Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a heritage dating back to the first century AD. Traders from Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt knew of the riches of what is now Ethiopia, and by the first century AD, Axum was the capital of a great empire. This realm became one of the first Christian lands of Africa. Late in the 10th Century, Axum declined and a new Zagwe dynasty, centered in what is now Lalibela, ruled the land. Axum, Lalibela and Gondar now provide the greatest historical legacy. It was in the 16th Century that the son of the great explorer Vasco Digamma came to Ethiopia. He found a land of many kingdoms and provinces beset by feuds and war. In the 19th Century, under the leadership of the great Emperor Menelik II, the country's passage to modernization began. The following are some of Ethiopia's historical attractions. Ethiopia has a proud and long history extending to the known beginnings of human kind. The Axumite kingdom was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world and has left behind the mystery of the great Steele found at Axum.In the late middle Ages great religious civilizations flourished in many parts of the country, particularly at Lalibela where churches hand carved out of massive monolithic red rock testify not only to great faith but also to great architectural skills. And in the former capital of Gondar many significant castles speak of the same.
Axum, Ethiopia's most ancient city, and capital of one of the most glorious empires of the past, is one of the most illustrious links in the Historic Route. The Axumite Empire flourished 3000 years ago. Its riches can still be pictured on the magnificent steele or obelisks, the graves of Kings Kaleb and Gebre Meskel, and the Legendary Bath of the Queen of Sheba. The 16th century Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion was built in the compound of an earlier 4th century church, and is the holiest church in Ethiopia. In its sanctuary is said to rest the original Ark of the Covenant. The churches and monasteries of Axum are richly endowed with icons, and some of the historical crowns of ancient Emperors..
Some 76 kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo (closed to women), which is said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi, one of the nine Saints, built the church in the sixth century. The monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley. The treasured secrets within, kept intact throughout the country's 1,400 tumultuous years of history because of that arduous, dangerous ascent, include an extensive collection of manuscripts, among them the oldest surviving fragments of texts anywhere in Ethiopia. The church now houses about fifty manuscripts, although the monks claim that they formerly possessed no less than a thousand.