, lentils and vegetables.
Addis is certainly worth visiting, but truly for us the highlights of our visit lay outside of the city. We flew North to Gondar where we toured the amazing seventeenth century castles – each built by a different emperor to mark his reign. Significantly this site marks the historic seat of the political and military will to unite Ethiopia under one leader.
Just a short ride from the castles we visited the stunning Debre Berhan Selassie Church with it’s breathtaking painted ceilings and walls. The church was created in the 1690s but the art work is probably from seventeenth or eighteenth century. The images are very different from what we see in western churches – the ceiling featuring repeated images of cherubs to make one feel the weight and protection of the heavenly skies above us. Other depictions are less friendly and focus on devils and hell – but even here the richness of the artwork and warmth of the colours are astonishing.
In addition to churches, Gondar is also the region where the Jewish ‘Falashas’ of Ethiopia lived and we visited a village previously inhabited by the community. We learned about how they kept many Jewish dietary and other laws, and saw inscriptions of Jewish symbols in their basic communal huts. There is still a Jewish community in the main city of Gondar and it is possible to spend Shabbat there and meet members of the community.
Travelling deeper into the Northern region we climbed up to the Simien Mountains and the wonderful yet simple Limalomo Lodge, featuring panoramic views of the Syrian African Rift Valley, home to vultures and eagles and of course the local Gelada monkeys. Hiking opportunities around here are ample – from beginners hikes to multi day tented explorations. For us it was fascinating to meet some of the people who live in tiny villages or hamlets in this ever so remote region, and to understand how little their lives have changed over thousands of years.
Lastly, a cultural visit to the North of Ethiopia could not be complete without a visit to the amazing rock hewn sunken churches at Lalibela. This is one of Ethiopia’s holiest places – and a national pilgrimage site. The layout of the churches are a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. The churches are thought to be as old as twelfth century and constituent an extraordinary engineering feat and genuine site of wonder – even in the twenty-first century.
If you’re looking for some true adventure then please do ask us about a tour of Ethiopia’s cultural and religious gems to compliment your Israel tour!
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