Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, is a land of stunning natural beauty, covering an area twice the size of Kenya, France or Texas. It is located in Eastern Africa, 9 degrees above the equator, west of Somalia, north of Kenya and south of the Sudan. A rich diversity of culture and geography form the mosaic of a people with over 80 different languages and as many cultures.
The elevated nature of its highlands, rising to over 1,500 meters, gives it a cooler climate than its geographical proximity to the equator may suggest. The unique Rift Valley, the geological fault that cuts across most of Eastern Africa, divides Ethiopia into two unequal parts: that of the mountainous north, northwest, with Mt. Ras Dashen rising to over 4600 meters, and the plateaus and valleys of the south and southeast, where the Danakil depression dips to 116 meters below sea level, the lowest point on the earth’s surface. The Rift Valley is a region of volcanic lakes, varied collections of bird life, great escarpments and stunning vistas. The great Blue Nile Falls, which cascades down one of these escarpments, ranks as one of the greatest natural spectacles in the world today.
Ethiopia is home to the beginnings of humankind. The remains of Dinkenesh or ‘Lucy’, which date from 3.5 million years ago, and those of the 4.4 million year old Homo Ramidus Afarensis, our oldest anthropoid ancestor, were uncovered here. Traders from Greece, Rome, Persia, India and Egypt came for its riches. Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., describes ancient Ethiopia in his writings. The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Jerusalem.
By the first century A.D., the present day holy city of Axum had become the capital of a great empire and by the fourth century, the home of the earliest Christians in Africa. Late in the tenth century A.D. the Axumite Empire declined and a new dynasty, the Zagwe, was established in what is now Lalibela, the site of the famous rock hewn churches. Axum, Lalibela and Gondar now provide Ethiopia’s greatest historical legacy. In 1896, the great Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu defeated Italian invaders, making Ethiopia the only African nation to successfully repel European colonial aggression, preserving her independence. Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar, seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar. The year is made up of thirteen months, with each month exactly 30 days and the last month with only 5 or 6 days depending on leap year. Instead of starting the day after midnight, the clock begins by counting 1:00 o’clock at sunrise (7:00 am) and ends with 12:00 at sunset (6:00 pm), for exactly 12 hours each of day and night. More information on Ethiopia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopia