Scientists believe that Ethiopia is the cradle of mankind. Research shows that modern human beings and their hominid ancestors evolved in the eastern zone of the Rift Valley. “Lucy”, one of our most distant ancestors, lived around 3.2 million years ago and was found in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia was known from the dawn of civilization. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all had strong trading links with Ethiopia which was one of the greatest merchant nations of the world. Moreover, the ancient Egyptians knew that their sacred and vital river Nile originated from a lake on a plateau in the land of “Punt” (“Land of the Gods” in their language).
Axum, a city 3000 years old, is the cradle of Ethiopian civilization. Some time in 980 B.C., the Queen of Sheba made this city the capital of her kingdom. As Ethiopian history tells it, after the Queen’s stay with King Solomon in Jerusalem, she returned to her country to give birth to a son whom she named Menelik. This child later became Emperor Menelik I, founder of the Solomonian dynasty.
Historical sources bear witness to the existence of a rich and powerful kingdom with a high level of civilization in pre-Christian times. From its capital city in the north-eastern part of the country, not far from the Red Sea the Axumite Empire controlled once a vast territory, including parts of today’s Yemen and Sudan. It was an important crossroad of trading caravans from Europe, Africa and Asia. The empire had its own written language, Ge’ez and its own coins which were employed in trade.With the conversion to Christianity of King Ezana in 340 A.D. Ethiopia became one of the first Christian states.
In the seventh century, the first followers of Prophet Muhammad who were being persecuted in Arabia, sought refuge in Ethiopia and were granted asylum by the then Christian Axumite ruler.
After the decline of the Axumite Empire, the Zagwe dynasty established its reign over big parts of the country, with the center of power in Lasta, the area around Lalibela. King Lalibela was the most appreciated king of the Zagwe dynasty and it was he who ordered the construction of the sacred town, considered as a “New Jerusalem” with 11 rock-hewn churches, all carved out of the red mountain rock.
In recent history, there were other great kings who were able to unify and enlarge the country and oppose foreign invasions and interference. Menelik II, who extended the country to its current size, defeated the Italian colonial invaders in the historical battle of Adwa in 1896 and founded the current capital Addis Ababa.
Many monuments of the ancient and glorious past of this country remain: the monolithic churches of Lalibela, the carved obelisks and churches of Axum, more than 120 monasteries and rock churches in the Tigray region, as well as those scattered here and there along Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. In each of these sacred places ancient paintings, manuscripts and sacred objects are preserved.
Modern Ethiopia is a mosaic nation with over 90 million people and 80 ethnic groups coexisting in harmony. Today, Addis Ababa is considered Africa’s
diplomatic capital and is home to the headquarters of the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and over 100 embassies.