Set within Haile Selassie’s former palace, and surrounded by the beautiful gardens and fountains of the university’s main campus, is the enthralling Ethnological Museum. Even if you’re not a museum fan, this one is worth a bit of your time – it’s easily one of the finest museums in Africa, showing the full sweep of Ethiopia’s cultural and social history across two floors.
The collection on show at the National Museum is ranked among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa, but sadly many of its exhibits are poorly labelled, lit and displayed. Far and away the highlight is the palaeontological exhibition in the basement, the home of world-famous Lucy. Her 1974 discovery in the Afar region of northwestern Ethiopia changed our understanding of human origins forever. This section is well labelled in English, so if your time is limited spend most of it here.
‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum
‘As if I bore them all in one night, they slew them in a single night.’ These were the words spoken by the mother of four teenage children all killed on the same day by the Derg, as she officially opened the small but powerful ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum in 2010. Over a couple of rooms the museum reveals the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie and the horrors of life under Mengistu’s Derg regime.
St. George Cathedral & Museum
Commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to commemorate his stunning 1896 defeat of the Italians in Adwa, and dedicated to St George (Ethiopia’s patron saint), whose icon was carried into the battle, this Piazza cathedral is one of Addis’ most beautiful churches. The grey stone exterior is easily outdone by the interior’s flashes of colour and art. Sections of ceiling glow sky-blue and boast gilded stars, while the outer walls of the innermost shrine are covered in paintings and mosaics by the renowned Afewerk Tekle.
Wading into the market chaos known as Merkato, just west of Addis’ centre, can be as rewarding as it is exasperating. You may find the most eloquent aroma wafting from precious incense. You may also find that your wallet has been stolen and that you’ve got stinky excrement on your shoe. Some people say it’s the largest market in Africa, but as its exact boundaries are as shady as some of its characters, this is a little hard to verify.
Afewerk Tekle’s Home & Studio
A member of several international academies and with a drawer full of international decorations – about 100 at last count, including the British Order of Merit – Afewerk Tekle is considered among Africa’s greatest artists. His former home and studio was closed to the public after his death in 2012. Renovations were still taking place as of late 2016, but we were assured that there are still plans to reopen…one day.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
This massive and ornate cathedral is the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia (ranking behind the Old Church of St Mary of Zion in Aksum). It’s also the celebrated final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw. Their massive Aksumite-style granite tombs sit inside and are a sight indeed. The solemnity of the interior design contrasts sharply with highly the charged emotions of many pilgrims. It’s a fascinating place.
Washa Mikael Church (Yeka Mountain)
The Washa Mikael Church is a few kilometres east of Addis Ababa’s town centre. Though local priests date it back to the 3rd century AD, it most probably dates back to the 12th century. If you’re mad and not planning to visit the churches at Lalibela or Tigray in the north, this is definitely worth a peek as an example of the extraordinary rock-hewn architecture that Ethiopia is so famous for. Unfortunately, from July to October it’s usually flooded with rainwater.
Tomb of Sylvia Pankhurst
Facing the entrance to the Holy Trinity Cathedral is the tomb of the famous British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst was one of the very few people outside Ethiopia who protested Italy’s occupation; she moved to Addis Ababa in 1956.
The towering Derg Monument is one of the more poignant reminders of the country’s painful communist rule. Topped by a massive red star and emblazoned with a golden hammer and sickle, the cement obelisklike structure climbs skyward in front of Black Lion Hospital.
Lion of Judah Monument
Long the symbol of Ethiopia’s monarchy, the Lion of Judah is ubiquitous throughout the country – and although images of the almighty animal abound in Addis Ababa, it’s the storied history of the Lion of Judah Monument that makes this statue significant.