Judging by the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon recounted in the Old Testament and elaborated at great length in the Ethiopian epic, The KebreNegest (Glory of the Kings); the rest of the world commonly acknowledges 3000 years of Ethiopian civilization. Comparing the history of most of the countries of the world, a national legacy of even 3000 years is quite remarkable. This is especially so when that means an uninterrupted and independent march of the history of a people, organized as a polity, answering to very much the same set of self-identifying values and symbols, and occupying more or less the same geographical area.
Visitors who hope to find a mirror image of their own countries, either as a result of colonisation or through the trend towards cultural standardisation imposed by globalisation, will be disappointed: Ethiopia remains stubbornly Ethiopian, distinct and different from its neighbours.
Ethiopia has its own script, notational system and calendar. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the oldest in Africa – Christianity was made the state religion in the Axumite Empire in 330 AD, before Rome. Muslim communities were established in Ethiopia before the triumph of Islam in its birth place, the Arabian Peninsula, while Ethiopian Jews, or Bait Israel, date their provenance back to the time of the first temple.
At the time of the scramble for Africa, following the Berlin Congress in 1884, the disparate ethnic groups that make up Ethiopia united to defend the country against foreign invasion: at Adua in 1896 Ethiopian forces under Menelik II delivered a stunning rebuff to the colonial ambitions of Italy.
The defeat inflicted on the Italian army was the heaviest suffered by any European army in Africa, and was celebrated not only throughout Africa, but in all countries then suffering under the yoke of colonialism and foreign occupation. The fascist invasion in 1935, “to avenge the stain of Adua” as Mussolini declared, was met with vigorous and continued resistance – the occupation lasted only 6 years and failed to leave any permanent stamp on the character of the country or the psyche of its people. Ethiopia has the most extensive historic sites in Sub-Saharan Africa, experts estimate that perhaps as little as 10% of the total has so far been discovered and excavated. The oldest hominid remains have been found along the Awash River valley (Lucy, 3.2 million years old, Selam, 3.4 million years old, Ardi, 4.4 million years old) – at any time more than 40 institutions from a dozen countries are excavating in the Afar Region, where most paleo-anthropologists now agree the human race has its origins.
There is every variety of scenery, with tropical rain forests, high moor land with Afro-alpine flora, lakes, savannah and deserts. In elevation it ranges from 120 metres below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to the 4624 metre peak of RasDashen in the SimienMountains.